Parked in a ditch and drinking a Slurpee, I was thinking about generating some activity. It was early on a Wednesday morning and I was bored to tears. Fishing for drunks seemed liked a good use of my time. I had already drove alleys for two hours and felt my district was secure. I was working in an affluent suburb of Dallas, a town where trouble never came up and introduced itself…you had to go reel it in yourself.
It was about 3AM when the speed flashed 83 on the display of my radar…I hit the button locking it in. I put my patrol car in drive, turned on the overheads and took off after the violator…yeehaw, something to do! I had to exceed 90 mph before the black Pontiac Trans Am pulled over on the shoulder of a major 6 lane highway. The driver was perfectly still and looking straight ahead.
I have OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. Not as bad as Jack Nicholson in that movie As Good As It Gets, but enough so that it is sometimes bothersome. My degree of OCD is what I call, “anal pre-occupation” or AP for short. Don’t bother looking it up in the American Medical Association Journal for verification, they haven’t returned my calls.
AP is actually what I consider the “golden child” of the OCD family. AP people have clean houses and very organized lives. We play by the rules…exactly by the rules, and get upset when others don’t. In the high school play, we not only knew our lines, but the lines of the ENTIRE cast. AP was responsible for my personal car being in the same parking spot every night at the station, at the same angle. AP made me sit in patrol cars and memorize the entire Texas Penal Code. AP made me spray cleanser on the steering wheel and radio mike in my patrol car at the start of each shift. AP helped me become the first female Sergeant in my police department. AP is making me stop this list because the length of this paragraph is starting to bug me. AP makes you pre-occupied with the details…it makes you sweat the details.
Officer safety standards are drilled into your head from the first day of the police academy. I paid close attention and never forgot the warnings of my instructors. Dallas and the surrounding suburbs had 19 officers die in the line of duty during the eight years I worked patrol. Looking back at statistics now, it was a particularly brutal time period for being a cop.
Your training as a police officer dictates exactly how you will conduct yourself in an emergency. My AP had me very sharp in the category of officer safety…I used a tragedy that occurred out west in the late 1980s as my touchstone. The CA case is my “best evidence” of how sweating the details…and utilyzing proper training habits, can save your life.
It was a very tragic story involving the California Highway Patrol, or CHips. It seems there were two patrol cars stopping a suspected bank robber, the suspect vehicle pulled into a parking lot. A shoot-out ensued and 3 CHips officers were dead..the suspect fled the scene.
An eye-witness recounted the story that the 3rd officer killed was crouched at the back of his unit. He was drawing fire as the suspect advanced on him…the suspect made it all the way to the rear of the patrol unit and shot him in the head…there was no return fire. The witness said the officer was fidgeting with something in his hand.
That officer was known to go to the shooting range at least once a week to practice…he was a classified “expert” at shooting with his revolver. He had a habit of dumping his spent shells in his right hand and shoving them in his pocket to recycle them. The officer had a re-loader at his house, it saved him money on ammo…because he practiced all the time.
The investigators found six spent shells in the dead officer’s right pocket. Even in the heat of the shoot-out, …with his life on the line…the officer reverted to his training. He had “trained” himself to dump that brass in his pocket. I am sure without even being conscious of the fact, he fumbled to secure the brass, then tried to re-load…as the bad guy advanced…and it was over.
A scumbag wasn’t going to take me out…that wasn’t an option…it was going to be in the details.
I checked out with the dispatcher, giving her a quick description of the Trans Am, with the license plate, occupied one time. I walked slowly up to the left side of the vehicle, checking the trunk to see if it was secured. You didn’t want scumbag number two waiting until you got to the driver side window, then popping out to shoot you in the back. I had my flashlight in my left hand…gun hand always remained free. I approached and illuminated the interior of the car….he turned to look at me and our eyes met.
The white male in the black shirt had his hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. I introduced myself and told him that I had stopped him for traveling 83 mph in a 55 mph speed zone. I asked him for his proof of insurance and his driver’s license… he gave me a glance and told me that he would have to reach inside the glove box to retrieve his wallet. In one quick move I drew my 9mm pistol and stuck it in his left ear. Make one move towards the glove box and you are a dead man!!
There was a pregnant pause before the man told me that his wallet was in the glove box. There was a look that he gave me that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. That coupled with the fact that as I had walked up to the car, I had shown my flashlight in the backseat …and noticed a wallet resting on top of a leather jacket.
I booked the parolee on possession of controlled substance, having found meth-amphetamine in the center console of the Trans Am. Oh yeah, and unlawful carrying of a weapon by a felon, a .45 automatic, nickle-plated and loaded was found…in the glove box.
The guy walked into the cell and I locked the door behind him. He said, “you could see it in my eyes, couldn’t you?” Yeah I responded, you would make a lousy poker player, you gave me a “tell” with just that one glance. I would have pulled my weapon even if I hadn’t have seen the wallet on the jacket. I told him his answer would stay between us, but what was he thinking, what thought had crossed his mind? “I knew I was going back to prison…I was thinking I could kill you and move on down the highway.”
It is funny how life whizzes by so fast that we usually just deal with the big picture, the macro and not the micro. But if you really think about it…your most brilliant and your darkest memories can all be reduced to very small moments.
Nowadays things are different, I know if I miss something in the courtroom, my life will not be in jeopardy. I do punch for the elevator with a knuckle though and not the tip of my finger. I like to sit in the jury box and try and guess the offense of each new defendant that approaches the bench. I carry hand cleanser and wash up as I leave each courtroom because I always wish a client well with a firm handshake. I sometimes count how many steps I take as I leave the courthouse for my car.
The AP is still with me and it’s okay. I don’t sweat the details now, I just marvel in the minutia of a life that I am living…a life that could have ended, in just one glance.