Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Along for the Ride

Part 2

by Annette Dashofy

Let me begin this second installment by mentioning one of the cool things I learned. The police vehicles’ unit numbers have meaning. For instance, we were unit 3125. The “3” stand for police. The fire department would have a different number. The “1” was for Zone 1. Oddly, cars with the “2” as the next number indicate a single officer on patrol. Cars with a “1” such as 3111, indicates two officers in the vehicle.

After the burglary in progress, the next call was for a domestic dispute in one of the public housing units. A mother reported her 20 year old on was out of control. I was permitted to participate in this one, provided the mother agreed. She did. After talking with her outside and getting her story, we entered the apartment, asking her to stay outside. Divide and conquer.

The young man had his own version of the events. He strutted and gestured and felt he was right and didn’t understand why the cops had been called in. I kept quiet and just nodded when he directed his extremely sincere diatribe in my direction. Officer Parker calmly asked questions and explained the legalities of the matter and the choices to be made. In the end, nothing was really resolved, but the volatile situation had been cooled. Mother and son made promises to each other. In the car, Officer Parker said he’d most likely be back. None of the promised changes would be made. But for the moment, peace had been restored.

It renewed my earlier insight about psychology classes. I’ve come to believe that police work is less about law or solving mysteries than it is about psychology. Uniformed therapists on wheels.

We were about to begin a circuit of Riverview Park (I did not know of this place when I named the main location of my first mystery novel Riverview Park!) when our third call came in. Report of shots fired. The address was in a less-than-safe neighborhood and someone had been stabbed at this same address earlier in the day. “Revenge,” commented Officer Parker. And we were off, lights and sirens again through the narrow streets of the North Hills.

Other units were on scene by the time we arrived. Officer Parker said that if someone had been shot, it would have been reported over the radio by then, so likely there was no victim. Still, I was happy to comply with his order to stay in the car. Yes, sir! No problem. A group of young men matching the description given over the air stood on a second floor deck with bored expressions on their faces. Ho hum. Cops at the front door. Just another day in paradise. I heard one officer say, “No victim, no crime.” Before long, Officer Parker was back to report that nobody saw nothin’. This is frequently the case in this neighborhood. “They don’t like us much here,” he told me.

Nice to know.

That was the end of our calls for the day. For the rest of my shift, we patrolled. I had a lovely tour of the North Side. From the luxury of the townhouses in Washington’s Landing to the poverty of the projects. Note: while the apartment we were in for the domestic dispute was tidy and clean, Officer Parker told me that often you have to keep moving in some of those places so the cockroaches don’t climb up your legs. Ick!

I have always loved the Mexican War Streets houses. Built in the days before Pittsburgh was Pittsburgh, they remind me of Williamsburg, Virginia. Many have been renovated and are simply beautiful. Next door, however, the windows may be boarded up. The entire zone is one of contrasts.

During our patrol, we talked. I was told that when you see on the news that someone has been arrested on a drunk and disorderly, they really were disorderly. Most cops prefer NOT to arrest someone if they can just get that person to go away instead. Arrests mean too much paperwork.

We discussed the current hot topic of tasers. Tasers, he said, are used a lot. The rare instance where someone dies as a result is because of other circumstances. Usually drugs. He went on to say that when batons are used to subdue an actor, there are bruises and lasting pain. With a taser, while it hurts—and be assured, it hurts like hell—as soon as the current is shut off, it’s done. Over. The suspect could get up and run away if he chose to. No lingering bruises.

I survived my ride-along. It was a fairly average day, from what I gather. Reports of shots fired used to happen mainly after dark. Now they happen any time.

Only much later did I learn about the excitement that went on shortly AFTER my shift. In case you missed seeing the video of the big car chase on Route 28, click here.

I'm still not sure if I'm relieved that my ride-along ended before this happened or if I'm bummed that I missed it.


Martha Reed said...

Annette, I'm so glad you continued this post after your weather trauma. It sounds like you had a real eye-opener on your ride; thanks for sharing. Sometimes when writing crime we forget the raw reality of it.

I tried your video link and it came up with Losing Fat for Dummies splash page. Is that a subtle hint?

Annette said...

Oops, Martha! Let me see if I can fix that. No, I'm not dropping hints.

Annette said...

Okay, I see what the problem is. The ad pops up long before the video loads. So try again and give it some time. You may need to scroll down a little on the page, too.

Good advertising trick, I suppose.

Tory said...

What a video! From that distance, it hardly looks real, more like bumper cars. What started it?

We have the CIT (crisis intervention team) police officers in training in our suite this week. Friday I get to help out with role plays. Guess who might be the belligerent teenager you were describing, Annette?

Annette said...

Apparently the car chase began with a bank robbery. If I remember correctly, a citizen spotted the guy leaving the bank wearing a mask and started following him. At some point the cops took up the pursuit and you can see from the video what happened next.

Oddly enough, there had been a call for a bank alarm going off earlier, during my shift, but another unit was called to respond. Officer Parker predicted it would be a false alarm and THAT one was.

Joyce said...

Annette, I have a feeling you're more bummed about missing that call than you are relieved.

Annette said...

I think you're right, Joyce, but don't tell my mom. She still breaks out in a cold sweat when they run video clips on TV of that police car flipping.

Donnell said...

Annette, absolutely fascinating. I'm glad you got a cop who like to talk and explain. Wonderful information for a writer. I confess though after reading your explanation for a patrol car I'm too dyslexic to understand.... Now let's see the two really mean one person in the patrol car :) Great, great post!

Annette said...

Yes, Donnell. A car in which the second number is a "2" has only one patrol officer. If the second number is a "1" it is a two officer patrol car.

But that's in Pittsburgh. I don't know if that holds true to other departments. Probably not.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

You made my morning Annette. The video is hilarious. I'm wondering if the police realized it was all being filmed. Looks like the idiot was properly subdued after they got him out of the car.

Annette said...

Will, so of course the TV-viewing public is now screaming that the police used excessive force once they dragged the guy out of the car. However, the idiot was still trying to run! What do they expect after the guy rolls a police cruiser and nearly runs down several officers who have their weapons drawn??? Personally, I thought the police showed remarkable restraint.

And if her baby girl HAD been involved in that chase, my mom would've whacked the guy upside the head with an iron skillet!

nancy said...

So, Annette, are you thinking of trying the police academy next? Sounds as if you could be a pretty good psychologist on wheels!

I'm impressed!

Kristine said...

Great post, Annette! What an adventure!

I remember watching that car chase on TV as it as happening that night. It was just as I was getting ready to leave for Becky's party. I thought of you, immediately.

Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Annette said...

Nancy, I have way too much respect for the police profession to think seriously about becoming one. But I'll gladly go on another ride along any day of the week!

Annette said...

Well, Kristine, you see that's another issue. Had I been going to Becky's party from home like I normally do, I'd have been traveling Route 28 at the same time all this was going on. Instead, I went over to Mystery Lovers Bookshop directly after my shift (early) and just "hung out." So in a very real sense, I dodged that bullet TWICE.