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On patrol with SDPD's Sergeant Anderson

You can give someone a fatal wound and that person can still go ahead and empty his gun into you

Sergeant Anderson: "Once you've been on three high-speed chases, and have gone to three murder scenes and to three fatal accidents, from then on the excitement's over and the little things start getting to you."
  • Sergeant Anderson: "Once you've been on three high-speed chases, and have gone to three murder scenes and to three fatal accidents, from then on the excitement's over and the little things start getting to you."

I guess the first thing I try to tell people when I stop them is what I thought they were doing wrong. They see the flashing lights in their rearview mirror and a lot of times their minds go overall the things they've done in the past few days that were wrong or illegal. They're not just thinking, “Uh oh, I rolled through that stop sign.” They're thinking, “Oh my God, is he stopping me for cheating on my taxes, or adultery, or both?”

What they don't know is a sergeant doesn't carry a ticket book. If I want to cite somebody, I've got to call another unit to come and write it. There are probably good reasons for that, but I've been on the force so long I don't remember them. (You get a star on you nameplate for every five years of duty, and I'll have six starts by the time I retire at fifty-five. That'll be thirty-three years altogether.) I guess the main reason sergeants don't carry books is that we're supervisors -- you see “Supervisor” on the door of the patrol car, also on a lieutenant's care -- and writing a lot of tickets would put us in a position where we'd have to be called off patrol to go to court, and the department figures our time is better spent supervising, being on hand for line up, and writing reports. Also, all the tickets are numbered, and if a book isn't used up in a certain period of time, it screws up the computer. Seems to me I heard that somewhere. Sounds right, anyways.

There's a guy right now driving with his left rear taillight out. I'm not going to stop him, though. He's going the other way and I'd have to make a bad U-turn. Also, he's not speeding.

Sergeant Kenneth Anderson guided his car carefully through the night fog on West Morena Boulevard at the base of Clairemont Mesa. A void ribbon of an slipped through the car, which otherwise smelled of tobacco, coffee, and the cold plastic of the dashboard and upholstery. Overhead the fog was thin enough to show the red flashing underside of an airplane. It was one of the week's more changeable hours, when Saturday night dwindles into Sunday morning.

Let's see what things are like at Spirit. It's one of the first places I go after leave the station. We got a call the other night from somebody, a Mexican fella, who said some people were screwing his backyard. His kids woke him up and told him about it. I said, “I'd rather investigate that than a burglary, but it only turned out to be some heavy petty in the lot across the street from the club. There's the lot over there on the right, and here's the club on the left. Things seem pretty quiet, on the outside anyway. Inside they got their punk music going. Didn't that start in England? I've read about it but that's all. I think a lot of music is like sports --- you know, for spectators. And I've never gotten interested in spectator sports, which is a good thing on this job since you're never around to see them.

What we're on now is called the third watch, which starts at 11:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 in the morning. The first watch goes on at 7:30 a.m. and the second watch at 3:30 p.m. Then there's a special one called the C Squad that works from about seven in the evening to three in the morning, which are the heaviest hours for radio calls and drunks. You stay with the same watch for twelve weeks, then you move to the next watch. Each watch is divided into various squads, and you stay with the same squad so you get to know the people you work with. I have anywhere from six to nine patrol officers working with me in the field. On the radio my code is Six-twenty Sam -- Sam because I'm a sergeant, Six-twenty because the beats on my patrol are numbered 621 to 626, which covers Bay Park, Linda Vista, Mission Valley, University Heights, North Park, and parts of Hillcrest.

Of all three watches, I'd say I like graveyard best. You can get around faster with no traffic. Seven minutes from one end of my patrol to the other. Your more mobile and you feel more effective, more useful. Of course there's not as much going on: the night watch is deader around here than most places. Sometimes in Mission Valley its just you and the quail. I haven't done this in years, but you launch a canoe from the shoulder of Texas Street and paddle just fifty yards or so up the San Diego River, and all of a sudden you can't see the city anymore. You might hear a little traffic, but probably not at night. All around you is a stand of reeds, and then the sky and the water. It's kind of amazing. But as far as work, at night you mostly look out for deuces and commercial burglaries. A deuce is a 502 -- a drunk driver. Comes from the Vehicle Code where the section on drunk driving used to be number 502. bit was changed to 2310A, then 23152A and B. Stopped a girl the other night driving on the wrong side of Camino del Rio South. This was about two in teh morning. She was driving straight but in the wrong lane. I finally chased her down and she said she'd been at the Playboy Club with her boss, who'd been trying to get her to let him drive her home. So I gave her a verbal test and a coordination test, and she was arrested. Here's somebody weaving and going slow. He could be drunk or he could be lost. Out of state plates. That's one thing you see a lot in the town is people with out-of-state plates going the wrong way on a one-way street, or some damn thing. He touches the center line once more and he's mine. Oops...there he's turning a corner. Made a pretty wide turn. I think I'd better talk to him for a minute.

Anderson switched on the light hat atop the car, but as he did the siren unexpectedly started to yelp. He shut the siren off and, laughing said the last guy to use a car sometimes leaves the siren on for a joke. Then he opened the door and got out drawing his long black flashlight from the ring of his belt. As he walked toward the driver he put him in a wiggling circle of light. The driver lifted sad eyes behind glasses, and tried to smile.

“Good evening, sir, are you lost?”

“Hell, I'm all turned around here.”

“See your driver's license, please?”

“What part of town am I in, you know?”

“You're in Clairemont, just east of Interstate 5.”

“God almighty.”

“Have you been drinking tonight, sir”

“Oh-uh-yes. Some, some wine, a couple glasses of wine with a party of friends at dinner.”

“You want to step out of the car for me, please?”

“Certainly, officer.”

“Okay. Now. I want you to count backwards from eighty-five to sixty-five.”

“Eighty-five to sixty-five?”

“Yes.”

“Backwards?”

“Yes.”

“All right. You said starting at eight-five. I can do that. Let's see, eighty-five, eighty-four, eighty-three, Eighty-one, uh, uh, let's see, eighty, seventy-nine...”

(And so on, slowly, to sixty-five.)

“All right. Now I'd like you to walk like this -- placing the heel of one foot against the toe of the other foot -- for ten steps, turn and come back ten steps. Understand?”

“Yes, I'll do it. But you have to understand I have a problem with my foot. Here,you can see my shoe. It has a special sole because one leg is shorter and it makes me --”

“Yes, I do see. But try it anyway, would you please?”

“I might wobble a bit.”

“That's all right. Most people do.”

“Am I doing all right?”

“All right, thank you. Here's your license. Do you need directions?”

“What? Oh-yes-uh damn it. Hotel Circle North.”

“Go back down this street, turn right at the overpass and follow the signes to El Centro.”

“All the way to El Centro?”

“No, sir. Just till you see the sign for Hotel Circle North.”

“Hotel Circle North. Thanks.”

“You bet.”

Back in the car.

I'll bet he does go to El Centro, too. I'd better follow him a ways and put him on the track. He did the physical test pretty well for a guy with a short leg. I once had to give a drunk test to a guy in a wheelchair. Another time to a guy who was deaf. But what the hell -- they drink, too. I've been known to have a few myself. I need three beers to make it home, put it like that.

And to tell you the truth, I don't think it's such a bad idea to drink those beers in the car, because if you go to a bar, you're more likely to drink a pitcher. Maybe two pitchers. And so off you go driving home, no open container of liquor in the vehicle, but with two pitchers of beer inside you. So which is worse; three empty bottles in the back seat or a couple of pitchers behind the belt? Know that the answer is? “Its a good thing Kenny Anderson doesn't write the law.”

He leaned rightward and took his green Bic lighter from the cranny of the empty shotgun rack by the glove compartment, tired the bowl of his pipe, and settled the lighter back in its place.

I don't like to carry a shotgun because I work alone. It'd be different if I was driving with a partner, 'cause then if we found ourselves in a position where we might have to use the shotgun, one of us could hang onto the weapon and not have to use it. See what I mean? If I was driving alone, and I take the shotgun out of the rack, then I'm almost forced int a position where I have to use it, because I sure can't set it down to fistfight somebody who's coming at me with a bottle or a trash can. As a police officer I have to answer force with equal force.

I shot somebody about five years ago. An armed robber. He lived to serve, I think, eight years. One thing most people don't know about gunfire is that you can give someone a fatal wound and that person can still go ahead and empty his gun into you. I worked about three years in San Ysidro, and at one time, about twenty years ago, there was a breakout of rabies, and we were ordered to shoot strays on sight. Now, I'm not type who would ever like to shoot an animal, especially a dog, but there were some dogs down there that I took pleasure in putting away. At the time there were shacks near the border where burglars would meet or hide, and sometimes they attracted dogs -- mean ones, in packs. You could kill one with a single shot, but you couldn't kill it fast.

Anyways, two guys were pulling robberies around town and were known to work in Mustangs. One night they hit a gas station in Clairemont, and we got a description for a yellow Mustang and also its plate number. About half an hour later, a unit spotted the description at the Palm Avenue on-ramp to I-5, and when he moved into read the plate, the Mustang took off on the freeway. I happened to be in the area and got on the freeway. I was a minute, maybe two minutes behind the officer who had spotted them.

He had them in sight all the way and talked me in on the radio. They got off the freeway at Seventeenth Street, near the Coronado Bridge, and both of us followed. They ditched the Mustang on Sixteenth Street and took off on foot. The officer was chasing both of them, and then they had the sense to split up. this was just before I arrived. The officer had caught one guy and pointed where the other guy had run. I looked around saw he was heading up Seventeenth Street, directly behind me.

No time to turn around, so I put the car in reverse and drove about a hundred yards up the street. He ran into a driveway, or kind of an open alley next to a warehouse. I pulled the car in, tried to shine my spotlight on him, and jumped out. I knew he was armed and I had my pistol ready. H was tired, breathing hard, and was maybe thirty feet away. I couldn't see him well because he was out of the spotlight, and so I just tried to keep an eye on his gun. I said, “Throw down the gun!” once, and then I said it again, or maybe three times, but he was just standing there holding it, kind of crouching. HE looked Mexican; maybe he couldn't understand me. Anyways, at the end he turned sideways to me, and I couldn't see the bun. I though “As long as I can see the gun, I'm okay,” but when he took it out of signt and then started turning his shoulder toward me, I aimed at him, and hit him until he went down. I hit him three times with three shots. Then some other units arrived and we got him in one of our ambulances to the hospital.

“Any unit handle a four-fifteen at Las Girls --- man refusing to leave.”

This was the radio dispatcher calling for a patrol unit. Anderson picked up his microphone and accepted the assignment, giving his code name and location. “Six-twenty Same will handle from Morena and Taylor.” He replaced the microphone.

A four-fifteen is disturbing the peace. That means someone called in a complaint and we've got to go see what it is. Not in this case, but most of the time its a husband and wife fighting it out. Now, if it were just me driving past and I heard the ruckus, I couldn't go and tell the people to knock it off. You can't disturb a policeman's peace. If somebody eles's peace is disturbed, and if they're willing to file a complaint, then we go in. But not if its only our own. At Les Girls, an all-nude nightclub, a young woman was standing by the cashier's window inside the door, naked as a bottle. Anderson's own three daughters are about this age. He said something right away that made her laugh and she led him in a high-heeled quick sashay through the theater while Anderson Followed with his thumbs tucked into the front of his belt. Onstage, a dancer bent over and showed the solemn audience of men her upside-down face. Where an electric heater grumbled on a chair backstage by the cinderblock wall, the young woman stopped and turned to Anderson. The cold seemed to make her skin pucker. She spoke after folding her arms. “He was back here a while ago. A short guy, I guess; I didn't really see him. Anyway, I can't believe this, but he was peeing on the wall. I mean, God! this guy is back here peeing on our wall. Some people are such jerks!”

“Well, if we catch him we'll see that he's booked for impersonating a dog.”

Anderson checked backstage and looked into the men's bathroom, then asked to see the booth where the man had been sitting. There he turned up an empty bottle of Bacardi, which he held aloft as evidence that the man who had emptied it was gone. He waved a friendly good-bye to the women all around, and met another patrolman in the parking lot as he was walking to his car.

“You got it covered, Andy?”

“Yeah, the suspect took off, so there's nothing to do. I handled everything. I mean, I wanted to handle everything but I only looked. We're clear. See you later.”

“See you later, Andy”

Back in the car, he relit his pipe.

Let's see what's going on in North Park. I guess we've got time before the bars break. What is it -- one o'clock? Time for a little proactive work. That a new administrative word: proactive. the lieutenants are using it, and it means what you do on your own -- like the opposite of reactive. Proactive, you go looking for stuffDrunks, of course. This time of night, also robberies. Some places up on University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard get hit a lot. Usually places set back from the street a little, and with an alley in back. Robbers love a nice alley where they can hide the car. Or another proactive thing is checking out parking lots for gang activity. There're some lots on Mission Bay where low riders have been frequenting. It's touchy driving past a car in a parking lot late at night. Most of the time there's only a couple engaged in people production, and you don't want to be nosey. But there could be a rape in progress, so you have to listen, watch, try to figure out what's happening. That's what I like about police worker. After all these years, I can says its less exciting that I thought it would be, but more interesting. I mean, some people spend all their lives trying to catch fish; I think it's more fun to catch people.

And as I said before, I like working graveyard. It gives me a chance to wear out old uniforms — like shirts with burn holes in them from pipe, and these shoes I'm wearing; these are Army-issue combat boots I got in boot camp in 1958.

I also liked working on a motorcycle, which I did for eight years on the traffic detail, driving those Harleys that had the shift lever and the foot clutch. I got off that patrol in 1973, just when the department was starting to buy Hondas. Actually I was asked to get off the patrol. Motorcycle officers are the only ones who take their equipment from home to work, which means that when you take your bike home, you have to clean it, which I hated to do.

So now I drive my own Yamaha 350 to work and then ride a patrol car. the bike is kind of dirty but it runs great. Bought it used, same as I did my pickup, a '62 Dodge, and my '70 VW Fastback with the primered fender. He stopped talking for a moment to attend to the radio, the continued, still listening.

Sounds like a unit has a chase going on. Chasing a van on University Avenue. University and Eighth --- that's by the Jack-in-the-Box. Now they've turned right at University and Fifth. Sounds like the van is heading for one of the hospitals: Mercy or University. They're both in the neighborhood. I wonder if somebody's hurt. We might find out if we're going up there and they call for another unit. There's got to be something to do besides looking for 502s.

“Sixty-twenty Sam.”

He picked up the microphone.

“Twenty Sam.”

“Six-twenty Same you have a request to meet a unit at the San Diego Trust and Savings in the 400 block on Washington in about ten minutes.”

“Ten-four.”

I wonder what that could be. Probably somebody's got a problem and wants to talk it over. That's good, actually. That's what we're here for. You find that if you talk a situation over right away it save time and effort in the long run. You can easily spend four hours on paperwork for a complaint, gathering the information and writing the reports, where if it's only a misunderstanding and you get to it right away, you can smooth over everybody's feelings and take care of the whole thing.

In the parking lot of the bank, near a peninsula of low shrubs, Anderson was waiting in his patrol car, smoking, when another patrolman drove up and stopped beside him, driver's side to driver's side. The incident that they were to discuss involved a man who lived on Robinson Avenue and who had driven to a nearby bar where he'd gotten drunk and then had been involved in a minor accident while driving home. Witnesses had seen him leave the accident, which technically made it a hit and run. Anderson was familiar with the incident as he'd also stopped at the man's house earlier in the evening. The patrolman who actually handled the investigation now wanted to tell the sergeant what he thought of it.

“What do I have to do, sarge? What does it take? What do you say to people when they lie to your face? 'Uh, excuse me, but I'm not stupid'? Did you hear that man's wife? She stood there and told me about somebody stealing her husband's car and getting in an accident with it, and when I called her on it, she just lied some more. Maybe she thinks I like being jerked around. You know, I feel like citing her for a false police report.”

“Why don't you?” replied Anderson, removing the pipe from one hand and with the other drawing a papaperback law book from his briefcase between the front seats. Looking at his fingers flipping pages, he asked, “How long have you been on the force? Five years?”

“Three.”

“You haven't been lied to before?”

“Chuh!” The patrolman tipped his head back and touched the sun visor about him in agitation. Anderson had found the page but kept talking.

“People like all the time. It's part of the --”

“But she tried to tell me he never drove the car all night, when I've got witnesses...”

“Hey, I'm not arguing with you. Why don't you write her a notify warrant for 52.05? Write it up, send it in, and see what happens. They might send her a notice appear on the charge. What do you think?”

The patrolman looked away at something distant. “A different case. I spent a year working on a guy who was selling all over my beat. I finally made the arrest, wrote it up, and they kicked it back because it didn't have all the elements.”

“What elements were missing?”

“That's the whole thing, sarg. I wasn't missing any elements. If I didn't have all the elements, I wouldn't have sent in the charges.”

“But did you really have them?”

“Yeah! I hat that guy cold.”

“How long did you say you've been on the force?”

“Three years.”

“Hm. Well — keep it up. Sounds good to me if you want to write the lady for a false crime report. Send it in, see what happens. Can't hurt.”

“I just get so frustrated I couldn't let that one go without talking about it,” he said as his engine kicked up and the car dropped into gear. He was already sliding past Anderson's window and showing a smile and an upraised palm when Anderson leaned out and said to him, receding “Don't take it so hard. Take it easy.” To which he replied, “I'll try.”

Don't know that guy too well since he's not in my squad, but he seems enthusiastic. Some of the younger guys quit after three or four years because a lot of the work gets old. Once you've been on three high-speed chances, and have gone to three murder scenes and to three fatal accidents, from then on the excitement's over and the little things start getting to you.

Like last Friday morning, I'd been up all night and I had a subpoena to appear in court at nine-thirty. So I show up, but the defendant doesn't. I get time and a half for court appearances, so in two hours I made about thirty bucks, which isn't bad, but on the other hand, I wanted to go to bed. That kind of thing doesn't always put you in a good mood.

But on the whole I don't regret choosing this career. At one point I could have been a tree surgeon, which I really loved doing. At least, it was a great job I had for a couple of summers while I was going to Colby College in Maine. My family's originally from Tukahoe, New York, the same as Maude on television. It's an upper middle-class neighborhood with not much going on. I got a motorscooter when I was a kid, and as soon as I was old enough I bough a 1941 Indian, which I raced everywhere in town except the track. Then my family moved to Illinois and I finished at Lake Forest College, thirty miles north of Chicago, where I got a B.S. in psychology. I saw an ad there in the Tribune for job openings in the San Diego Police Department, went down, took the test, and the police chief told me I had a job in Sand Diego if I could get myself out there. I made the trip in a brand new 1957 Chevrolet, six cylinder.

Eighteen months later I was drafted. The Korean conflict was over but they were still taking people. With my degree they made me an assistant psychologist and I spent most of my time in the Army in San Francisco, at the Presidio. I also got lonely and married the girl I was going out with. Then we moved back to San Diego and I got my job back with the department and we had three daughters. I remember at one time they were three, four and five years old -- like the sides of a right triangle. I don't know how old they are now. Nineteen, twenty-one, and twenty-two, something like that. It changes every year. This year they all chipped in and bought me some glasses for my birthday. My very first set; I'm supposed to pick them up in a couple of days. It wasn't too hard to choose the frames because they all looked back to me. I've never thought of myself as old. And here one of my daughters, the middle one, just entered the academy to become a community service officer for the city, and if she likes it, she may go on to become a police officer, too.

“Six-twenty Sam, we've got another request for a supervisor. Can you respond?”

“Twenty Sam. Sure, where is it?”

“Forty-two hundred bock of Park Boulevard; two officers say they're in front of a a laundromat or a laundry or something.”

“Tea-four.”

Let's see — 4200 Park: where's that, by Madison or Meade up in Normal Heights? Oh, I know. There's a halfway house or probation center or something up there on Park where the inmates sometimes get out and raise hell in the neighborhood. Its probably one of those. We'll be there in a minute.

There they are — two officers and somebody else. Jesus, what's that guy doing? Brown pants, naked to the waist, face covered with blood smeared on his chest and in his hair. He's yelling, “Hit me again, hit me again!” at the officer who's facing him off with his nightstick.

I get out of the car and the other officer comes up to me and explains the situation. This guy, whose name is Benny, was riding in the van that the officers chased to University Hospital earlier in the evening. His sister-in-law had broken a vase or something across the side of his face. He was probably high on PCP; his behavior was erratic and he seemed to feel no pain from the cuts on his cheek, and no sense of cold for his being without a shirt. He wouldn't let the people at University treat him for his cuts, and then the people who were driving the ban, his sister and her boyfriend, dropped him off her and were gone. Now he wanted to be taken to Mercy Hospital but he wouldn't get in the car.

Okay. Let's handcuff him and put him in the car, but without forcing him. He's not under arrest because he hasn't done anything wrong, and anway, if we arrest him then the city pays for his medical treatment.

“Get your hands off me! Don't touch me!”

“Look, Benny, just calm down. You're doing this to yourself. Do you want to go to Mercy or not? If you do, then get in the car.”

“Don't touch me!”

“Then get in the car!”

“I'm not an animal.”

“Okay. Fine. Get in the car.”

On the sidewalk outside the emergency room at Mercy, Benny stands while one of the officers removes the handcuffs. Free, he calls everyone in sight a son of a bitch, then kicks one of his shoes into the street, and walks in underwater motions into the emergency room, while Anderson and the two other officers wait outside. They wait because there is some question as to whether the hospital will accept him for treatment. In a moment, one of the officers follows him in. In another moment appears in the doorway and calls for help. Benny is on the floor in the waiting room, kicking and rolling under a male nurse in a white uniform. Soon two other nurses and the three policemen are wrestling Benny onto a gurney and strapping down his arms and legs with green rubber belts.

The strength with which he resists his subduers is astonishing and frightening. Leaning on him with all their weight and muscle, six people barely keep him in his place. Every half minute or so he relaxes and seems to come to his senses. He says, “I hurt, please help me. I need help bad.” And then he releases another wave of strength that has the subduers holding on like castaways in a store. His language turns despicable, but his manner is educated, and in his calm periods he sound normal and reasonable. He looks Caribbean, with Mexican features and Afro hair.

Some kind of a reasonable guy. Just obnoxious; doesn't cooperate with anything you do. They have his legs and his arms strapped down, but still he tries to grab the male nurse by the balls. then with everybody hanging on to him, he does a sit-up from the waist — raises his back off the gurney as easy as somebody getting out of bed. From the way he's acting, I'm afraid he's going to bit somebody, maybe take off a finger with his teeth, and so I reach up and grab him by the hair and pull his head back down to the pillow. He resists, but I've got two good handfuls of him and succeed in pulling him down. Even down, his head won't lie flat on the deck. He rolls back on the top of his like a wrestler avoiding a pin, and he looks at me with light-brown eyes as wide as they will go. He says, “You don't have to hold me by the hair, man. I'm not a fucking animal.” But what am I going to do? I'll let him go when he calms down or when he's finally secure. But as long as he can hurt somebody, one of us, I mean, I'm holding on. I don't turn away from his eyes, but I don't respond to him either. I just hold on calmly until the doctor comes with a sedative. In a way he's lucky to get any help at all. Mercy didn't have to take him at all. Ah, here comes somebody with the syringe.—

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