Friday, September 30, 2011

A Little Thought to the Big Game

Like many officers out to make some extra money, I'll be employed by the UW-Wisconsin Police Department tomorrow night to preside over the humanity converging on Camp Randall to witness the first ever football game played against the new conference team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  It's billed as a BIG game.  Number Seven in the AP Poll verses Number Eight.  Bookies in Vegas have the Badgers by nine.

A couple years ago, the Badgers hosted the Top-Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes to a night game.  Bucky emerged victorious and bedlam erupted in the Camp.  Students charged the field in reckless abandon.  A lot of fans cheered on as goosebumps rose on their flesh as they truly enjoyed the moment for their team.  Others simply rushed the grass because... well, it seemed to be the thing to do at the time.  I always like to watch the monkey men rocking on the goal posts with countless victims, I mean witnesses egging them on.  Do they really think it's a good idea to view the determination to drop the upright from... underneath it?

In 1993, then-Coach Barry Alvarez was turning the Badgers into a team to be reckoned with.  One particular Saturday, the Michigan State Wolverines (Shout out to Red Dawn followers!) were in town.  This would be my second year working in the trenches.  At that time, restrictions on carry-ins were lax.  Bologna slices might spin by your head or stick to your jacket like a greasy Frisbee.  Peanuts in the shell were considered too easy to use so enterprising protagonists use penny-ladened marshmallows to pelt unsuspecting officers with.  While you chuckle at the thought, I'd be the first to tell you that a seven penny puffer still hurt like hell after it bounced off the bridge of your nose.

During that contest, I stood on the field in front of the student section.  Students overcrowded these areas because friends wanted to be with friends.  The usual projectiles flew.  The air was electric.  At the time, about a twelve foot walkway surrounded the playing field itself.  With game on, we tried our best to keep it clear of bystanders.  Moving, keep moving.   

The Badgers won and they weren't supposed to.  Good intentions went out the window.  The walkway jammed up with bystanders looking for a chance to storm the hash marks.  I stood at the fence where eager, smiling young faces absolutely glowed with appreciation for the win.  I saw those faces sag into discomfort, alarm, then terror.  I asked one female student what was wrong.  She could only muster a low, "Can't breathe."  I reached over the fence and took her under the armpits.  With good leverage and a younger back, I lifted her free of the wave and put her on my side of the fence. 

Before I could attempt another rescue, someone had me by the back of my duty belt pulling me away from the crowd.  I resisted trying to reach around and free myself.  The reverse momentum carried me about fifteen feet when the chain link snapped and all those happy, now terrorized students exploded forward on top of each other.  A UW cop buddy of mine had been standing back and saw the wave of the Crush descending upon my position.  If his reaction did not save my life, it certainly saved me from serious injury from going down under the masses.

No one died that day although six or seven PNBs (Pulseless Non-breathing) were in progress at the same time, in the stands and on the field.  Every officer that day pitched in to free the mish-mosh of limbs from the twisted metal railings.  It was a long day following a long night shift.  I couldn't really settle down to nap before I went back to patrol that night.  I still felt fortunate that I was not a victim of the BIG Sleep that day.

The UWPD made plenty of changes to ensure that no replay of that catastrophe occurs again. Unfortunately, human nature still remains as an important ingredient in the recipe for disaster.    Most attendees show up to the game on time but others like to be fashionably late.  Kids still think that they have to sit with their friends.  This thinking enhanced after too many adult beverages can overload the student section yet again.  I watch for the nomad crossing aisles with no apparent regard to the designated letter the section represented. I eject errant ticket holders for being in the wrong area according to the ticket in their hand.

That same intoxication level can render its hosts incapable of sensing danger and inadvertently casting another Crush upon the rest of the oblivious fans.  My colleagues and I enforce these infractions of policy firmly.  We get flipped off, cursed at verbally and threatened with losing our jobs.  I guess if the kids only knew why we do it, they would feel better about waking up on Sunday with only a hangover.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Education Guess

While on an "Assist Fire" call the other day, I was standing outside an apartment.  A woman, who had undergone neurosurgery and survived other calamities, lost control and a concerned loved one dialed 9-1-1.  No knowing how she'd react to the arriving paramedics, the dispatcher sent me along in case the need for Doctor E.D. arose.  The letters ED stands for emergency detention but I'll leave that explanation for another day.  To my pleasure, the lady received her assistance well and my presence proved to be unneeded.

As I stood there in that long hallway, an African-American male called out my name from the far end.  I answered with an apprehensive, "I am."  Okay, how bad did I piss this guy off to recall my name?  What's on his mind?  Where's his hands?  Where's cover?  All these things jockeyed for position with my brain operating in tactical planning mode. 

"Do you remember me?" He asked coming down the hall.  I noted the light tone that he imposed.  I caught the gleam of enamel in the single functioning light fixture that he passed under.  Not a sneer or bared teeth ready to bite but a smile of acknowledgement, of perhaps, friendship from this stocky man in his twenties.  I apologized that I did not switching my brain to facial auto search, running with the efficiency of a quad core processor. 

His smile grew wider.  He told me his name was Eddie (not his real name) and reminded me that he was the tall boy in Mrs. Meixner's Fifth Grade class.  It had been about fifteen years since I last seen him.  He gave me a brief synopsis of his years before politely excusing himself to return to his apartment and his wife.  Well, he actually noted that I still shave my head before he did turn away.

Twenty five years ago, I earned an appointment to attend the very first DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Academy held in Springfield, Illinois.  Having originated in Los Angeles, LAPD sent several officers including Sgt Van Velzer, Sgt Webster, Lorrie Bostic and Patrolman Joe out to the flatlands to tutor us.  For two weeks, we lived and breathed classroom management and curriculum content while honing our public speaking skills. 

An important component to this instruction and one that was the easiest for me to conquer was the ability to laugh at myself.  I try to only be serious when the moment dictates it, not as a matter of lifestyle.  I returned to my PD to apply all that I learned with a vengeance.  For five years, I preached the gospel of DARE to fifth and sixth graders.  We discussed issues regarding self esteem, decision making and consequences of our actions, both good and bad.  And, we talked at length about drugs and their effects. 

Personal challenges caused me to turn down a promotion and take a job offer in the Mad City.  After five years here, I regained DARE Officer status only after attending another two week academy class.  But alas, before I had the chance to cash in my second Certificate of Completion in the classroom, eggheads determined that DARE had no measurable impact on children without supplemental instruction.  You think!
It was never intended to be a stand alone program.  Why in the world would a reasonably sane person believe that participating in a class, held once a week for seventeen weeks, could insulate a tween running the gauntlet of growing up anyway?  Nevertheless, DARE tanked but we moved on with similar instruction.

I always worked the night shift because 1) I'd rather be leaving the city when the sun is rising than coming in with a couple thousand commuters, but more importantly, 2) it worked better for family life.  Working fifth detail showed me why on any given day in school, I would find little zombies roaming around unable to stay awake much less learn.  On any given night, responding to a loud stereo or a disturbance, I constantly entered homes and apartments to discover little people still awake when they should have been having happy dreams in their beds.  These households usually consisted of parental units who are kids themselves, not wanting the role nor accepting the consequences for pro-creation.  These are the kids who never graduated high school themselves and know no value of education.  Those darn consequences. 

Now, things haven't changed.  More kids are having kids.  These days, consequences are not even mentioned especially when headlines blare news of indiscretion, lack of integrity and down right criminal activity perpetrated by renowned people who are not held accountable for their actions.  And, people still believe that a few hours in a learning facility can override the lasting effects of a toxic environment.  It doesn't matter how gifted an educator is or how high the expectations are placed on a child, everyone has to be on board with the educational process. 

We have to start being honest with kids too.  We do no favors to anyone by being afraid that we'll damage a kid's fragile Id if we tell him that college may not be an option right now, if ever.  Heck, I did all right in school but I wasn't ready to attend college right away.  I went into the armed forces to pay for school but also to learn some things about me that I couldn't or wouldn't have learned otherwise.  Is it to say that telling a kid that college is not an option is a damning ruination of his character?  Ah, no.  I know a great number of men and women who slum as an eighty thousand dollar a year plumber, carpenter, electrician or mechanic.  

I guess the bottom line is that the "No Kid Left Behind" idea was good... on paper.  No one thought about the total package of the concept.   I wish that a simple remedy like a new way to teach an old subject or a new facility in which to bring students in might overcome the previously mention shortcomings.  Until value returns to education in the eyes of the students, their friends and parents, results from any attempt at innovation will be meager.  Maybe we should interview the Eddies out there to obtain their secret to success  and learn by that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is the Deadly Force With You?

My earlier posts evaluated the political climate of recent Wisconsin politics.  Since then, the governor (with a small "g") bullied his budget repair bill into law effectively raping public servants of earned benefits and collective bargaining rights.  Another piece of legislative genius leaves Illinois as the only holdout in the Union.  This wreck waiting to happen shot through both the House and Senate with such velocity that .22 magnum rounds are envious.  Come November, residents can apply for concealed carry weapons permits.  FANFARE Please! 

People smile thinking that they will be safer.  No one will know who is armed and who isn't.  People crimes will plummet!  Hold on there, Bucky.  Before the high fives and knuckle bumps subside, perhaps some thought should have gone into the licensing process.  Or, more precisely, about establishing some training guidelines to meet in order to receive a license to strap.  Right now, it's TBA.  Yes.  Like an instructor listing for a 200 level composition class, to be announced.  No one knows exactly what criteria needs to be met; however, hunter safety classes are rumored to be enough.

Everyone needs to understand the responsibility and therefore, accept the liability inherent to going armed.  But before I continue, let me qualify myself to make such observations.  I grew up in the era where guns were accepted and respected.  I sprayed the ceiling of my Dad's bedroom ceiling with the cap firing Tommy gun that Santa brought me for Christmas in 1966.  It scared him out of a sound sleep earned from working nights but being a military man, he hit the floor, then the seat of my pants several times.  We celebrated Western Day in my second grade class where we brought our six-shooters and winchesters to school.  I had a Crack Fire rifle which was a lever action affair with a speaker in the butt that made the bullet ricochet sound when you pulled the trigger.  There were Man from Uncle pistols and a cool spy movie camera that hid a firing mechanism inside. 

Enough you say, well I am a street cop too, twenty-seven years and counting in addition to serving three years in the Army MPs.  Adding it up and on the calendar, I've policed in five different decades.  I run "what if" scenarios in my head constantly to have a plan in case today is the day someone decides that this is the day.  I am not an anoemale.  Most cops train to not only carry a firearm but use it too.  That may sound funny but if you pull a gun and the "bad guy" is not afraid and keeps coming, can you shoot?  If you can't, did you receive any weapons retention training?  Nothing worse than being embarrassed by having someone take your gun unless you are shot with it too.

What exactly are you going to go armed with?  During the summer, it's pretty difficult to hide a Dirty Harry special in your shorts.  Handguns come in all sizes to include caliber and ammunition count.  Are you going for the "cool" factor or are you actually thinking tactically?  Now, you feel the weight of it in your hand.  You are confident in its handling.  Excuse me, what are you carrying it in.  Use a holster and make it a good one.  Don't slip it into your pocket like the gentleman did in Chandler AZ that promptly shot himself in the penis.  Or fiddle with it out of the holster and shoot yourself in the leg like a certain Super Bowl MVP that ended up spending time in the slammer.

Does the average citizen know when deadly force is authorized?  A couple of incidents during the summer answer the question, no.  An elderly gentleman in Kentucky faces attempted murder charges after shooting a 13 year old in the back as he ran away from the man's front door.  His crime?  He played ding dong ditch having just rung the man's door bell.  A pharmacist repelled robbers with his handgun wounding one in the store and chasing the others out.  His problem occurred when he elected to shoot the downed robber several more times when he was all ready incapacitated.  If you remember how everyone Monday morning quarterbacked Brett Favre after (pick an issue), are you prepared for that kind of scrutiny for an involved shooting?

It happens.  You see a guy holding a gun on an unarmed man.  You intervene and draw.  The armed assailant says something back but you can't hear.  You give an ultimatum.  He ignores you. In the excitement, you fire... alot.  Did you evaluate the situational backdrop?  Someone's grandma rocking in her chair or the baby napping in its crib.  Couldn't see them anyway but the apartment building was facing you.  Oh well, the movies call it collateral damage.  The robber that you just took down?  He was a detective or off-duty police officer and the rapist got away.  That darn mental planning thing.

This going armed scenario changes the dynamics of your household also.  Does your wife know how to use the gun.  In this day and age, that could be a two edged sword.  How about your kids?  Will you hide it in the sock drawer and keep it a secret or openly expose the weapon to your kids.  By the way, does your wife or significant other know how to call into a 9-1-1 Center and explain the situation so you don't get blasted by police coming into the scene and think you are the bad guy?  Mental planning again.

The really scary thing about any of these situations is the civil liability that one may incur.  A new breed of ambulance chaser will emerge.  The lawyer looking for potential victims to protect from all the new gun loving fanatics exercising a flawed right.  This lawyer will try to reduce your lawful action to a more simple case of recklessness citing inadequate training and / or over zealousness.  The poor victim was only looking for property to steal, not wanting to harm anyone.  That is if you figured out a problem correctly.  Can you imagine the financial ruin based on any of the previously mentioned cases.  Would it be too out of line to think that insurance companies may find it necessary to up your premiums because you pack heat and store it in your house?

Finally, Wisconsin is the #2 party state in the country.  Guns and alcohol have been a bad idea since the wild west.  My thoughts are not intended to sway opinions for or against carrying concealed bullet launchers.  If you chose to not participate, no worries.  If you do, understand the entire package of responsibility and liability that the proposition holds.  Do not be a victim of the "I didn't know" defense.  There will be plenty of people, professional or not, who will point out that you should have.