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It was the summer of 1967 and I was working the tactical team in the 018th District. Celebrity encounters were not unusual in 018 with the Rush Street night clubs providing popular watering holes for upscale patrons. For my part, none of them were particularly memorable, except perhaps one.
We had a rape pattern working just north of the Rush Street neighborhood, along State and Dearborn streets, between Division and North Avenues. There was a mix of attempt entries along with actual rapes that had occurred during early morning hours from about 3:00 AM to dawn. The bad guy struck mostly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays for some odd reason. The tact team hours were shifted to allow for intensive plain-clothed foot patrols during the target hours. None of us were too happy, first with being on foot for the entire night, but also because in 1967 there were no hand-held personal radios. We would be completely devoid of any communications with the rest of the district except for four operating call boxes, two on Division Street and two on North Avenue.
The beat cars were alerted to our mission in the event we attempted to wave them down for an assist. Two tact sergeants would be in unmarked vehicles and would cruise State and Dearborn Streets exclusively making frequent visual contact with the foot teams.
The powers that be wanted each two man team to be bi-racial. We were a well-integrated unit, but never-the-less I was separated from my regular partner and assigned to work with Alex, a dark-skinned Louisiana Creole man. We would work well together without a problem but it just added another wild-card to the overall situation. My regular partner and I could anticipate one another in an almost uncanny manner—Alex and I would not enjoy that sixth-sense advantage.
Because there had been several incidents in this pattern, we had a fairly reliable description of the rapist. He was a male black, about 5-10, with a slightly stocky build. Victims and intended victims described his clothing as shabby and unkempt. He had a scruffy beard, bushy hair and body odor. Indications were that we were likely looking for a homeless person.
Alex and I were about an hour into our first night’s assignment. The brightening sky to the east, a precursor to dawn had not yet appeared, if anything, it was the extreme pitch-blackness just prior to sunrise. We were walking south on Dearborn, approaching Division, glancing down each gangway as we proceeded when suddenly we noticed a dark figure hurrying down the gangway toward us. First glance into the shadows told us only that he was a male black.
“Stop, police!” I shouted.
“Let me see your hands!” shouted Alex.
The shadowy figure stopped instantly.
“Whoa,” he said as he held his hands away from his side. “I’m cool.”
“Walk toward us—slowly.”
During street stops, officers are constantly evaluating any threat potential. He walked toward us slowly, as directed as we observed and evaluated.
“I’m cool, I’m cool,” he kept repeating.
As he stepped out of the shadows, we quickly concluded two things. One, he was over six foot tall with a very muscular build. Two, he was clean shaven, well-groomed and well dressed—he was definitely not who we were looking for. I looked at his arms again and thought to myself, let’s not piss him off.
He was now near the sidewalk and Alex and I stood on either side of him.
“You have some ID?” asked Alex
“Sure, sure,” he said as he reached for his back pocket.
“Hold on, hold on,” I said. “Let me pat you down.”
He nodded and held his arms out without saying anything while I gave him a quick pat down. No, I thought to myself, we definitely do not want to piss this guy off.
“Okay, let’s see some ID…” but I was suddenly interrupted by Alex.
“Cassius?” he asked.
The subject nodded I looked quizzically at Alex.
“Cassius Clay,” said Alex.
“Sorry Cassius… didn’t know it was you. We’re looking for a rapist…”
“I know who you’re looking for—my girl told me all about it. She’s on the second floor and all locked up tight—I just dropped her off. Do you want to talk to her?”
“No, that’ll be okay, but we’ll have to do a contact card to show we talked to you,” I said.
“Not that they’ll believe us back at the station,” added Alex as he jotted down the information.
* * * * *
Several things struck me about that night as I reflected on it later. First, Cassius Clay had changed his name to Muhammad Ali some three years earlier to great fanfare in the press, but his official ID in 1967 still carried the name Cassius Clay. And second, even though he was viewed by many as a controversial and polarizing individual, in my personal contact with him on that particular evening, I found him to be personable and self-effacing.
Later I talked to others that had casual social contact with Muhammad Ali over the years and they made the same observations. The brash bravado when the cameras were rolling was, in my mind, a well-crafted marketing hype designed to revitalize the waning sport of boxing. I think he succeeded, not to deny that he was also probably one of the best, if not the best heavy-weight boxer in history. And in light of that, I’m still glad I didn’t piss him off.
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Every new recruit is bombarded with information in the police academy. They’re expected to learn countless criminal statutes, local ordinances and Supreme Court rulings. They learn the nomenclature of their weapon, how to break it down, clean it and reassemble it. Recruits have to grasp which offenses get documented on which citation, violation notice or complaint. The police database is filled with contact card information, licensed premise locations and offender data. You just have to know where to click. The information seems endless. To make matters worse, once they hit the street they’re expected to learn a whole new language. A distinct language spoken by those on the street and a distinct language spoken by fellow officers.
Years ago, a young rookie cop was riding with his FTO (Field Training Officer) on a hot summer day when the call came out.
“Fifteen-thirty-one—take the domestic at 4967 W. Washington, second floor. Husband got hurt fighting with the wife. Fire’s not going at this time.”
“Ten-four, on the way, squad.”
The two officers parked the squad in front, walked up to the second floor and listened at the door which was slightly ajar. Only the sounds of running water and a television were heard. With the butt of his holstered pistol in one hand, the FTO slowly pushed the door open with his nightstick. There was mama washing dishes at the sink and papa rocking slowly in an old raggedy recliner watching a black and white TV. A small stream of blood was flowing down his face from the lump on his forehead. The pair entered the hot studio apartment.
“You call the police?” asked the FTO.
“Yep,” said papa.
“What’s the problem?”
“Bitch bust me in the head.”
“What’d she hit you with?”
“The smooth, man—she bust me with the smooth.”
Mama never looked up and continued washing the dishes.
“What’s a ‘smooth’, sir?”
“Right there, on the floor! The smooth.”
Both officers looked where papa is pointing and saw a clothes iron with a small smear of blood on it.
“Is that what she hit you with, sir?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said. The smooth. It’s what you smooth the clothes with.”
“Okay. Why did she hit you with the smooth, sir?” said the FTO with the slightest hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“Bitch said I was hogging the go-around.”
“The what, sir?”
“The go-around, man, the go-around!”
Confused, both officers looked at mama still washing dishes. Without ever looking up, mama gestured with her thumb to the box fan on the kitchen table.
“Okay, your wife hit you in the head with the iron because you weren’t sharing the fan?”
“That’s what I been tellin’ you, man.”
“Do you want an ambulance?”
“Do you want her locked up?”
“Do you want a report?”
“Do you want anything from us, sir?”
“Just get out, man.”
“Have a good day, folks.”
The FTO and rookie walk to their car each with a smirk on their face.
“A smooth and a go-around. Those are new ones to me, kid.”
* * * *
A new recruit was fresh out of the police academy and trying to decipher these cryptic radio calls. The dispatcher was spewing out gibberish and apparently the recruit was the only one who didn’t understand.
“Eleven-twelve—our heroes just scooped up a sidewalk inspector and ran him over to holy Tony’s. Check it out and make sure there’s nothing more to it.”
The FTO keyed the mike, called out “Ten four”, hit the gas and headed to the call.
“He probably got rolled,” said the FTO.
That poor rookie had no idea where they were going, what they were supposed to look for or what the problem was. Too embarrassed to ask, he just went along for the ride hoping to put the pieces together himself. The squad slowly pulled into the “Police Only” parking spot at St. Anthony’s Hospital.
“Ah-ha,” thought the rookie to himself. “St. Anthony’s… Holy Tony’s?”
The first piece of the puzzle. The FTO keyed the mike once more and asked, “Squad, what might our heroes be driving tonight?”
The raspy voice of the dispatcher responded, “They’re on ambulance fifty-six.”
“Okay,” thought the rookie. “Our heroes—ambulance fifty-six? Our heroes are the cross-trained firemen/paramedics on ambulance fifty-six. It makes perfect sense now. The police are the public’s bad guys and the firemen are the heroes. Just a couple more and I’ll have this all figured out.”
As the two officers proceeded into the hospital, the FTO called out to the receptionist, “Ambulance fifty-six?” She responded with, “Exam Room Three.” The pair continued on to exam room three and pulled back the curtain. There were our heroes transferring the subject from stretcher to bed. The FTO began the conversation.
“How drunk is he?”
“Oh, he’s three sheets to the wind,” replied the paramedic.
“Nope, just where he did his face plant.”
More pieces of the puzzle. “Drunk… face plant?” The rookie was getting close. “Ah-ha! Sidewalk inspector! They found this drunk face down on the sidewalk! He’s a sidewalk inspector!” It was all coming together—almost there.
“He get rolled?” asked the FTO.
“Nope, wallet’s in his pocket, watch on his wrist and chain on his neck.”
“Rolled,” thought the rookie? “Ah… robbed. He didn’t get robbed.”
“Do some paper on this kid,” said FTO. “I’m gonna try to find Juan Valdez.”
With a smile on his face the rookie thought to himself, “No problem, I’ll start the report while you look for some coffee.”
Street Talk is an ever evolving language. It’s constantly changing, almost impossible to keep up with. What’s some of the Street Talk you’ve encountered?
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I would be on another special assignment for a federal agency that shall remain nameless. This time I would be working in Central Wisconsin. Another agent and I would work the case together and I was looking forward to being with him. It had been almost a year since we had seen one another, but I was certain he would be happy that we were working together again. I felt we made an extraordinary team.
The people that picked me up when I arrived in town had no details on the nature of our assignment so I sat quietly in the rear of the dark sedan. The feds were like that—everything mysterious, everything confidential. It added to their mystique. Even now, after all these years, I am surprised that I’m writing about it—I have never talked about this case to anyone—until now.
I adjusted the 9 mm Walther PPK in my waistband and eased back in the seat. There was no conversation..
The car snaked along a narrow unlit two lane county highway that paralleled the Wisconsin River to our left. On our heavily wooded right, a light from an occasional residence set far back from the road would occasionally break the almost complete blackness. But when I cocked my head and gazed up, out the window, the Milky Way blazed a path across the sky and created a soft overhead glow, diluted only a bit by a thin crescent moon. It was then I was reminded why I loved the occasional visit here. That, and the fact that I would be working with one of my favorite partners again.
When we reached the strategically located safe-house just north of town I was unceremoniously dropped off by our driver and his assistant. My partner was at the door and I greeted him warmly. Inside were other familiar faces and we nodded in stiff recognition, silent acknowledgement that we would be having no substantive conversation with them. They were strictly support staff for us; providing whatever assistance we might need and freeing us from mundane tasks that would detract from our mission. My partner and I glanced at one another. The others need not know, they must not know, any of the details about what we would be doing the next several days. Such was the nature of this sensitive operation.
It was over two hours, after idle chit-chat an awkward shared meal when we finally found ourselves in a room, alone—able to talk at last. We chattered excitedly about the plans for the coming days—the heavily wooded hills just behind this house, rife with Indian burial mounds—they would provide the landscape where this drama would play out and that was my partner’s expertise. He was raised here and knew the territory well. But just how did these ancient grave-sites come to play such a big part in a criminal enterprise? That was my expertise. Each of us brought unique talents to this assignment and by combining them, we were more than confident about the ultimate success of our mission.
We heard the floor outside our door creak and we stopped talking.
The door to our room, cracked open.
“What?” I said, trying to sound very much annoyed.
“Jimmy! Howie! Quiet down in there. If you two kids don’t shut up and go to sleep, we’ll put you in separate rooms.”
“Sorry dad.” My tone had changed now.
“And Jimmy, you left your toy on the hallway floor and your mom almost broke her neck.”
“That little black plastic gun—it has sharp edges.”
Footsteps walking away from the bedroom door and then silence.
My cousin and I duck our heads under the covers and continue jabbering, but in hushed tones now. I would be here for two weeks—we had a lot of plans to talk about.
Oh, to be eight years old again!
* * * * *
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* * * *
I awoke to a very familiar sound. It was that little thump that I’ve grown so very accustomed to; the sound of my four-year-old daughter’s little feet hitting the floor as she slides out of bed. On this day that sound brings a smile to my face. I am not a morning person, however, my daughter is and this morning she will be even more bright and cheery than usual. Today is Christmas, December 25th, 2013. The pitter-patter of those little feet grows louder as my daughter runs into our room. I smile and tense up just slightly knowing that she is about to jump into bed with me and my wife. Her bright eyes, giant smile and big out-of-control bed-head make my grin grow wider.
“Did Santa come last night?” she asks.
“We have to wait for your brother to wake up and then we’ll check,” I reply.
She climbs under the covers and nestles in as I yawn and stretch, still tired from all of the Christmas Eve festivities. I’m fortunate this year to have been off last night and today, but I lean over and grab my department issued Blackberry and start to check my emails. I typically receive an email and numerous updates for each shooting, homicide or major event that has occurred across the city. As I scroll through looking for anything that may have happened overnight in my area of responsibility, one catches my eye. My fellow officers have responded to a call of a homicide on the 2500 block of North Kildare in the city’s Hermosa neighborhood. Upon arrival they have apparently discovered a dismembered body in the basement. I put down my Blackberry and think to myself, there will be a story behind this one.
The previous evening, Christmas Eve, was spent rushing from one family party to another. My four-year-old twins were dressed in their best duds and stayed busy playing with their cousins, many of whom they haven’t seen since last Christmas. My wife and I kept busy chatting and catching up with family we see far too infrequently. After watching a play given by the kids in the family, complete with an emcee, makeshift costumes and a song from the recently released movie “Frozen”, we pack them back into the car and head to the next family party. The snow is falling and the roads are getting more and more slippery, but we can’t be late. We’ve heard that Santa Claus is coming and we can’t miss him. It was another party with plentiful food, good cheer and a couple of presents from Santa just to whet the kids’ appetites. As the evening came to a close, we hustled home, put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. We put the kids to bed and began bringing presents up from the basement and placing them under the tree. By the time we made it to bed we were exhausted.
About eight miles southeast, Alex Valdez was slowly becoming exhausted as well, but for very different reasons.
About six months prior, eighteen-year-old Alex Valdez moved into the basement apartment on the 2500 block of North Kildare with his aunt and her boyfriend, Sylvestri Diaz. Alex was to keep a job and contribute to the household expenses; however, he had recently stopped working and was asked to move out. The tensions came to a culmination on Christmas Eve while Alex’s aunt was away at a holiday party. Alex sat in the basement apartment drinking beer and becoming increasingly angry as the thoughts of the impending eviction loomed in his head. At some point Sylvestri Diaz came home to the apartment and had Alex accompany him to the liquor store to buy more beer, but not before Alex hid a hammer by the front door.
Upon returning from the store, Alex retrieved the hammer and smashed Sylvestri in the head several times until he was dead. But the brutality had just begun. Alex cut off Sylvestri’s head and arms with a saw and used a butcher knife to slice off the ears, nose and mouth. The chest of this dismembered body was sliced open from neck to pelvis. The eyes were gouged from their sockets with Alex’s bare hands. The head, ears and nose were left on his aunt’s bed, a “Christmas present,” according to Alex Diaz. After becoming physically drained from this mutilation, Alex called 911 to report a dead body. When asked if he had tried CPR, Alex simply laughed and told the 911 operator that his victim had been decapitated. Responding officers arrived and found Alex Diaz outside covered in blood. Diaz admitted to his crime, was placed in custody and directed officers to a horrific Christmas morning crime scene.
Details of this crime slowly came to light throughout Christmas day. I was again with my family at another two holiday parties, but with each news update my thoughts returned to the officers who responded and made the gruesome Christmas morning discovery. As I was surrounded by family and close friends I wondered how these officers were coping with their holiday. Did they stop at a bar on the way home to clear their heads? Will their families even know where they have just come from and what they’ve just seen? Will they talk about it or lock it away until it disappears? Will they contemplate man’s inhumanity and the vicious death they had just witnessed or will they focus on the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and the promised salvation and everlasting life to come? Whatever their response, I pray for them to recover quickly, move forward and cherish and embrace their loved ones on this Christmas Day and every Christmas Day to come. I grab my son and daughter as they scurry by, to give them an extra hug, but they squirm loose—they have new toys to explore.
Life goes on… in two different worlds.
Sometimes a bad decision makes for a good story.
The Chicago Police Department was never very big on using “ten-signals” when dispatchers were communicating with units on the street. There are three however, that have been in use for as long as I can remember.
“Ten-one” is Chicago’s euphemism for a police officer calling for help. It is perhaps the most critical call an officer can make and is taken with the utmost seriousness by all units on the street. If you are watching the new television series, Chicago PD, there seems to be at least one “ten-one” on every show. In truth of course, if you monitor your scanner, you find that it is not taken lightly by the working police and is very seldom used. To my knowledge Chicago is the only department that uses that ten signal designation.
“Ten four” is universally understood by any law enforcement officer in the nation. It simply means “okay.” Chicago puts a slight twist on this universal ten-signal however, because in our fair city it means “okay and we are a two person unit.”
Which brings us to “ten ninety-nine” which simply means “okay and I am riding alone.” This terminology is meant to alert the dispatcher that assignment of an assist unit might be appropriate. It works well—most of the time.
With less than a year on the street, I was working a two-person beat car in the infamous Cabrini housing projects on our city’s near north side. We were working the Saturday-Sunday midnight shift, midnight to 8:30 am. I am sure the dispatcher had the line-up and that it designated us a ten-four unit. But for some reason that escapes me these many years later, at some point during the tour of duty, my partner was excused and I became a ten-ninety-nine unit. There was a heavy police presence in our district and although I was bit nervous, I resolved to wait for my assist unit before exiting the squad on any assignment. I would be fine.
It was nearing the end of my tour of duty and it was very cold. The bad guys seemed to have retired for the night and the radio was extremely quiet. Nothing was going on.
“Eighteen-eleven, take the stolen auto report, 1117 Cleveland, apartment 1407. See a Mrs. Washington”
“Ten ninety-nine,” I responded and I paused, waiting for the assignment of an assist unit. This was the notorious Cabrini housing project after all.
And I waited. The radio was silent. So I summoned my five whole months of police experience and considered the situation. A stolen auto report; under normal circumstances this would be an assignment for a one-man car, but this was Cabrini. At this hour of the morning and given the extreme cold, there was no one on the street, but this was Cabrini. Maybe the dispatcher, with eons more experience than me, divined that circumstances did not indicate an assist necessary, but this was Cabrini. It never occurred to me that he had my unit marked as a two-man car and that he might have missed my ten-ninety nine response.
So I pondered the assignment as I drove slowly over to the Cleveland address. What to do?
I sat in front of the building for a few moments and looked things over. There was not a soul to be seen. The complainant was a woman, so that sounded legit I thought. I donned my gloves and put a blank stolen auto case report on my clip board and trudged toward the building. My lifeline, my radio, remained firmly affixed to the dashboard of my squad—there were no personal portable radios in 1967.
I was in luck; the elevator for the even-number floors was in service, urine soaked, but in service.
I cautiously exited the elevator on fourteen and looked both directions toward the stairwells at each end of the exterior walkway. The soft glow over the lake to the east had matured into actual rays of sun. They filtered their way through the downtown buildings as individual shafts of light, creating a surreal stage lighting effect on the deserted 14th floor ramp. No one was in sight. Apartment 1407 would be all the way down to my left, near the stairs. I approached, knocked on the door and waited for Mrs. Washington to respond.
Suddenly I felt a silent presence and turned to discover three men standing just behind me. They grinned, not a friendly grin, but a we got ya type of smirk. The hairs on the back of my neck raised. With clipboard in hand, my revolver hanging off my equipment belt was actually closer to their hands than mine. My mind raced. I was a tactical disadvantage. Maybe a spin to my left to put my weapon out of reach? But I knew for certain it would be a short futile struggle.
Suddenly Mrs. Washington opened her apartment door and the five us froze for just an instant. She looked and saw a uniformed police officer surrounded by three men with insolent grins. What next? The woman gave them a hard look and then did something amazing; she admitted me to her apartment and then quickly closed the door firmly behind me and turned the deadbolt lock.
“Mrs. Washington?” I asked, trying vainly to sound nonchalant.
“Yes,” she answered slowly.
“Do you know those men?”
“May I use you phone?”
“I think you’d better,” she replied.
I dialed a confidential number that routed me directly into the zone two dispatch consoles.
“Hey, this is eighteen-eleven. I’m at 1117 taking a stolen auto report. I think you better send me an assist so I can get out of this building.”
“Are you ten-ninety-nine?” he asked incredulously.
“Chuck, have you got eighteen-eleven in Cabrini as a ten-ninety-nine? he asked the dispatcher.
“Eleven is a ten-four unit… it says so right here on my line-up,” answered the dispatcher.
“No, my partner was excused at 0300,” I interrupted.
“Oh shit,” was the response on the telephone. “We’ll send you an assist—stay where you’re at until they get there. You’re at 1117 in 1407?”
“Now, Mrs. Washington, sorry for the delay. Can we start this stolen auto report while I wait for some backup?”