Bringing Back the Future

I toss and turn… it’s “that dream” again, but this time I know I’m dreaming—slipping in and out of reality and dream, fluffing the pillow, folding the pillow, kicking back the covers. Although I left the Police Department and homicide long ago, I find myself back in the Area Four Homicide office.

Ugh! I am retired. What part of my brain doesn’t understand that? I open my eyes and stare at the bedroom ceiling. Turn one more time, fold the pillow one more time… if this doesn’t get me to sleep I might as well just give up and go to work. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to be the first guy to arrive for the day shift.

It doesn’t work.

I ease out of the bed trying not to wake my wife. Splash some water, slip on trousers, dress shirt and tie. The pistol is locked up and will take careful maneuvering to retrieve without waking my spouse. Mission accomplished—I strap the holster to my belt and secure the fully loaded semiautomatic pistol in place. I creep slowly out of the bedroom and gently close the door behind me.

Downstairs I brew coffee for my travel mug. My iPhone 5 is fully charged as is my Ultrabook laptop. The phone goes on my belt opposite the pistol and I ease the laptop into my briefcase next to the compact portable printer.

I don’t really remember driving to the office but I am the first of the day watch crew to arrive. A midnight detective sits at a desk in the squad room with a typewriter, a paper clip and a moist paper towel. He is cursing softly.

What’s up, Lenny?” I ask.

“Took me 20 minutes to find a goddamn typewriter that works and now the hammers on this one are all clogged with gook from these cheap-ass ribbons. I’m diggin’ the crap out of the o’s and p’s and anything else that types like a solid blob… so the reports don’t look like hell.”

Slowly the second watch filters in… I refill my travel mug from the office coffee pot. My home brewed coffee was better. The fresh page on the desktop calendar reads May 13, 1977.

The guys and I exchange the easy banter and jokes that always start each day.


“Nice cup,” someone says eyeing my travel mug. “Where’d ya get it?”

“Starbucks, of course—and they make far better coffee than we have here in the office.”

“Where’s Starbucks?”

“They’re all over…”

“Ya, maybe on the north side, but I never seen one—and what’s with that logo? It looks like Cher holding two striped bass.”

Suddenly the chime sounds on my cell phone and I pull it from my belt to read the text.

Chicago Tribune Bulletin: Several students shot at the UIC Campus… more to follow.

I read it aloud and they look quizzically for a moment and then shrug. They know I am gadget guy and they don’t question this strange looking pager.

“That’ll be our job,” I say. “How can they know about it before we do?”

The desk sergeant grabs a hand held radio, turns it on and tunes it to the district frequency.

“Hey sarge, when are we going to get personal radios? Everyone else has them and speaking of that, how come the desk has one and we don’t?”

“This is the big one the beat officers carry. I don’t think you would want to carry this thing with the cord, external mic and speaker. Ours will be smaller and one piece… we’re supposed to have ‘em by the end of the year,” he looks across the desk directly at me. “Nice semi you have there but that’s not authorized as a primary weapon… I sure as hell hope you’re carrying a revolver somewhere.”

“I am—snub-nose in my ankle holster,” I lie.

“And an empty chamber on the auto?”

“Yes sir,” I lie again. “I’m legit sarge.”

He’s distracted as he finally positions the selector knob correctly. The heavy radio traffic bespeaks of a bona fide incident and the zone dispatcher is confirming the exact address of the crime scene. The homicide crews gulp their coffee and grab car keys as they get ready to hit the street.

“Hold on just a sec.” I say “Let’s take a look at what we have.”

I pull the laptop from my briefcase; it boots quickly and I call up Google Maps and enter the address.

“What’s a googley map?” asks one of the guys looking over my shoulder.

“Not googley, Google,” I correct him.

“What the hell kinda typewriter is that thing?” asks another.

“It’s a laptop”

“A what top?”

“Shut up and just watch.”

The street map of the UIC campus fills the screen.

“Let’s go to satellite view,” I say


I click the satellite button and an aerial view of the campus replaces the street map. The orange button still pinpoints the exact location of the crime scene. I click the zoom button a few times and a two square block area refreshes the screen with the orange button smack in the middle.

“Look at what we have!” I say as they crowd around. “Here’s three dorm buildings; to the east, west and south and to the north are the walkways to the CTA platform. Let’s get an offender description from the dispatcher and call the transit unit and have them check the trains in both directions.”

“Now let’s see if we can nail down some eye witnesses.”

“Don’t you think we ought to go out there and do that?”

“Ya, eventually, but let’s see what we can discover from here with a little open source intelligence.”

“Okay Padar, what the hell are you doing and what is open source intelligence?”

“Open source intelligence is information produced from public sources on the internet.”

“Internet? What the hell is the interent?” they all shout simultaneously.

“Will you guys just shut up and watch! All the kids in these dorms have got to be tweeting or posting to Facebook about what they just saw. Let’s enter the coordinates of this orange bubble… set maybe a 200 yard radius… hit and voila!”

The screen fills with hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts.

“Too many,” I said. “Let’s filter the results with a couple of keywords.”

I type in “gun,” “shot,” “shoot,” and “hurt.” Instantly the results became more manageable.

“Tony, grab that printer from my case. We’ll print out these pages and each of you can take a few and get started at the scene. Look! Here’s some messages describing the guy with the gun! I’ll stay here and try to chase down some of these nicknames and come up with real names for you to contact.

See what you can do with five minutes in the office?”

“Padar, what’s a bookface?”

“It’s Facebook and it’s…”

“What in hell is a tweet?”

“And really… what kind of typewriter is that thing?”

“Oh for god’s sake guys… can’t you… can’t you just…”

I grab my hair with both hands, swivel in my chair and pull… hard.

My bare feet hit the hardwood floor and I sit on the edge of the mattress for a moment before my wife calls to me.

“Are you up? How did you sleep?”

“Not well… not well at all. I feel like I’ve been working all night.”

  • NOTE: All of the open source intelligence techniques described above are currently available to anyone with a computer and internet access.

29 Comments on “Bringing Back the Future”

  1. Maryann Sevening (CPD retired) says:

    You almost outdo yourself with each article Jim. Tonight I am the first to comment because I too had one of those I should be working moments. Keep up the great writing and work your way right into a full book!

  2. Greg Gut says:

    Hey Jim, reminds me when I was in school, I had nightmares that I would be between classes and could never remember my locker combo. I’d then be late for classes, and would get detention. Or from the military, I’d have nightmares of Marine bootcamp. The smell of wet canvas still makes me ill.

  3. Terry Gainer CPD/Area 4 Homicide, retired, sort of. says:

    Jim, When we began our career in the 60’s “DNA” was very well known to us; we were not precient, simply familar with the usefulness of “Does Not Apply” as we completed reports, in carbon.

    • jimpadar says:

      Ah yes, the ubiquitous “DNA” filled many a box in the old case reports. And carbon paper, folks wouldn’t believe that we were actually required to write reports with multiple carbons on yellow paper. And White-Out. I could go on but people might figure out how old I am.

      As always Terry, thanks for the read and for your comment!

  4. Gavin Pate says:

    Thought-provoking article. While it is true that our culture is becoming more coarse, the tools that LEOs have to fight crime are becoming increasingly advanced. Very clever writing… good layering of the two eras… you kept me guessing till the end!

  5. Kugie CFD says:

    Yeah Jim; I know the feeling too. I smell smoke around every corner and fondly wish the “good ol’ days” were back in style for both careers. Never got used to ‘striking it out’ after 46 years of what my Dad told me was a steady job.

  6. OMG! You have the same dream but different unit. I don’t get them often but when I awake I am covered in sweat and extremely tired. Wife immediately knows that I was at “work”. Never knew some of those kids would haunt me forever.

  7. Jim McG says:

    Just another masterpiece by you. Loved it.

  8. Mary Rita Shull says:

    Thanks, Jim! This is a great story – love the “Back to the Future” element, one of my favorite movies. You reminded me of Mike’s feelings about computers – he loved his typewrite, as you well know. Well done.

  9. john says:

    I have the same dream but in mine I have finished typing and realize I have the carbon paper reversed on my flimsies.

  10. Darlene says:

    Now I understand John’s problem. His brain is stuck in 1977.

    • john says:

      My problem in 1977 was that I was the friendly Stranger in the black sedan and Darlene wouldn’t step inside my car…….

  11. Roger Elmer says:

    My dreams of this nature are usually brought on by a garlic laden Italian or Polish meal for dinner. My dreams usually revolve around moving back and forth between my D-units and patrol.

  12. jim brown says:


    great observations. I still dont think those automatic transmissions on the squad cars will replace the sticks.

  13. Bill Kushner says:

    One of your best! I think all of us have had a similar dream at some point in time–oh, wait, I’m still working! Never mind! All the best to you and the family!

  14. John says:

    The most dangerous thing about the Colt 1911’s, Browning Hi Power’s, and Super 38’s, was the 10 coppers “unchambering” of that one in the pipe in the men’s bathroom when an Inspector walked into the District.

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