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?”