Welcome to Cop Talk. For fourteen years I served a northern California city as a police officer. In that time, I have seen pretty much everything that can be seen through the eyes of a cop. Some of it was good, some was bad and some was just down right ugly. There were times of prolonged boredom and instances of controlled sheer terror. I have seen the worse that man can do to his fellow man as well as the out pouring of kindness from one stranger to another stranger in a time of need. I have experienced the complete spectrum of human emotion and managed to keep my sanity and my marriage.
I may not be able to answer all of your questions. An on the job injury forced me into retirement four years ago and I am sure some things have changed. I will, however, endeavor to give you the best legal answer based upon my training and experience as well as my personal insight. Not every state has the same laws. Not every department handles things in the same way. Even codes can differ from department to department. In the east they call a patrol car a “prowler”, some refer to it as a “squad car” others a “cruiser” and some of us, “that piece of shit the city makes me work in every night”.
Let’s try to have some fun with this along the way, shall we?
“Officer Friendly 10-8.”
“10-4 Officer Friendly, prepare to copy a detail.”
Dear Officer Friendly –
How much does a cop rely on his “gut instinct” or do you think this is just a Hollywood myth?
I’m a firm believer in gut instinct. Some people have it, some don’t and for some it’s like another weapon in their belt. Working mids one night, I was dispatched to cover another officer who made a bicycle stop. Upon arrival, I found the officer talking with the cyclist who was still astride the bike. Who am I kidding, he wasn’t a cyclist, he was a dirt bag parolee but I digress. As I approached the pair, I heard the officer advise the subject to get off of the bike. My gut instinct and a measure of common sense told me not to let him off the bike.
Here’s the deal: While astride the bike with both feet on the ground and the bike between his legs, dirt bag isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. If he jumps up on the bike you knock him down. If he tries to make a run for it he has to drop the bike first, giving you time to react, either way, advantage cop.
So, I immediately suggested he stay on the bike but dirt bag is already in motion and we’re not going to argue about it in the middle of the street. Dirt bag realizes I’m the more experienced of the two officers and that things are about to change. No sooner does the bike hit the ground and dirt bag is beating feet. My instinct, my gut reaction, foretold of his escape and I was in motion before he knew he wanted to be. In taking him down, I ended up on the bottom and in a bad position but held onto his throat while my junior partner called for help and then joined in. The blue wave arrived and dirt bag went to jail for a variety of things including the outstanding warrants that caused him to run in the first place.
Oh, yeah, I believe in gut instinct.
Dear Officer Friendly, I have a few questions. What’s a “Detail?”
Answer: A detail is a special assignment for a determined period of time. It is an assignment that may take an officer or detective away from his normal duties in order to concentrate on only the special assignment. In some departments for example, a “Homicide Detail” is that unit which only investigates homicide and is not a special assignment but the duty the officer is assigned to.In a city with a small department, that may have only a handful of murders a year. What does a Homicide Investigator do the rest of the time? Work cold cases? Assignments on another squad?
Answer: In small departments where the homicide rate is low, homicide detectives will work other cases through the year. Usually, detectives/inspectors are assigned duty as stolen vehicles, burglaries, assaults and missing person’s investigators. When a homicide occurs, their supervisor would assign a team of two to handle that particular homicide in addition to their other investigative duties.
How would an investigator at the station get called to the scene, by phone? Is the main building even called a station?
Answer: In a small department, there is usually only one building housing the Police Department. It is referred to by the rank and file as: The Station, the P.D. (police department) or sometimes The House. I used P.D. most of the time and often used The Station. While in the station, a detective could be notified of a detail by Dispatch calling him on the phone, or most likely one of the following: Dispatch notifies the patrol watch commander of the homicide and he in turn notifies the investigator supervisor who then assigns it or Dispatch could notify the investigator supervisor directly.
What’s in those giant police RV’s they bring out when something’s happening? Would they bring it out for a dead guy in an alley?
Answer: The large RV you see at certain scenes is filled with hot coffee and lots of jelly donuts for the cops. Just kidding. That RV is a special response unit and usually it is a mobile command center for a critical incident. It will have a radio capable of linking with other departments, a TV for getting local news bulletins like during a storm, computers to write reports and gather information from the department or county data banks, comfortable seats for tired officers, a microwave and sometimes even a shower and toilet. It is where the Incident Commander can be found running the show. It is often used as PR at civic events in smaller departments. It would not be used for a homicide investigation.
A sampling of next weeks questions: Officer Friendly, I recently heard the term ‘suicide by cop.’ what does that mean?