Stupid Cop Tricks, Part 37Posted: July 20, 2011
Ask any cop and if they are honest with you, they will admit to errors in judgment that range from momentary lapses to abject stupidity. In the serious world of bad guys versus good guys, sometimes those moments can take an officer’s life. More often than not however, the incident goes unnoticed except for those who find themselves in a position to bear witness to the actual act and very often those persons assume that it was all planned that way.
John, my tactical partner, from over 40 years ago, and I sat on the patio behind his home in the high desert of Utah, in the shadow of a red cliff just behind us. Pine Mountain was the distant panorama, traces of snow still visible on the peak.
It was a long way in both distance and time from the streets of the 18th District in Chicago. We were in a philosophical mood and the subject turned to people we would like to reach back to… to apologize. Forty years changes one’s perspective, that’s for certain.
I recalled a beautiful summer night along the Lake Michigan shore. The cityscape was every bit as spectacular then as it is now, albeit with a slightly different silhouette. We were driving a marked squad slowly along the concrete between North Ave and Fullerton beach. Two giant steps below us, towards the lake side, we came upon a young couple gently making love in this magnificent setting, oblivious to our presence. We stopped… they hastily covered themselves, buttoning, fastening and zipping as we admonished them. No doubt we had totally destroyed “the moment.” I apologize. What harm would it have been to smile to ourselves and drive slowly past?
The reminiscing turned from retroactive apologies to simple acts of stupidity that thankfully only occasionally punctuated our careers without dire consequences.
Most cops will admit that they like to drive with lights and siren. However, in truth, circumstances rarely justify it and the responsibility and consequences are considerable. The department takes a very dim view of accidents while driving with emergency equipment activated and discipline is not based upon who was right or wrong, rather on: Was the incident preventable?
It was a quiet summer Sunday morning. Tony and I sauntered out of 8 AM roll call with no place to go and all day to get there. We did an extra thorough inspection of the squad, removing the back seat to check for contraband that may have been secreted by last night’s bad guys. In the trunk, we found the spare was flat so we replaced it with a good one from the tire rack. (Shame on the previous crew.) The first aid kit was shy a few things so we went back into the station to replenish various items. The gas tank was half full, so we topped it off before finally pulling out of the lot shortly after 9 AM. The radio was dead silent so we headed up to the Fullerton Avenue car wash. On the way back we picked up two large coffees and then we settled in under the Ogden Avenue overpass at Division and Halsted to see if we could pick up a moving violation or two at the traffic light. As an added attraction, we had a clear view of the parking lot and any stray miscreants that might act out in front of the 1230 North Burling building.
“Attention cars in 18 and on the City-Wide, there’s a 10-1 at 926 North Rush in the pancake house. That’s a police officer calling for help at 926 North Rush.”
We dumped the coffee and I hit the Mars Light and siren switch. Tony, riding shotgun, fastened his seatbelt for the first time that tour of duty.
It was 10 AM Sunday morning… how bad could it be?
“Squad! Get some more cars over here! We need help!”
There it was: confirmation. I eased down on the accelerator and the Dodge squad, already threading rapidly through traffic, picked up even more speed.
We rounded the corner at Division and State… no disregard yet.
It was clear for the next two blocks and as we approached the gentle Y that was Rush Street, I picked up even more speed while Tony visibly braced himself. We approached the scene, other units parked askew, randomly scattered about the street, emergency lights flashing, some with doors still open. Passers-by lined the curbs, taking time out from their lazy Sunday morning to watch the excitement.
Time to slow down, thought Tony, but I continued at insane speed.
Then the realization hit me like a lightning bolt. My God I can’t stop in time! I’m going to plow into the other squads!
I slammed on the brakes, locked up all four wheels and braced myself for impact.
Our squad stopped with less than an inch to spare.
The doors flew open, we jumped from the car and the crowd murmured appreciatively, as if they had just seen something spectacular.
We ran toward the pancake house as Tony exclaimed aloud, “Wow, that was cool!”
It was cool—way cool, and I thought to myself; nobody ever need know…