Sunday, November 24, 2013

Twenty Cents' Worth

"A Paradigm Shift isn't twenty cents' change."

Paradigm shift - a change in basic assumptions.

Our table mates at the wedding reception were family members of the bride. Nice folks. We chatted casually and enjoyed the excellent food and open bar. The inevitable question - "Getting together with family for Thanksgiving?"

No, I told them. I'm working.

Aghast, one of the folks exclaimed "You need a new employer!" Apparently he had no idea what I do for a living. He needed a paradigm shift. It won't just be me and fellow police officers working while our families eat turkey. So will:

  • Police Dispatchers, there to handle the millions of calls received each day all over the country.
  • Firefighters and their dispatch centers, ready to leave their dinner to fight fires, perform hair-raising rescues and tend to the ill.
  • Doctors and nurses in clinics and hospitals, miracle workers in scrubs.
  • Mass-transit workers, bringing families together even as theirs are miles away.
  • Pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, gate employees and FAA Air Traffic Control professionals keeping the skies safe and giving folks a fighting chance to get home while football is still on.
  • Ambulance crews.
  • Retail workers.
  • Military members, deployed or standing watch at home.
This is only a partial list. The million or so of us learn one simple lesson. It doesn't have to be Thanksgiving Day to be thankful for the many blessings we enjoy. Our loved ones understand. We are thankful for them most of all.

Thank you to all who serve in big ways and small.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day the Music Died

  "To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

From The Inaugural Address of John Kennedy, President of the United States, delivered Washington, DC on January 20, 1961.

I was sitting in Mr. Mcelheny's fourth grade class at William Davis Elementary School in Southampton, PA on November 22, 1963. We were about to conclude the school day, and embark on a week off for Thanksgiving. My walk home - six blocks - often seemed miles. Principal Deitz began afternoon announcements in a somber, almost hushed tone.

"President Kennedy has been shot and killed today."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Taking Note

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Pat and I stood silently at the spot where Union soldiers from Maine saved the United States of America. It was the top of a little knoll, overlooking fields surrounding a thoroughly normal, thoroughly rural town in Pennsylvania. Once, over one hundred fifty years ago Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain, professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College (pronounced Bow-den), a colonel in the 20th Maine, called for his men to fix bayonets. Out of ammunition, they would charge the guns of the advancing Confederates with nothing but a glorified spear in their hands.

The moment is stirringly recreated in the movie Gettysburg. Jeff Daniels, eyes ablaze, hollers the command as though the fate of human freedom itself was at stake.

Of course it was.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tornado Witness

"If you've been on TV more than 5 times describing the sound of a tornado, you might be a redneck." Jeff Foxworthy.

It is impossible to access any news gathering site, whether TV, radio or on-line and not be inundated with Affordable Care Act stories. The latest - President Obama's promise that we could "keep" our plans and the emergence of reality - contains an interesting twist. It is immediately applicable to the job I do.

The Administration suggest that, when the President made the statement "If you like your present plan you can keep it - period" in fact he meant something subtly different. The promise only applied to those plans meeting ACA's requirements, they say. The grandfathering clause only applied to policies purchased before the law was signed, with great fanfare, in 2010. Etcetera.

The word "disingenuous" was invented to sound better than "lie" when one was speaking with respect. The cacophony of outrage occurred without delay and the president was forced to.... This is where it gets tricky.

The law seems clear - as clear as any law weighing almost as much as the forklift required to lift it. Non-complying policies are void, unlawful. The policy holder gets a letter in the mail and an invitation to purchase something else (almost always more expensive) or enter the magic world of the state insurance exchanges. That's a different subject.

This week President Obama announced a one year moratorium on enforcing the law.The echo of his words had hardly died before the obvious question flooded the airwaves. "Can he do that?" That is, can the executive branch ignore the "law of the land?"

Often, the use of discretion by police officers is offered up as an example of just such behavior. Law enforcement, in nearly all cases, is part of the executive branch of the various Federal, State and Local governments across the country. We enforce the laws passed in the legislative branch of our governmental entity, but that is not done automatically. A little kid steals something petty and is taken home with a lecture. A driver is fairly confident that a 35 mile per hour zone actually means 40 (or more).

Some judges don't care for some laws. Criminal Impersonation - using a false name to derive a benefit - is a felony that is committed routinely by individuals with warrants for their arrest who "forget" their wallets...and their names and birthdays. They pick the first name that comes to mind. Most prosecutors and judges prefer us to use the misdemeanor "False Information to Police" unless the person has falsely signed something official like a fingerprint card or a ticket. Sometimes, as an inducement to honesty we'll forgo even the minor charge if the person's memory improves. These considerations almost always turn on proof issues.

Can a child really form the "criminal intent" necessary to commit a petty crime? Are the devices used in vehicles really accurate enough, driving a precise enough skill, to hold drivers to the absolute speed limit? Are there enough police officers in America to enforce speed laws that strictly? Will a jury send anyone to prison who tries to lie their way out of an encounter with police? Are there enough prison cells to hold them?

This is different from throwing a blanket over an entire body of law and, for obvious political reasons, promising not to enforce it. Here in Colorado, we've seen just this sort of thing when a collection of sheriff's - elected official all - stated that they would not enforce Colorado's gun laws. 

At what point does the executive branch decide that the legislature can be ignored? When they believe themselves wiser than the will of the people the law makers represent? When the law itself - the one the executive himself signed - is fatally flawed? When political considerations make enforcing the law risky to their careers? What are the guidelines set up to ensure these decisions are not made for immoral reasons, such as racism, sexism or any of the other isms to which human beings are prone?

It is whim-based, a tornado of competing interests best left up to the legislature to resolve. It's their job.

UPDATE: I am an undying proponent of the James Friedman Rule of rhetorical appeal to authority - "Reference to (legal) authority may only mean you've found someone else who is wrong, but agrees with you." Consequently, copy and paste wars leave me cold. Occasionally, however, someone writes something that so artfully states a position with which I agree that I have to clip it. Kevin Williamson, a contributor to National Review Online offers a succinct examination of the Obama Administration's lawless nature in The Front Man. In it he details several instances of presidential overreaching (there are many more). His point - the Obama Administration will live far beyond its years in the bureaucracy it has created, the rules promulgated by these executive branch organisms and now in the judges it deems itself unconstrained to appoint. The president has decided, and we have sheepishly (or intentionally - witness the Progressive love affair with the "promote the general welfare" clause contained in the Constitution's Preamble) gone along with him.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

We Serve Together

One year ago today Lakewood Police Agent James Davies was killed in the line of duty. He was a loving husband, adoring father and cherished son. He was also an extraordinary, gifted police officer.

My daughter Katy wrote a moving post, (Behind a Badge), gracefully describing the perspective of family members. I offer the following in Jim's memory, originally published March 3, 2013. When police officers suffer a loss, they turn to each other.

Brothers in Arms

"Who was wrong, and who was right? It didn't matter in the thick of the fight."*

The man was clearly having a mental health episode.

Denver Police HomeOne of our motor officers, a big guy with many years of experience, stopped at what looked like a motorist assist. The driver did not believe he was a police officer. Two Denver officers - a guy with a '93 badge number and a thirty-ish woman - arrived, because the guy had been on the phone to their dispatch alleging a crime in their city. The driver didn't think they were cops, either. The fight was on, and the three officers cuffed the guy up and loaded him into a Denver car. Then I showed up.

Friday was beautiful; 60s, sunny with just the mildest breeze.Cycling weather. I wore a blue uniform polo top (a "jersey" to bike riders), cargo cycling pants and arm warmers. I'm the one he thought was the police officer. Plainly, we needed to get this guy to a hospital.

I called for a caged car. We chatted while we waited. That's what cops do. The topic? Our loss last year, the duty death that took Jim Davies' life. Not a perfunctory "How ya doin'" kind of chat, but one that was sincere, heartfelt. We weren't Denver or Lakewood. We weren't male or female, old, young.... We were cops. A good man had died and good people wanted to know how we were healing, how his friends and family were coping.

Denver has had its share of tragedy, with the loss of Officer Celena Hollis last year (One Hundred Red Bows). When we expressed our sadness at her death the conversation moved back to Jim. "Really, I can speak for all of us," the male officer said. "We are right there with you. We felt your loss very deeply."

The law enforcement profession can be one giant shit sandwich, sometimes. It wears people down, burns them out. Most of us who have enjoyed long careers can remember the times it sucked to be us, the moments (or long stretches) when we'd have done any other job in the world, wanted to be anywhere else but wearing blue, carrying a gun and trying to fix things that will always stay broken.

Then, two very kind Denver Police officers remember an especially good man. I wouldn't trade that moment for anything.

*"Goodnight Saigon, The Nylon Curtain, Billy Joel, 1982.

Remembering James.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Twelve Grand

I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.
Steven Wright 

I don't exactly remember what I expected to get out of this blog, now twelve thousand page visits ago. I hoped I'd garner a few readers, maybe sell a few books. It could be a place to offer a bit of insight into the closed world of law enforcement, an insiders take, so to speak. I had nothing else in mind.

In the aftermath of James Davies' death last year I had a friend at work grab my arm and say "You wrote all of the things I wanted to say. Thank you."

I had no idea anyone actually read this blog, let alone took the words to heart. A close friend told of a dinner conversation one of the posts had generated. Another, the subject of a light-hearted story, greeted me in her work area with "I made your blog!"

As has become a custom, whenever I pass a milestone number I pause to thank you. Fictional William Forrester said, in Finding Forrester, that writers write so readers can read. That is only part of it, however.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I'm Your Huckleberry

Doc Holliday: It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds. 
Wyatt Earp: Doc you're not a hypocrite, you just like to sound like one.

The Fire Department hardly ever asks for emergent cover. Mostly, firefighters are twice my size, half my age and travel in packs. So when that call comes over the air - a combative patient - I put on the lights, warble my siren and stomp on the gas.

Their "patient" was a definite cross between Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday and Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. He had the far away wild-eye thing one gets when marooned on an island with a one-shot pistol and rum. The accent.... Affected, to be sure. A little southern gentleman, a lot small town production of Our American Cousin. A doctor had authorized his involuntary transport to the hospital, but the doc wasn't there to get him on the pram without a fight.

I talked, he listened. He argued. I laid out his options - go quietly, go to the hospital.  Fight with me and go to jail. He said I was cute.

He got on the pram, told me he was sending me the ambulance bill and left with the firefighters. All the while sounding like he'd escaped from the play ongoing at the cultural center. I asked him where he was from. He refused to answer. I told him I am a writer and he'd likely be a character in a novel. He was skeptical.

Ye of little faith. I have, without a doubt, a ringside seat to the greatest show on earth. It is a writer's paradise.