April 18, 2007
Read Part One in which Lydia and I attend a police briefing, respond to an unfortunate situation at Burger King, roll a code 3, and embark on one of the most thrilling nights of our lives.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
The Wood = Inglewood
Bump ‘Em Up = Scare someone a little
Break Leather = Pull your gun from your holster
Roll a Code 3 = Turn on the sirens & respond to a call
Lay a Dime = Make a call
Lapdogs = LAPD
IA = Internal Affairs
Friday, April 28, 2006
8:14PM: Sarge veers the cruiser to left again, into a subdivision of little apartment buildings. I’m looking out the window at some spectators standing on the sidewalk when I realize we’re about to come head to head with a red Bronco. There’s a young black man behind the wheel and no one else in the car. He attempts to drive around us but Sarge keeps the cruiser pointed straight at him and pushes down on the gas. There’s a police car behind the suspect and another one off to our right. The driver of the Bronco seems to realize this at about the same time I do and he slams on his brakes inches away from our bumper.
Sarge shines the spotlight right into the windshield of the Bronco, opens his door, pulls out his gun, and screams, Put your hands where I can see ‘em! Sarge is crouched behind his open door, holding the gun between his two hands, aiming it right at this guy’s head. I look back at the suspect. He’s terrified. My heart is pounding and I can feel a lump form in my throat. He’s just a kid, I realize. Whoever else had been in the street is gone and this kid is all by himself, facing off with a bunch of cops. He’s pushing his hands dramatically at the windshield before him. His palms are luminescent in the spotlight.
Suddenly my door is flung open and a female cop is crouching next to me. She’s got a shotgun in her hands. Put your hands in the fucking air, she screams. The suspect waves his hands at the windshield again. She cocks the shotgun with a loud double crack. Holy shit, I think, sliding down in my seat. I’m directly across from this kid but because of the spotlight he can’t see me. I’ll let you know if I’m going to shoot, she says to me. Cover your ears because it’ll be really fucking loud.
Sarge screams instructions for the suspect to climb slowly out of the car with his hands in the air. I’m all the way down in my seat now, my head just barely above the dashboard. I’m really scared. I don’t think the kid is going to start shooting but if he does I’m going to be directly in the middle of a gun battle. I watch him reach down slowly with one hand to open the door to the Bronco. Sarge and the female cop are absolutely rigid, like hunting dogs when they point. The second the kid’s two feet are on the ground a young Latino cop is on him, pulling his hands behind his back.
Sarge runs over while the other officer handcuffs him. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and crane my neck up from my slouched position.
While Sarge talks to the suspect the Latino officer comes over and sits in the car with me so that he can run the kid’s info. I see his name come up on the screen: Lee Anthony, age 22. (*Name has been changed.) I can’t really hear what Sarge is saying to Lee but I make out the sentence, You’re lucky I’m old-school.
Then Sarge brings Lee over to our cruiser and leans him up against the hood.
Lee is facing me, just feet away, but because of the spotlight in his eyes he can’t see me. He doesn’t look that scared anymore. His big puffy jacket has fallen off his shoulders and is bunched up around his wrists and he’s wearing a couple of long, gold chains with, what I’m assuming are fake, diamond-encrusted emblems. Suddenly the Latino officer flicks off the spotlight. Thing’s driving me crazy, he says.
Now Lee and I are looking directly at each other. Sup, he says, nodding at me. Hi, I say back, feeling self-conscious. The Latino officer takes one look at this exchange and immediately flicks the light back on, causing Lee to squint in pain. I’m somewhat relieved. Sarge sits down in the driver’s seat next to me. Doin’ okay? I nod at him and muster a smile. I ask him what’s going to happen to Lee. Eh, we’ll just bump him up a little. I ask Sarge what that means. He chuckles and explains that it’s gang slang for scare him a little.
8:52PM: Turns out that Lee doesn’t have a license, just an ID, so they’re going to take him into the station. As Sarge starts up our cruiser I watch two officers lead Lee away to their squad car. I feel sorry for him. It’s Friday night. He didn’t really seem to be doing anything wrong and now he’s got to spend the evening dealing with this. His car’s going to get impounded. He’s going to have to call a parent or his friends to come help him out. I don’t envy him. We’re in such opposite places, me and Lee.
9:20PM: After all the excitement with Lee Anthony everything else feels pretty subdued. Sarge seems to come down easily from it all but I’m still buzzing, waiting for the next time we need to roll a code 3—slang for putting on the siren and following up on a lead. I ask Sarge if it’s weird to drive a regular car when he’s not on duty. It is, he says. His wife yells at him a lot: This is not a pursuit. Sarge has always liked to drive fast. I remember that just before we got in the cruiser at the start of the evening he walked over to a maroon-colored Porsche. I ask him if that was his car. Yup, isn’t it a beaut? It was pretty cool, I admit.
Inglewood is starting to seem pretty small. There’s Louisiana Fried Chicken again. And now we’re passing my office for the fourth or fifth time tonight. I’m almost feeling bored but I just keep listening to Sarge talk about life on the force. He says when you’re on patrol you never use the term quiet. It’s bad luck. The second you say it all hell breaks loose. I’m tempted to say it. I wish we could go to more calls. I keep seeing them up on the screen but I know it’s Sarge’s job to kind of monitor the overall evening and not get caught up in little disturbances. He tells me some of the cop slang. My favorite is breaking leather, used when you pull your weapon from its holster.
Lydia sends me texts now and then. Later she’ll tell me about how her two officers walked her out of the station after the briefing without saying a word. She was feeling kind of nervous until they got in the cruiser and the female turned around, looked her in the eye and said, Okay. The most important thing you have to figure out first is…And it was here that Lydia was sure she was doomed to an evening of boring cop instruction but instead the officer continued, …where we’re gonna eat. Lydia just texted that they got barbeque. I have this fantasy of me and Sarge going to some kind of diner together. I’ll get to sit across from him in his uniform with the three stripes on the sleeve and that big gun strapped around his waist and the other customers will look at us and wonder what’s going on. We’ll eat something old school like steak and eggs and I’ll put a lot of Tabasco on everything and Sarge will grin at me and nod approvingly.
Up ahead there’s a Jetta with a couple in the front seat just sitting at a green light. We come up behind them and they slowly pull out into the intersection. Tourists, Sarge mutters. We follow them for about a hundred feet and they finally pull into a deserted parking lot on our right. Sarge pulls in behind them and gets out of the car. Within moments he’s standing beside the driver’s side window gesturing and obviously giving directions. I send Lydia a text: We just pulled over some lost tourists. What are u doing? She writes back: Starbucks.
I watch the tourists pull out of the parking lot and drive off in the direction from which we came. Sarge is on his cell phone again. When he gets back in the car he doesn’t say anything, just gets on the computer and sends out some kind of IM message to all the officers: Call my cell ASAP. Within seconds Danger Zone breaks the silence in the cruiser. I stare out the window at a flickering street light. Sarge is clearly upset about something and I don’t want to get in the way.
Okay, Sarge is saying into the phone, where’s the SIM card? Mike at the station called and Lee Anthony’s down there with a couple of friends and he’s claiming that the SIM card is missing from his cell phone…No, I don’t know…I don’t want to know…I just want that card to magically appear at the station so that this shit doesn’t go to IA.
He snaps his phone shut and lets out a deep sigh.
This is the kind of shit I was telling you about, he says to me. Sometimes this line of work goes to people’s heads. They do stupid things and we all have to pay for it. Lee Anthony’s claiming that someone stole the SIM card from his cell phone and if it doesn’t reappear then it’s going to go Internal Affairs and we’ll all have to deal with it. I’m surprised that something like this would get so much attention from above but Sarge explains that these days, with incidents like Amadou Diallo, cops are guilty until proven innocent. He sighs again and starts up the cruiser.
9:45PM: We head over to “the yard,” a squat building with an electronic gate outside. Inside there are gas pumps for the cruisers and a car wash. We went over there earlier because Sarge likes to start the night with a fresh wash. We back into a parking spot and Sarge cuts the engine. We just sit there in the dark for a minute and I get a little nervous. He’s been quiet and I’m not sure what we’re doing here.
Suddenly, out of the darkness another cruiser appears. It’s got its lights off too and parks nose to nose with us. Sarge leans an elbow out of his window as the driver comes over.
I don’t want to know anything about it but we’ve got about 20 minutes to make sure this SIM card gets back to the station, Sarge whispers gruffly. The officer outside nods and tells Sarge that he’s meeting another cruiser in just a minute and they’re going to sort it out.
We get out of the car and go inside. I need to use the restroom but Sarge doesn’t have a key to the ladies room. We’re gonna have to go over to the station. We get back in the cruiser. There’s a palpable sense of tension coming from Sarge but I can also tell that he’s enjoying playing the role of captain, that he kind of likes having to mind after these young officers. I imagine he’s a good dad.
When we walk into the station the first thing I see is Lee Anthony sitting there with two friends. Hey, he calls out to Sarge, Hey man, I just want my SIM card back. Come on man. I need to call my mom and my phone don’t work. Come on, man. Before I can hear Sarge’s reply I duck into the ladies room. I really need to pee. When I come back out Sarge is gone, presumably to the back, and so I take a seat a few chairs down from Lee.
Sup, he says, nodding at me again. Ain’t you that girl from earlier? I nod and give a weak smile. His friends are looking me up and down.
I just want my SIM card back, Lee is saying to me. Why didn’t they just take the whole phone? Why they gotta fuck with me like that? Come on, you were there. I know you saw somethin’. I stare straight ahead.
Alright, he says, you ain’t gotta talk about it.
A beat goes by and I let out a breath. Then he starts up again. You a cop? I shake my head and tell him I’m just riding along. You in training? I shake my head again, repeat that I’m just on a ride-along.
Fuck, I think, why did I just tell him that I’m on a ride-along? This is not going well. I crane my neck subtly to see if I can catch a glimpse of Sarge behind the front desk. No such luck.
Then: You got a boyfriend? I look up and Lee’s eyes are glittering at me. His friends chuckle and before I have time to respond Sarge opens the door to the office and calls me back. He apologizes for leaving me out there. It’s cool, I tell him shrugging casually. I don’t want Sarge to think I’m a wimp.
I follow Sarge’s imposing figure down the back hallway. I’ve only got two hours left of my ride-along. I never want this night to end.
What’s the training process like to become a cop, Sarge? He turns around and grins at me.
TO BE CONTINUED…read Part Three here.