Monday, March 30, 2015

Something for That

Posted on

As a Boston police officer was being treated for a gunshot to the face Friday night, Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross found himself explaining to a small crowd why officers opened fire on the suspected shooter.

In a YouTube video posted after the incident, Gross is seen offering to “respectfully” explain what happened to a group of bystanders, not seen on camera, who pepper him with occasionally hostile questions.

“Officers did a motor vehicle stop,” Gross explains after waiting for them to quiet down. “As the officer is taking him out the car, he shot the officer in the face, and the officers returned fire. That was it, short and sweet.”

“Y’all don’t have no protocol, any other way?” one young man is heard saying. “You got to shoot somebody?”

Gross interjects: “Did you hear the part where he shot the officer in the face?”

“You’re trained for this though,” says the young man.

Yes, we are trained for this.

An officer in a southern state confronted a shoplift suspect several years ago. In the ensuing scuffle the officer was injured. Grievously. His jaw was shattered, his tongue sliced open.... He soon realized that the man with whom he was struggling had shot him several times.

"Well, I had something for that," the officer commented. He drew his sidearm, shooting the suspect. The shoplifter later died.

Yes, we're trained for this. Now, go find a bathroom....

Then There WereTwo

"America's Veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world." James Doolittle.

Noting the passing of Doolittle Raider Lt. Col. Robert Hite at 95.

At a time America needed to know their fighting men and women were up to the task of defending freedom in the Pacific and around the world, the Raiders took off for Tokyo from the deck of an aircraft carrier. They had been detected and were leaving many miles earlier than planned. They suspected it was a trip that would end with their deaths.

Lt. Col. Hite survived, spending nearly four years in a prison camp. He was one of the lucky few POWs who made it home again.

From the Doolittle Raiders website:

In honor of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the citizens of Tucson, Arizona presented a set of 80 sterling goblets to the Raiders following WW II. In turn, they were presented to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs by General Doolittle on behalf of the surviving members of the Raiders for safekeeping and display between reunions. 
The silver goblets are housed in a special glass-enclosed trophy case which is guarded by two Airmen. In addition to the goblets, the case contains a bottle of brandy to be used by the last two remaining Raiders at the last reunion to toast their departed comrades. Many of the goblets are already turned upside down for the men who were killed in the raid or who have since died.
At each reunion, the Raiders hold a brief ceremony to honor those who have passed away. This emotional remembrance often marks the passing of additional Raiders during the year since the last reunion.
Each goblet is inscribed twice with a Raider name - both right-side up & upside-down - so that the names are always readable.

Several years ago the remaining four Raid veterans opened the bottle and offered a toast. Now, one more goblet has been turned over. There are only two left.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cop Talk

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”
― Zeno of Citium

Being immersed for five days in a room full of cops always increases the list of expressions I can employ. This week was no exception. The instructors played a video clip during a discussion of fitting the handgun to the shooter. In it, there are several scenes where a guy has handed a woman (by all appearances an inexperienced gun handler) some gargantuan weapon and invited her to shoot it. Invariably, the recoil either rips the weapon from her hand or slams it into her forehead.

The muscular, tattooed SWAT cop sitting in front of me shook his head and muttered "That's a dick move right there."

The meaning is immediately evident, even as one respects how compact the phrase is. On the continuum of insults, being a "dick" is even harsher than being an asshole. No respect is accorded to a guy who purposefully gives someone a firearm they can't handle, provides little instruction, then records the inevitable result.

One of the instructors had a favorite expression that was seamlessly adopted by the class. Someone who does or says something that is profoundly stupid, or worthy of extreme disrespect was invited to "Go into the bathroom, stick your head in the toilet and drown yourself." The meaning here is also immediately evident. Can there be a less dignified way to create one's own demise? Before long the invitation was shortened to "Go into the bathroom" and everyone got the idea.

The conversation this week turned to the Germanwings flight that ended in death and destruction in the French Alps. The murders of 149 people who sat powerless (but not unaware) in the final moments of their lives has to rank among the most disreputable acts of madness of this century. It is one thing to commit suicide in a fit of despair over the loss of girlfriend, health and possibly job all in the same week. But to take a plane full of men, women and children with him whose sole crime was having the statistically microscopic misfortune to trust their lives to him? I don't have to guess what Sully would say. The guy sitting in front of me supplied it.

"What a dick move. He should have just gone into the bathroom, stuck his head in the toilet and drowned himself."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Into Thin Air

"One can decrease the impact of luck with training, experience, skill and strength, but inexperienced climbers can make it to the top while experienced climbers can be stumped near Base Camp." Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air (1997).

Uncomfortable, overwhelming foreboding always accompanied the trek uphill. Mental rehearsal had begun weeks, sometimes months before - encouraging self-talk, positive imagery and, of course, denial. Drills to build muscle memory, easy enough to perform in the calm of the basement, would soon be put to the test of real life consequence. At the top existed a world of pass or fail, hit or miss. The sleepless night before lent a physiological fog that did not help. The mechanics rarely (and unpredictably) worked in smooth sequence. More often the wheels came off dramatically, in front of friends who were too busy to do more than cluck sympathetically.

Range qualification day.

Fantasy scenarios never materialized. The place didn't burn down. Ammunition rarely ran out (although signing up for the last day of the session maximized this possibility). Snow, rain.... There was no such thing as an ill wind if it blew all of the targets onto I-70, which happened once a decade. Trudging toward ignominy past the Jeeps and monster trucks of range staff only emphasized the awful hour to come. 

Believe no one who states it is impossible to alter the path of a projectile in flight through force of will. It was often my only refuge. 

All of which makes the certificate I hold in my hand all the more improbable. It says that James Greer "Has successfully completed a 44 hour Colorado POST approved Handgun Instructor Course." It's not a forgery, either. It is signed by the staff members who, each in their own way, emphasized one coherent point. It paraphrases out as - "You are now held to a higher standard because this is not merely a marksmanship class. You will be instilling in your students the necessary skills to use their handgun to save their lives, and the lives of innocent others, in combat with armed criminals."


The class was presented by a splendid staff from the Adam's County Sheriff's Department - the affable, intelligent and superbly capable commander who was at once friendly and demanding; the sometimes sinister but more often engaging and funny presence of the SWAT sergeant (who has been wounded in action) whose mere presence focused my mind on my target; and the jocular, calming, experienced retired sergeant with whom I formed the instant bond of being both grandfathers and thirty-plus year officers.

My final qualification course - required for graduation - was a non-stop shitshow. I dropped a full magazine on the deck hurrying to do an easy exchange (one I've done a thousand times before) between exercises. I was ordered to set up a pistol malfunction and in the process accidentally caused a different one myself (and the commander stood behind me, laughing). I "threw" a round within an eighth inch of failing not from far away, but from close enough to have hit the damn target with the muzzle. Had I learned nothing?

In years past I would have folded on the line, convincing myself that I was always lucky to qualify. This time I ignored the mistakes and focused on success. I now hold myself to a higher standard - I am a handgun instructor. I model the will to fight, the promise never to give up, or give in. The staff had reminded us of this so many times I heard their voices as I retrieved my dropped equipment, resolved my hamhandedness and fired the required perfect score.

One student missed a couple shots on the first try. Several of us stood with her (and others) in support, watching all of them get the job done.On her initial target she wrote "Never give up, never give in" and took it home with her perfect graduation silhouette.

The instructor cadre had taught far more than how to put holes in paper with  projectiles. I am now fit to help others into the thin air, to teach them how to survive when nothing is working in their favor. While there is so much more to learn, the foundation is strong.

I'm ready to head for the range.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Concrete Charlie

Noting the passing of former football great Chuck Bednarik.

Suburban Philadelphia in the 1950s had a distinctive, small town feel. Most of the men in the unincorporated hamlet of Southampton were veterans, moving into tiny single story homes (base price $8000) as they built post-war lives. Telephone service still involved "party lines," shared service among four or five homes. Telephone numbers began with the exchange name - hence ours was "EL (for Elmwood) 7-4630." The first July 4th parade my father marched in was attended by most of the townspeople, who also constituted the marchers. "We marched and then ran back to be the crowd for the other fellows," my dad said. At one event he introduced me to a man who billed himself as "Hitler's favorite P-47 pilot." Two combat missions, twice shot down. He was captured after his second crash. He still bore the scars where his face had struck the gun sight.

Television - three channels on a black and white RCA set. The National Football League was still building a following, so TV money was a fraction of what it is today. Often, games were "blacked out" locally because there were still tickets remaining. It was not unusual for our beloved Eagles to be playing a big game at Franklin Field in front of enough empty seats that it was not broadcast by the Philadelphia station. My enterprising father bought the biggest antenna he could find, securing it to our roof during a snow storm, so that he could pick up stations in New Jersey.

Among our heroes was a man named Chuck Bednarik, number 60. He had been born in Pennsylvania, flew combat missions over Germany as a B-24 waist gunner and returned home to attend college. He was a football player, drafted by the Eagles, and played both offense and defense, on the field the entire sixty minutes. His fierce style dominated games, helping the Eagles to championships. My father, of course, revered the man. It is family legend that my late brother Dave's first words were "Chuck Bednarik."

Concrete Charlie? Football players enjoyed modest salaries, even the stars. In the off season Bednarik sold concrete, (according to Dad) at the plant by the railroad tracks on 2nd Street Pike. He mentioned it every time we drove by, I suppose lest we would forget.

Bednarik died this week in a nursing home, reportedly suffering that ubiquitous disease of former football players - Alzheimer's. He is yet another veteran to pass, men from a different era when star athletes at the top of their game might also work down the street in the off season selling concrete.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

March Mindless

Though this be madness, yet there is method, Shakespeare.

March, 1987. Syracuse...Indiana. NCAA Finals. A late basket by Keith Short won it for the Hoosiers, after SUs improbable run had electrified the campus. On Marshall Street in downtown Syracuse revelers partied until almost dawn. I went back to my Con Law text  book.

February, 1997. Keith Van Horn, center for Utah, hits a buzzer beater to win the semi-final game of the WAC tournament.The next night he does the same thing, winning the WAC. On a business trip in San Diego my wife and I watch in our Embassy Suites hotel room.

March, 2006. We are sitting in a bar on Sanibel Island watching The Orange take on hated Georgetown. Patrons agnostic about the outcome surround us, until our infectious fandom takes over. Suddenly there is pandemonium as Syracuse forces overtime, then wins by a point.

March, 2015. Syracuse watches while others play for titles and glory. A scandal - the Orange have violated NCAA rules for a decade or more.

March, 2015, Westrail Tap and Grill. Xavier goes out to an early lead against Georgetown. Over milk stouts and pub food we cheer on the Musketeers.

The sins of omission and commission that has led Syracuse to sit out this tournament, to forfeit wins a decade in the past and sully the reputation of an honorable institution and a fine coach are regrettable. We will not see my alma mater play in The Dance this year.

But roundballs are bouncing on hardwood. Men and women celebrate the high point of their careers one night, and hang their heads in defeat the next. It is time for college basketball's spring tournament.

Get your shit together, SU. This better not happen again.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Guns, Guns, Guns

step 5. Place index finger on trigger, take aim and gently squeeze rearward until hammer is released and falls forward striking the firing pin.
Be prepared for loud noise and recoil."

Another gun.

I have purchased five handguns over the course of my 31 year police career. Does that seem like a lot? Oh...sorry. I have friends who have purchased five in one weekend.

The first was a Smith and Wesson Model 67. Stainless steel, wood grips, six shot .38. In early April 1979 I was a security officer at the University of Denver. One morning I received a call...actually, the call. Greenwood Village (a Denver suburb) was offering me a job. "Go buy a gun," Sergeant Christenson said.

Go buy a gun. This was the first job I ever had where a sidearm might be required. For the rest of a police carreer, however long, I would carry with me the means to kill another human being. Well.... Actually, my deepest thought was that I lived totally hand to mouth and would now have to shell out big bucks for my pistol.

I would need.... What? A letter from the Chief? Written permission from the Governor...from God? New York (where I'd grown up), even back then, had an elaborate process intended to chill an intemperate soul's impulse buying for nefarious reasons. I was ready to face the bureaucracy attendant to purchasing a handgun.

The paper the clerk slid in front of me said, basically, "Kid, have you ever been arrested?" Well, there was one night my friend JC and I were stopped leaving a bar. He had, with some enthusiasm, "peeled out" leaving the parking lot. In front of a Monroe County sheriff's deputy. The bartender Vinnie (himself a former deputy - a career path I would soon learn was relatively common. My Bartender Vinnie.... But in 1975 Marisa Tomei was only 11) talked us out of trouble. But, I digress.

No, I'd never been arrested. I paid a little over $100 (and ate noodles for a month) and I went home the proud owner of an actual pistol. Years later, after my next employer issued me an S&W Model 19 I sold my pistol so I could buy hockey skates. 

My next was an off duty/back up five shot Chief Special. It fit in a pocket and I never learned to shoot it straight. I sold that one, too.

When I reentered law enforcement after a short, uneven stint as a lawyer, I bought another Smith - this one a six-something semi-auto. We really never bonded - I'm not really much of a de-cock guy. Yes, this is slow pitch....

A very good friend introduced me to a plastic gun made by an Austrian company called Glock and I was smitten. For eighteen years I've carried a 9mm Glock 19 - a small version of grown up big brother Glock 17. That is, until....

I have been, since 1979, a consumer of shooting range training. They told me where to shoot and how many times to shoot it, and I did. Sometimes I was good, sometimes not. My range PTSD kicked up from time to time, leading to sleepless nights (I knew the level of my confidence based on what time I awoke, to toss and turn, on range day). But my Glock 19 kept me sane, safe and in the good graces of range staff.

Now I am range staff - the program administrator. Go figure. I'm off to instructor school, requiring me to prove my worth among the gun guys. So, I decided to buy a new gun. Step up to the also 9mm Glock 17?

"If you're going to do the 17," a good friend said, "Go to the 34. It is the finest combat handgun made."

Any guesses what kind of pistol he carries?

I got to shoot his 34, preparing to get myself through the course. It is a beautiful handgun. So I bought one of my own. The owner of the shop handed me the weapon (after I had passed the background check) and said "Enjoy. I hope you never need it."

Thirty-six years after my first pistol that kind of comment still raises the hair on the back of my neck.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Symptoms of a Greater Illness

"But what the material in the report reveals is less a culture of racial animus than one of predatory government: 'Ferguson’s law enforcement practices,” states the report, “are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs.'” The Injustice the DOJ Uncovered In Ferguson Wasn't Racism, Ian Tuttle, National Review, 2015

Everyone of a certain age watched, and giggled at, the first appearance of Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), the slow-talking, affable sheriff of small town Mayberry, North Carolina. He had arrested Danny Thomas for running a stop sign. Protesting his innocence, Thomas demanded to see a judge. Andy flipped over his "Sheriff" desk sign and became "Justice of the Peace" Taylor. Defeated, Thomas paid his fine.

The point was to make Thomas, an upstanding and affluent city dweller, the butt of a joke. Ha ha ha, welcome to small town justice, where government coffers are fed by unsuspecting out-of-towners with more money than sense. 

The recently-released Department of Justice report on the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, MO, makes several points. First, that Officer Wilson was justified in his use of force. However, the Ferguson Police Department comes under harsh scrutiny for the practice of using ticket writing not as a means of improving citizen safety, but to generate revenue for city operations. If a "ticket a day keeps the sergeant away" then several...or several dozen...keep the finance department happy.

It is an easy practice to justify, its roots firmly planted in a 1967 Commission reporting on law enforcement. Then, it was common for officers to "coop," that is to gather for long periods of time, take turns sleeping and otherwise ignore the needs of their community. The Commission recommended, among other things, that officers be evaluated based (in part) on how productive they were. Measured, of course, with tickets and arrests.

One need not look very far to find someone in government lamenting their lot in life as it relates to citizen expectations. "The people," officials often growl, "can't afford the government they say they want." Citizens expect - reasonably so - that they have supplied sufficient resources to local police, fire and community services. The efficient use of those resources is up to public sector employees. And you know how "wasteful" they are....

At the same time, no one likes a tax increase even as the cost of doing the public's business soars. Government employees are expensive. The average police officer along Colorado's Front Range begins their career making around 40 thousand dollars a year. Within five years that has nearly doubled. Police cars are now sophisticated mobile offices - in 1979 the interior of my police car contained a radio with four channels, and a "unitrol" that controlled the overhead lights. Suspects rode to jail in the front seat. Today, a radio with hundreds of channels, a mobile data terminal, multiple selectors for a variety of light patterns and a "pod" rear seat designed to safely transport all manner of arrestees. None of this is cheap. It is said that the way to increase the cost of anything is to paint it black and stencil "Police" on it.

Reducing services is rarely an option, nor is raising taxes. That leaves....

Photo radar. Red light cameras. An emphasis, sometimes (as seems the case in Ferguson) from the upper reaches of government, on writing tickets to citizens not because the act increases overall public safety but to enter into a new, utterly coercive relationship with the defendant. Pay up, or else people with guns will come looking for you.

All this is not to say that tickets, arrests, fines and the like have no place in the array of tools available to officers. In fact, targeted enforcement meant to deter certain criminal acts has proven effective time and again. Traffic officers will tell you that within the Three E's (engineering, education and enforcement) they can make a significant contribution being visible, affable and when necessary, professionally deliver a summons.

But, divorcing productivity from serving the public safety needs of the community and handing it over to a system designed to maximize revenue generation? Ferguson is a cautionary tale to those who have lost sight of the people at the receiving end of "productivity." Mr. Tuttle's column, and the report he summarizes, point out that affluent Americans pay the fine, grumble at the inequity (all the while losing respect for law enforcement) and move on with their lives. Those of lesser means often must choose between paying the city or feeding their family...or jail.

Parked in the downtown area of a nearby city, having lunch with my daughter, I returned to my car to find a ticket. There was still fifteen minutes on the meter. The summons, courtesy of a "Parking Enforcement" employee, demanded $35 dollars because my vehicle had no front license plate. It had been stripped off several days before in an accident. Why is a front plate a big deal (some states don't require them, although Colorado does)? Photo radar.

Recently, Breckenridge CO began a program of advising citizens where targeted enforcement was occurring. “What we’re really after is just to make the town safer,” Assistant Chief Dennis McLaughlin said. “That’s our job and there’s no secret to it.”

Ferguson - and many other departments throughout the country - might heed those simple words.