Cop Talk 13: Lessons Learned

The seasoning of a police officer takes time. During a career, each incident adds to the professionalism of a working cop. My son, who I call Bobby cop, talks about how these experiences add to an officer’s repertoire of tools.

Lessons Learned by Sgt Robert M. Haig

Police work is all about experience. The more experience the better the officer. Doesn’t mean they will be a great officer just a better one. Easiest way to explain this is by example. If an officer responds to a police run, and kicks the front door in, someone may shoot at him. If someone shoots at him and misses, I guarantee the officer will not kick the door in on his next run. We call that experience. Now with experience come two things, confidence and a bit of cockiness. Every now and then we need someone to reground us and remove that cockiness. Oh it will come back, but every now and then we need a reality check. 

I had some time on the job, and was working the Armed Robbery Task Force. My Squad had been working a case where a lone suspect had robbed nine separate victims on the street. The suspect was of the worse type targeting only elderly victims. He had even pistol whipped a victim who was using a walker.  Several hours later the suspect was at a pawn shop, cashing in the pawn receipts and taking possession of the victim’s jewelry. This guy was a real low life.

The suspect’s vehicle was a rather elaborately painted conversion van. In one of the incidents, the victim had acquired the license plate. I completed an intelligence work-up on the plate, discovering it did indeed belong on a conversion van. The registered owner was a female, whose age matched that of our suspect. I figured it was either his wife or his girlfriend’s vehicle. Next step was a work-up on the address of the girl. This was my big break, as I discovered a male, matching the age, and physical description of my suspect was living with her.  He had a lengthy criminal history, including armed robbery. He was also wanted on warrants which made my job easy. I’ll grab a body and head over to arrest him. All of my crew members were off for the day, so I poached an officer from another squad. This guy was green and new to the Task Force. I informed him of the case, and told him to pay attention as he was going to learn something. With my eager and attentive partner I headed to the east side. I was flush with confidence because I knew I had my man, I just hoped he would be home. As we turned onto the identified street, we immediately saw the conversion van parked in the driveway. Both our hearts were racing as I pulled to the curb several houses south of the address.  Now comes the tricky part. The van is there and he is most likely there too. If we knock on the door he will simply ignore it.  Let’s find out if he is home first. I ask my trainee what we should do. His answer is “Go in and get him.” I brief him on the legality issues, which sometimes get in the way of police work. I tell him we will check to see if he is home first. How are we going to do that without knocking on the door? I was waiting for that, and smile as I tell him “Watch this kid .” I reach down into the large box, containing the extensive files I had on the case. I find the phone number for the female the vehicle is registered to. I show it to my partner, and he looks puzzled. If you call them on the phone, and ask for him, we are still in the same boat he cries. Just watch, I tell him. I dial, and the female answers. I identify myself as Gary Carson from the Veterans of Foreign War. I tell her I am looking for donations. I know Michael Grant, who lives there is a veteran.  I had done my homework and knew my suspect was a veteran.  I’m smiling and speaking extra loud so my partner can hear. I can see his mind clicking and he begins to smile. Oh what a tangled web I weave. The female on the other end of the line responds quickly. He is dead she tells me. Dead? Okay, I’ve had many a felon try to avoid capture using the “I’m dead ploy.” I’ve clicked on to speed investigation mode, and fire back. I’m sorry to hear that ma’am. The VFW would like to get the information on the cemetery and plot, as we will provide complimentary flowers every memorial day. She releases a second salvo that hits hard. He is buried at Pinehurst cemetery, plot 39. He has been dead about five years. My voice now loses all its thundering volume. I pause for a long minute, then I express my condolences, and wish her a good day. I hang up, and my partner immediately asks “Is he in there? Let’s go get him.” He can see my face, and knows something is up. “What?” he yells “What is it.” No way to get around it so, Uhmm he is dead. “Dead, what do you mean he is dead” he yells. Dead as in no longer alive I reply. Just moments before, I had been puffed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. I was now a plucked ostrich, trying to burrow my head into the sand. “Come with me; learn something,” my partner chatters, rolling his eyes.

R.I.P.Lucky for me, I did have enough experience to recover. I called for two additional units, and gave the ghetto knock. I pounded on the door, long and loud enough for him to answer. He refused to open the door and I told him that was okay. I had something on the way that would open the door, and his girlfriend would be pretty upset when she returned home. Well he must have been more afraid of her then us, and he opened up. We immediately arrested him, and held the location until the search warrant arrived. We recovered property from six victims and the weapon he had been using from his bedroom. We had the right van, right address and right girl. The suspect I had identified was her ex-boyfriend who was indeed dead. Her new boyfriend was an exact duplicate of her first. Height, weight, and age all matched. Even the bald head. The totality of the arrest and recovery of property, took some of the sting out of my lesson gone bad. My partner was so excited; it took him hours before he started his version of the story. The bottom line is, I learned my lesson but it threw one more tool in my law enforcement tool box. Always make sure your primary suspect is among the living.

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