221? 221, go ahead. Be en route to the jail for a prisoner release. Wow, that is an exciting call, I thought. 221 en route. Sometimes in law enforcement what starts out mundane, turns into a war story that you are still telling your friends about 20 years later….this is one such story.
I arrived at the jail at about 11:30 p.m. and entered its fetor confines. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be in jail, you will quickly pick up on a unique combo of smells….think urine with a healthy dose of gym locker room.
We shall call this calamitous guy Carl…well, because it sounds good with calamitous. Carl had sat in our jail for four days rather than pay some old traffic tickets. He was on parole for aggravated robbery, having served several years in the Texas Department of Corrections, (TDC). The traffic tickets were nothing for him to worry about and would have no effect on his paroled status.
Carl was institutionalized, TDC tends to do that to someone. I used to like dealing with guys like Carl, you knew exactly what to expect…and so did they. Believe it or not, arresting a local dentist for DWI was a larger pain in the ass than dealing with Carl.
I did the discharge paperwork and Carl was sent walking. As I checked back into service, I watched his shadow disappear westbound up the access road to the highway. Carl’s mother lived about 2 miles from the police station, he was headed in the right direction.
Driving around for eights hours, alone in the dark, is a unique way to make a living. I drove alley ways, checked businesses, checked backyards for scared old ladies….I did whatever came across the radio.
The dog shift was a mix of calls for service relayed to you by dispatch and self-generated activity. I excelled in self-generated activity…for the stats, but mostly to just stay awake.
After leaving the station, I mozied on down to the 7-11 to get a coke. Diane, the manager, appreciated that I took short breaks there, it made her feel safer and she enjoyed the company. I walked into the store and Diane cut her eyes quickly to a guy standing by the ATM.
She said one thing, “10-56.” That let me know the guy was drunk. We had prearranged radio signals and other buzz words for almost any situation that I might walk into on my frequent visits.
I approached the white male and began checking him for signs of intoxication. He showed me a driver’s license, and told me he had been to a local honky-tonk….honesty…I liked that.
221? 221 go ahead. The burglar alarm is going off at the junior high on Church Street. 221 en route. In small departments, improvisation is also needed on a nightly basis. The dude was intoxicated and not getting back in his truck. I asked him for his keys, told him to call a ride and he could pick up his keys the next day at the front desk of the police department.
I pulled onto the 200 block of Church street and killed my headlights, taking the last three blocks blacked out. There would be no back-up coming, all units were handling other calls. I hit the foot release and pulled the shot-gun out of its floor rack. I got out of the unit and started to check the perimeter windows and doors. It was about 12:20 a.m. on a Thursday morning.
Alarms went off every night, the trick was to never get lazy. Sure, ninety-nine percent were false….caused by the weather, a stray cat, or the owner of the property…but you had to treat each call like the real deal.
At the back southwest corner of the school I found a window broken. The glass was blasted in and I could see a couple drops of fresh blood on the sill. I knocked out the remaining jagged pieces, stepped back into the shadows, and assessed my predicament.
There was no vehicle that I could see in the area, telling me that this “burglar” was on foot and not too bright. Not too bright because of the blood and the window that he chose to break….it was the only window at the back of the school with a giant spotlight right above it.
I softly told the dispatcher my location and notified her of the open window. Another officer was wrapping up a traffic accident and would be on his way in about 9 minutes. Just at that moment I saw the outline of a six-foot tall man walking in the school.
I would like to tell you that I did the right thing…waited the 9 minutes before entering the school. I always did the right thing when talking about officer safety….except this night.
I put the shotgun inside the window first, then I jumped up and went in head first. My hands came down on the classroom floor, right on the broken glass. As I pulled myself through the opening, my brass buttons popped off the front of my uniform shirt…..one at a time. This was not my finest moment of grace….and I wasn’t too quiet either.
I quickly jumped to my feet, grabbed my shotgun and walked towards the door. As I took my first step into the hall, I could see a man walking towards me…he had something in his hands. I racked a round into the shotgun…an unmistakeable sound…what we called a “scum-bag alert.”
I leveled the shotgun at the man and told him to drop what was in his hands. He released two boxes and about 200 pencils hit the floor and scattered. I got the guy proned out on the floor…and we held our positions. I could hear my back-up checking out at the school.
As the other officer walked up behind me and illuminated my bad guy for the first time…..I recognized him….it was Carl. “What on earth are you doing here and why are you stealing pencils, I asked?? Carl replied with five words, “I want to go home.”
We stood him up, walked him back to the same open window and pushed Carl through it, head first, and handcuffed. Back at the station I booked Carl in jail for burglary of a building….a felony…one that would ensure that he went back to TDC, his home.
I knew Carl was institutionalized when I set him walking to his mother’s earlier in the night….I just didn’t know to what level. He had a made a decision that he could not function in the real world. Breaking into a building without the effective consent of the owner, to commit a theft or other felony, while on parole in Texas, gets you a ticket to TDC….even if you are stealing 2 boxes of pencils.
Carl walked into the holding cell, sat down on the iron cot and took a very deep breath. The air that repelled most and the 4 by 8 cell others avoided, was the one place on earth where Carl felt normal.
I drove back to the 7-11, the ice in my coke had surely melted….maybe I would pick one up for Carl.