Saturday, October 3, 2015

Fading Into The Background

Well, here we are again. Another senseless mass shooting by an armed asshole. The only information that is confirmed is the number of victims and their names.

Predictably, partisans on both sides of the gun control argument have blown the dust off of their pet sayings, trotting them out for public consumption while the dead are still laying where they fell. It doesn't seem to matter what the facts are, or even that the facts are yet to be ascertained. Gun deaths mean whatever the speaker deems them to mean, regardless of the awful human suffering that results. "See, that's what I've been saying" uttered in hundred different ways, meaning essentially nothing.

America wants easy answers, and painless solutions to gun violence. If only we... What? I'm listening. What is your solution? Prohibit private ownership of firearms? Longer prison sentences for gun crimes?

Much is made about comparisons to other countries. Finland's statistics often come to the fore, their yearly gun deaths fewer than a hot weekend in Chicago. Australia apparently confiscated piles of guns in the not so distant past. Cast the net wide, examine other culture's laws and extrapolate them to us. Simple.

Sure. America has different laws because the American experience has been different. The Second Amendment was written, in part, to permit gun ownership as a check against tyranny. Whatever conclusion one draws in 2015 after yet another mass murder, it is an inescapable fact that the Founders believed the right to keep and bear arms was intertwined inextricably with individual freedom. Those who believe that "the greater good" trumps the liberty interests of free, law-abiding citizens may have a point, but their comforting saying conflicts with the Constitution adopted to govern the United States.

But, the Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact. Thomas Jefferson believed that the gift we were given - self-government - is handed to each generation to do with what they will. The Constitution doesn't belong to Jefferson, Hamilton or Washington. It belongs to us, and it is up to us to determine its parameters.

"A well regulated militia." Antonin Scalia thinks that guns can be regulated consistent with what the Framers believed were reasonable limitations. Nonsense. To semi-quote Big Pappy - This is our frickin' country, and no one is going to dictate our freedoms. Not even the stilled voices of a generation of geniuses who started this incredible journey now nearly two hundred forty years ago.

Well regulated. What does that mean? It has meant that felons may not legally purchase or possess firearms (pro tip - they do, anyway). It means that children can't have handguns without their parent's permission. "Gun free" zones (which may or may not be analogous with "shooting gallery) are legal, if not exactly sensible. The question of whether gun ownership is subject to regulation was answered before the ink was dry on the Constitution in 1789.

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." A smattering of gun owners (and some individuals who are just plain contrarian) believe that no law restricting their right to purchase, possess and wield a firearm is legitimate. Others would restrict firearm possession to only those law enforcement or military actually engaged in their duties.The middle ground begs for its own advocates, but we are loathe to discuss what the middle might look like when posting stupid stuff on social media represents our version of "discussion" or "thought."

In Oregon, their Supreme Court recently ruled that a police officer may not ask a citizen lawfully detained if they are armed. In New York City, the ideologically adolescent mayor has severely limited the aggressive (and thoroughly legal) tactics employed by NYPD that made their city among the safest in the world. On the one hand, people scream for laws severely restricting gun ownership, and with their next breath express loathing for constitutionally-permissible tactics that produce proven results.

I am a simple street cop, trying to get to the end of my career in one piece. I'm game for any solutions. There is no indication, today, tomorrow or in the aftermath of the next mass murder, that Americans have the stomach to face facts - that there are some firearms too dangerous for the average person to own, and that some individuals have demonstrated their inability to keep and bear a salad fork, let alone a gun. There is zero hope that some persons, believing that cops are thugs, will ever understand that it is the energetic, effective enforcement by well trained officers of laws already in existence that make us all a little safer. Or, if you please, that gun right absolutists will ever agree that regulations on who and what do not foreshadow martial law and cattle cars headed for prison camps.

So, law enforcement will still practice the skills that end mass shootings while the casualty numbers are still in the teens. We will make the family notifications. We will sit and listen to the cell phones of the dead ring, as loved ones pray urgently that their family's greatest nightmare has not come to pass. And we will wonder when our fellow citizens will listen to us when we say...

Enough is enough. We need to talk. You...all of you...need to listen.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Question Nobody Asked

The assembled families had questions. We gave answers. No one chose to ask the question my wife asks constantly, knowing there is no real way to phrase a response.
"Will my husband be okay?"
I don't have any way of knowing. But this much I know:
A recruit entering law enforcement in 2015 receives some of the best training available in any profession. Three of my colleagues are state-recognized subject matter experts in important, difficult skills. Many of the men and women who teach across the state in academies, and in-service sessions, are among the best in the country. When a new officer leaves a certified academy setting, they are as well prepared for what they will face as the constraints of time and money make possible. 

One other thing. While our evening session marched on, people all over the country were tuning in to watch actors pretend to be what the men and women in the room were preparing to do.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


I have some excellent friends.

Getting the cover right for a novel featuring a woman police officer is tricky. Most of the stock photos available have no authenticity, or lack any sense that the model - hard as they may try - knows what police women feel. So getting  The Heart of the Matter completed has, through no fault of the artist, taken some time. Enter a friend (and former coworker), her husband and their 6 week old daughter.

Kim and Cory brought Ella to Jennifer Rohling's studio this morning to try to get a photo suitable for a novel about a new mom's struggle to balance work, husband and the baby she can't stop staring at. Who better than an LE couple, photographed by a professional married to a police motor officer?

The results could not have been any better. Kim was patient, Cory had a lot of great conceptual ideas and Ella put up with the whole thing, so long as someone held her. Jen's eye for facial expression and details made this a quick process, yielding almost a hundred quality pictures.

Police employees, their families, and their friends are an amazing group. The "usual" adversity surrounding the profession, enhanced by the feeding frenzy of political self interest, should make us all very defensive. Uh huh. This young family is typical of who we are. Drop everything, drive across town with baby in tow, dress in police uniform because a friend needed to get a book published. Asking nothing in return. The photographer, opening up her studio on a Saturday, disrupts a family weekend to get things done.

Of course I appreciate the help. More than that, I appreciate being part of a profession that brings people like Jen, Kim and Cory into it. This is why, more than anything, we are stronger than the times.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Tools of Ignorance

When you come to a fork in the road...take it." Yogi Berra, catcher.

Noting the passing of Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra.

Mr. Berra may be the only baseball player whose "-isms" book is not laced with epithets and profanity. He was known for a lot of things beside extraordinary talent behind the plate, for a franchise that seems to field each generation's premier catcher. He was a Navy veteran who witnessed the Normandy invasion, and debarked assault troops, from his transport ship. He signed for what was the standard bonus - $500 - just after boyhood friend Joe Garagiola began his professional baseball career. He wore the "tools of ignorance," an expression meant to deride anyone silly enough to squat behind the plate while hundred mile-an-hour pitches are hurled their way.

His malapropisms are legend. Once asked the time, he replied "You mean now?" The profound "You can observe a lot by watching" is deeper than it seems. We were told - math skills being optional - that 90% of baseball is mental, and the other half physical.

The fork in the road. How many of us have encountered one and frozen in our tracks? Or, worse, we turned around to get our bearings, only to find that the fork had vanished as we wrestled with indecision? A life's journey is made up of roads that present reasonable alternatives and invite us to choose. A smart person knows which to take. A wise one knows how to make the best of a timely choice.

For French Revolutionary Georges Danton it was "et toujour de l'audace." For a man from St. Louis the words were simpler, but no less powerful. Make a decision, take the fork.

All of it seen from behind the tools of ignorance, on the biggest stage in America. Home plate, Yankee Stadium. You don't linger there for an era on your way to the Hall of Fame by forgetting to take the fork in the road.

UPDATE: Political writer George Will, baseball fan, writes of the inclusivity of sports - especially baseball - in his tribute to one Lawrence Peter Berra.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thank You, Cops

Posted on Facebook was an announcement that it is, or was, or will be "National Thank A Police Officer Day." I am one, so it seems a bit self serving, huh? But, let me tell a story.

My father died just before Christmas in 2010. His passing occurred around the same time that my daughter had an emergency c-section that both saved her life and brought Graham Patrick Gaffney into the world, kicking and bleating. Oh... We had sold out house and were moving.

I left for Rochester, NY, and then Detroit. My wife remained behind, to sort out the move. She organized, planned, discarded and then began our life in our new house, alone. New neighborhood, unfamiliar surroundings.

I called out to several friends...cops. Could they please keep an eye on the house, and Pat, while I was away? Then, I moved on to other things.

Months later, at a neighborhood block party, one of our new friends admitted to apprehension over our arrival. "Just after you moved in," she said, "cops started driving by your house...a lot...shining spotlights on it. We wondered who in the world had moved in."

Thank you, officers.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Caption This

Caption this. The best three (I am the totally subjective arbiter) will receive a first edition copy of A Miracle of Zeros and Ones. Winner to be announced September 15th.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Reading Reader

Who are you?

There are several counters that I follow, to determine what blog entries are popular, or forgettable. When someone visits the blog itself I get credit for the visit, but don't know which posts were read. If they snag one of the posts, the counter scores that a 1 for the post and adds it to the total. It can be interesting to watch.

Many of the posts most enjoyable to write (often the law porn) are largely ignored. Others, tossed into cyberspace almost as an afterthought, garner dozens, sometimes hundreds of reads. If I actually knew what I was doing, maybe I'd know why.

But, out there, tonight and for the last several weeks, some one is reading. The counter racks up twenty four hits, twenty four individual entry visits. The list of posts read string beyond the limit of the dashboard - Charmed - 1, Shirtsleeves - 1. Someone started reading a few weeks ago and it looks like they are visiting each and every post.

Whoever you are picking them off one by one... I hope you are enjoying them. I've gotten to read some of my favorites, just after you did. I'm very much enjoying rereading as we go. What do you think?

UPDATE: You'll understand when you read it. With thanks.