Saturday, December 31, 2011

With the Old Breed*

"John Wayne said the hardest thing about wearing a badge is knowing when to give it up."

With those words, my friend said good bye to us, and to a police career spanning almost forty years. He was one of the old breed, retiring yesterday with seven others. It was a bittersweet moment.

The old breed walked beats, worked alone and came of age under tumultuous circumstances. When they were young, beginning their careers, law enforcement struggled to become a profession, to shrug off the deserved criticism of racism, favoritism, intolerance. Many had come home from war in the Sixties and early Seventies, only to be thrown onto battle lines at home with little training, rudimentary tactics and uneven support from society. Most of them were determined to serve, to give everything to they had.

There wasn't a lot of money in the job then, perhaps five or six hundred dollars a month. Free coffee, half-priced meals, the bottle at Christmas - gratuities - stretched the family budget. The practice was easily corrupted, and fell into disfavor among progressive organizations trying to weed out dishonesty. Today, the veterans fondly remember the generosity, decades removed from the tiny gift.

Some officers walked beats alone, communicating with their department through a system of call boxes, not radios. If the light on the call box was on, it meant that a citizen needed police service. The phone inside connected the cop to their headquarters. Paychecks, memos.... dropped off at the call box.

Police officers, then as now, learn their craft by watching and listening to the "jurassics," the men and women tempered by experience. The war stories, peppered with invective and profanity, don't just tell amusing, often self-deprecating tales. They are cautionary, instructive. Teaching moments, over coffee at work, or beers after. Sitting beside them, we learned from the old breed.

Years ago, two of us went to a house, to secure it while detectives (my friend among them) obtained a search warrant. The sole occupant, a middle-aged woman, waited impatiently with us, sipping from a glass of water. At least, it looked like water.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thank You

Marines pray over a fallen comrade
"The real heroes are the fellas still buried over there, and the ones who came home to be buried." Edward "Babe" Heffron, private, 101st Airborne Division, 506th PIR, Easy Company, "Points," Band of Brothers, 2001

The American military mission to Iraq is over. We asked a great deal of the men and women who served there. Despite great odds against them, they can be rightlfully proud of a successful war. Some of them gave everything they had.

At some point, better minds than mine will sort out the reasons we felt compelled to go there in the first place. Maybe they were excellent. Maybe they were misguided and foolish. The final chapter has yet to be written.

Welcome home. Thank you for your service. Merry Christmas and godspeed.


A Caring Human Being

Utah police officer Kevin Peck crawled under a city bus to comfort a woman trapped after being run over. He stayed with her until the fire department extricated her, holding her hand and reassuring her that she was safe. It's not just a wonderful visual, but a caring, empathetic moment by a professional public servent. His TV interview reinforces the selflessness of his act - matter of fact answers about why he did what he did.

Nice job, brother.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Welcome Aboard the Oceans Eleven

"They were built as labyrinths, to keep people in."*

Our recently-concluded five-night voyage in the western Caribbean was relaxing, energizing and enlightening. As a first cruise, it answered many of the questions we had, and several we didn't. For example:

It's easier to get on than to get off.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Boat Drinks

"Twenty degrees and the hockey game's on
Nobody cares, they're way too far gone, screaming
Boat drinks, something to keep 'em all warm."*

We set a plan in motion - many months ago - to see if cruising is for us. Lots of our friends recommended it highly, others either indifferent or had strong negative feelings. Alaska beckons, and a glide up the Inside Passage seems only too alluring from the deck of a ship. But.... Who knew if it was for us.

Our just-completed five night voyage was, among other things, a wonderful learning experience. Over the next several entries I'll share some of our discoveries. To wit:

Many of the boat drinks contain alcohol.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"South Forty, Traffic" UPDATED

"I guess the officer didn't make it because they covered him with sheets."

Traffic stops. They're like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. Most of the time the violator pulls over, sits in their car and suffers through the contact. Occasionally, the driver or another occupant argue about something - the officer's eyesight, perception, parentage.... Sometimes, someone in the car has a gun.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wooden Ships and Iron Men

December 8, 1941 - a date in family infamy.

My grandfather Adam James Greer enlisted in the US Navy during World War I, in 1917. He served on several ships, among them the Druid, a harbor defense ship. Converted from a civilian yacht, she served in the Atlantic until Armistice Day, when she returned to civilian ownership. Who can say what grand and glorious adventures she witnessed. His uniform, hanging safely in my closet, makes him about 5'4" and maybe a buck twenty. Maybe.

The day after the Pearl Harbor attack, he arrived bright and early at a recruiting station (possibly the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard) to reenlist, but was turned away due to his age. He was forty-one years old.

My late father remembered the aftermath as the only time he'd ever seen his dad, a hard-drinking Irishman, drunk. "I was in this man's Navy when there were wooden ships and iron men!" he bellowed. Later, as an employee (a foreman, for some of the time) of a defense contractor he served by making the things needed for his sons (David - USMC, and oldest Jim - an Army tanker) to fight. He was issued a pistol for self defense (now residing in my gun safe).

I remember him as an old man, with impressive girth and white hair. Once - he was a sailorman, a patriot and a hero. Thank God for him, and all of the others who stepped forward, seventy years ago, and offered themselves to the grim task of defeating the world's bullies. Forever in their debt, I pray that we may live honest lives, raise loving children and be worthy of the memory of those men and women.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Honest, Sarge, I was Typing a Police Report When Suddenly....

"The defendant shall enjoy the presumption of innocence."

I wrote an especially angry rant today, something that may or may not ever see publication. This recent cavalcade of sexual miscreants is getting on my nerves, and everyone knows what writers do when they acquire a case of the tight jaws. They...write!

Things are not always what they seemed, however. My research suggests that most allegations result in nothing at all. I reflected on the source of my anger as I ran pre-cruise errands. "Everyone knew" erupts from each day's fresh allegations, but when push comes to court - what everyone knew turns into "Well, I heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy who said he was there." Although huge sums are paid out in civil court settlements, criminal cases either vanish, or the trial turns into a circus.

So I set my tirade aside; the college coaches, the retired sheriff, the Hollywood predators - the whole rogues gallery. Nobody wants to read that shit. Then, I got home and booted up my computer.

A Boulder County Sheriff's deputy, a thirty year veteran, has been arrested for sending sexually explicit...allegedly sending sexually explicit computer messages to a juvenile female from his POLICE CAR COMPUTER. To steal a phrase from a very funny friend - you're shitting me, right?

We are reminded by our chains of command every year that our computers are audited, that we have no expectation of privacy, that the police department can set limits to how we can use police computers. Aside from the obvious question - who has the f*****g time for idle chat on the computer.... Really? Really?

Somebody should write a book.

Summon the Zen Master

"Then the little boy falls off the horse and breaks his leg,
and the villagers all say 'How terrible.' The Zen Master says, 'We'll see.'"*

Recent weeks' allegations of sexual impropriety have arrived with such mind-numbing regularity it's risky to open a news link for fear of how the next mess presents. Penn State was perhaps the first volley, followed by Syracuse. On the heels of both, a longtime and highly respected retired sheriff of Arapahoe County (CO) is accused of trading meth for sex. What's next?

Yesterday, a Fox News item about sexual exploitation of children in Hollywood splashed and bannered across their web site - big news. Today, I had to go hunt for the story to link it. There seem two obvious trends, both highly disturbing. First, each case was an "open secret" among people who knew the perps well. Second, after the shock and disgust wore off...nothing.

Social scientists claim we are a society with a notoriously short attention span. We react to stimuli, grumble that "somebody" should do "something," and go back to...I dunno, whatever it was that had caught our momentary attention. Or not.

In the meantime, who speaks loud and long and often for the victims - not just those who are, but those who will be? When we hear about two boys being passed around in Hollywood - do we vow to find the slimeballs involved, put them in jail and boycott their films? Of course not. THAT would be blacklisting, or too hard, or a person is innocent until proven guilty - blah blah blah. The accused (or their enablers) peel off a few bucks of go away money, there is some kind of come to Jesus meeting that includes the words "never again" and life goes on. In the meantime....

Bringing to light these gruesome facts can only have a societal benefit when we - us, people who feed the money machine - turn off the spiget for assholes who say one thing to our faces and do something behind our backs.

Let's be hypothetical, since nothing is certain at this point. Let's say - the assistant coaches at both Penn State and Syracuse knew what was going on and turned a blind eye (so long as there was nothing public, nothing to disgrace their programs). Then the result to them is - no TV, no playoffs. No spectators at the games. Nothing. No income at all for the programs. Would the sports programs fold at those schools? Hell yes. So what. The players would find new homes.

A movie director sexually exploits the kids performing for him? No one - NO ONE - goes to another movie he directs. Ever. Harsh? Of course it is. Warranted? Damn right.

Denial is not a river in Egypt, it's what we practice every day so life (as we think we want it) goes on. As long as we personally either get some reward or suffer only a managable hardship, it's okay. Nothing changes. Or, does it?

We'll see.

*Gust Avrokados (Philip Seymor Hoffman), Charlie Wilson's War, 2007

Monday, December 5, 2011

But, Why is the Rum Gone?

"May it please the court."

The judge asked if “The People” were ready, the normal beginning to any criminal trial. Daughter Beth, impeccably dressed in a dark suit and heels, stood with her co-counsel.
“We are, your honor.”
Courtroom 8, Justice Center, Portland, Maine. Criminal court, a man on trial for his life. Sort of.
My daughter is a 2L – shorthand for a second-year law student – at The University of Maine. Their trial practice final involved four budding attorneys, two each for prosecution and defense, an array of pretend witnesses (I was an eye witness to the crime's aftermath) and a collection of friends and family sitting in the jury box. We were there to support our lawyer, engage in the process and share these magic moments. It wasn't my first chance to watch Beth in action.