Author and law enforcement officer Daniel Silver tells the story of a tattooed punk rocker turned rookie San Francisco policeman, Dougie Cohen. In his first year on the job, the stresses, horrors and frustrations Dougie encounters take their toll on his patience, health, sanity and love life. Dougie struggles with night terrors, addiction, disease and the loss of his former self to his new police persona. Dougie is on a collision course with the reality of urban law enforcement. He'll either break, or accept the fundamentals of what it means to be a real cop. Winner of the 2010 COP TALES Contest!
Daniel gives an overview of the book:
When I pass by, all the people say,
“Just another guy on the lost highway.”
—Hank Williams, “Lost Highway”
There are a few distinct and differing options available to a government employee who wears a star, a shield, or a badge on his or her chest when dealing with a drunken waste of
space that has just let loose upon the officer’s skin a vile amalgamation of mucous, saliva and — in some extreme cases — blood.
Today, this situation presents itself while the officer is seated in a marked patrol vehicle: a Crown Victoria with a black and white paint job delineated between the front and rear seats by a combination of clear plastic and wire mesh. By the way: for purposes of this demonstration, you are the officer in question.
In many modern patrol vehicles, the wire mesh portion of the noted delineator is sparse enough to allow the aforementioned “loogie” to pass through it. Said loogie is often propelled by a warm burst of metabolizing alcohol-scented breath toward the back of one’s cropped head, down the back of one’s neck, past the wool uniform shirt’s collar, and into the humid microclimate that exists between the officer’s naked back, your naked back, the plain cotton undershirt, and the department issued ballistic vest.
And I’ll pause briefly to note that when I first ran aground of this scenario, this officer’s back, my back, was recently, permanently marked with a traditional intra-dermal design involving a large eagle, two cannons, three nautical stars and a banner bearing the text: “Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” The tattoo hadn’t fully healed yet, which meant that the revolting matter running across it had a fighting chance of making its way into my bloodstream. This — as you may have already guessed — pissed me off. I really didn’t need anyone else’s ailments. I had enough of my own.
Anyhow, your options are as follows:
Option 1: Tell your partner — the similarly attired person seated next to you, who is fortunate enough to be driving the patrol vehicle and not the front passenger because that puts said partner in front of the plastic portion of said divider, which effectively protects him or her from what is currently being propelled at the back of your head — to accelerate. Pick up the vehicle’s onboard radio microphone, or just use the mic attached to your shoulder, to broadcast that the custody is currently spitting on you. Then, have your partner stop the vehicle, both of you get out, remove the prisoner, and place a spitter — a thin hood that looks like a really loose nylon stocking — over the lovely arrestee’s head. This tactic is reliant upon your department to actually stock and train you ad nauseam how to use spitters. Because a permeable, breathable nylon bag with a drawstring can somehow lead to in-custody deaths, which in turn lead to expensive lawsuits, which in turn really piss off the mayor — who is due to announce his candidacy for reelection in the coming days — of your major metropolitan city. But, for this scenario, you have a spitter and you use it. If you don’t have one, you stop your vehicle, get out, and let the prisoner hack to his heart’s content while your and your partner standby for a patrol wagon to respond. Once the wagon is on scene, you, your partner and the Wagon Master — I love that term — transfer the suspect to the rear holding area of the van. This area is not anywhere near the Wagon Master’s/driver’s seat. The custody can now spit all he or she wants and only make a mess for the next unlucky prisoner. You see, most major metropolitan police departments don’t employ janitors to clean those things; it’s reliant upon the Wagon Master, who is usually not the most motivated or brilliant member of the force. Sad but true.
Anyway, problem solved. You go back to the station/the company/the precinct/the what-the-hell-ever, clean up and book the prisoner for being drunk in public and battering an officer… via loogie. You then prepare a strongly worded memorandum to the departmental administration questioning the thought process that led to half of the divider in your vehicle being permeable in the first place. Said memorandum is read, reviewed and stamped — provided it is of sufficient relevance to be sent to the next level up — by your sergeant, the lieutenant, the captain of your station, the Division Commander, the Deputy Chief of Patrol Operations and — so I’ve heard — the Chief of Police him or herself. Your memorandum is then classified as APPROVED or DENIED and sent back down the chain of command where, one day, you find it waiting for you in your mailbox with a bunch of stamps and initials all over it.
Jack shit then changes.
Option 2: Tell your partner, who is still in the driver’s seat and watching the situation unfolding next to him with simultaneous interest and disgust to, “Just fucking drive, dude!” Turn the brim of your department issued baseball cap, which is not supposed to be worn with your wool uniform — but screw it; what are they going to do, fire you? — to the rear. You do this to hopefully deflect the onslaught of nastiness flying at you from behind. Then ride out the storm. Try not to think about the mass of mucous slowly sliding down your back. Also, try not to lean back into the seat so as to further squish the disgusting amalgam against your skin and grind it into your ballistic vest, which is a bitch to clean. Once at the station, you and your partner jump out of the vehicle, do a quick glance around for a random unemployed jack-off with a video camera that may be hiding in the bushes, and drag the vomit-covered, kicking, spitting, biting, writhing, enraged and polluted asshole out of the back of the car by his head. Momentarily try to figure out how he slipped his handcuffs to the front. Throw him on the ground. Wait until you can hear him making that horrible rasping noise in the back of his throat to gather up extra slime to expel on you; wait for it a second more for good measure.
Then boot that motherfucker in his bloated, distended belly with sufficient force as to make him choke on his own spit and be unable to function because of it. You do this just once. Just so he feels it and puts his jets into reverse. Just to ground the hot wire that is his anger. Just to say, without saying anything: “I am an agent of the people of this city, county and state. I am an enforcer of the criminal laws governing such. I am also a person, like you. I will not tolerate your disregard for basic human decency. I will not allow you to conduct yourself in such a disgraceful and disgusting manner any longer. You have failed so completely, so impressively, that you have moved me to see that it stops here. This is my line in the sand. This is my ultimatum.”
That’s what you’ll be thinking, but it’ll probably just come out sounding like what I said, which was an impassioned, “ALRIGHT, COCKSUCKER! SPIT ON ME AGAIN! SPIT ON ME AGAIN; I FUCKING DARE YOU!”
Now, after witnessing this little meltdown, your partner will probably tell you to, “Take it easy, man!” But he doesn’t have a snailtrail of looch from the base of his neck rapidly heading toward the crack of his ass. So, it’s pretty easy for him to say, isn’t it?
You’ll shoot your partner a sideways look, display a little sneer and then drag the asshole into the booking cell by his left foot — a process that will undoubtedly, inadvertently remove his left shoe — and book him for the charges described above. Forgo the memorandum. Just go get cleaned up. And, if you’re me, you’ll stand there in the locker room with both hands braced against the sides of the whisker-flaked, toothpaste-crusted, dirty porcelain sink staring into the mirror at your crooked, past-broken nose and the beads of sweat on your forehead. You’ll wonder if you look sick and reflexively check your skin for signs of jaundice. Maybe you’ll take a leak and perseverate over its hue. You’ll look down at the scars on your right hand and the illustrated skin on your arms. You’ll lose yourself in the distorted reflection of your face in the tarnished silver symbol of authority on your breast and wonder: How did I ever wind up here?
You’ll exhale deeply.
And for some reason, you’ll think: I really need to write this stuff down. Hence the memoirs of Officer Dougie Cohen, SFPD, star number 5445: a nice number if I was compulsive, like that detective on TV.
But it’s the impulses that have always been my problem.
Anyhow, those are your options: the viable ones. Sure, you could shoot the guy and bury him in the desert, but that’s not really very feasible; he’s just a drunk idiot after all. Or, you could totally ignore the situation and hope it goes away, but he is a drunken idiot and you are employed to do a job wherein you are supposed to interact with these people so others don’t have to. That’s why they give you the badge/star/shield/whatever, the gun, the uncomfortable wool uniform, the ballistic vest, and the coffee-stained Crown Vic with the equally coffee-stained, aging, onboard laptop computer.
If this situation presents itself on the first day of your probationary period — the first year of patrol that comes right after your field training; the time when everybody is on their extraspecial-best behavior so as to avoid giving the potentially soon to be “released” or “terminated” officer fuel for another mayor and city controller-maddening lawsuit — then you are lucky.
Choose option number one and you are an officer of the peace: a consummate professional, one with sufficient moral fiber and patience to reach to the upper echelons of command. You may even — provided you are of the race, sex, or sexual preference de jour — become chief one day. You may also herald the destruction of effective police work, but you probably don’t really give a damn about it anyways. Another potential outcome of the first course of action: the whole experience will hit you in the face like a cold, calloused smack of reality and you’ll wind up prematurely going back to corporate finance or whatever other “real job” you defected from in the first place.
However, if you choose option two, you will become a cop.
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