Thursday, October 27, 2011

A San Varlin Halloween

Wednesday nights were usually quiet at San Varlin Police Department, at least after 11:00 p.m. – otherwise referred to as dogwatch. Probationary Public Safety Dispatcher Brian Holden was in his last phase of training, learning the ropes of police dispatching. He’d completed his classroom training and was assigned to be mentored by a veteran dispatcher, Rosalyn Owain. Rosalyn has only recently agreed to take on a rookie after years of hiatus from training.

Rosalyn started Brian out during the end of the shift, when activity was minimal. After Brian’s confidence grew, she was gradually starting him earlier in the shift, with her sitting by him. Then, she planned to slowly ‘cut the cord’ and listen from a distance, but by a console in case she needed to take over. This was Brian’s third week. Each time he put on his headset and pushed the plugs in to the jack at a dispatch console, he had to fight the butterflies in his stomach. Please don’t let me screw up. He’d silently pray before each shift. Thank you for letting me make it through the night without getting anyone hurt or killed. Brian said in thanks at the end of his shift.

Tonight, Brian was handling the radio with some help, being coached by his trainer as situations came up that he wasn’t sure how to handle yet. That was normal. It was two weeks to Halloween and the nut jobs were starting to emerge.

“7A3 10-8.”

“7A3, copy 10-8, clear for a 459R?” Brian, let up the foot pedal to wait for the patrol officer’s response. His trainer, Rosalyn Owain sat next to him, plugged in to the adjacent socket listening to the back and forth radio transmission and watching the CAD screen. The senior dispatcher was ready in an instant to take over should the trainee freeze up. Brian did his best to ignore the background chatter of coworkers on the phones or on the other radio channels. He couldn’t afford to let himself get distracted.

Distractions could lead to mistakes. Mistakes could get people hurt or killed.

“Control, 7A3, go ahead.”

“7A3, 1658 Krosmen Lane #6.” Brian didn’t need to say any additional information, as a screen shot of the call information on a cold burglary would appear on the field officer’s mobile data terminal. Brian sat back and read the call, laughing a bit. “They stole the RP’s headstones and a scarecrow?”

Rosalyn chuckled. “You’ll be surprised what folks will take. Christmas is even worse for theft of decorations nowadays.”

“Control, 7A3, enroute.”

“7A3, 10-4.”  Brian tapped a command in the computer, watching as the officer’s ID changed on the computer. He turned briefly to glance at Rosalyn. His trainer was writing a few notes on a pad. That made him nervous.

Finding Krosmen Lane, Joanne Teshneary drove on the 1600 hundred block searching for the right address. Only half of the homes had reflective or illuminated addresses. She slowed to a near crawl, finally resorting to using the spotlights as she hunted for the residence. “I don’t understand why it is so hard to put the address numbers up outside for Public Safety personnel to find.”

Joanne became fed up, unable to find the house. She called the phone number listed on the MDT display. It was a bad phone number. "Control, 7A3."

Brian answered her. '7A3 go ahead."

"Control, 7A3, there is no 1658 on this block. I've checked every house and this number doesn't exist. The phone numebr is disconected. Show me 10-8."

The night went on for a lifetime as best as Brian could tell before Rosalyn had one of the shifts dispatchers relieve him. He followed her to the break room where the two of them discussed the evening.  

Rosalyn handed Brian his Daily Observation Report. “Not bad tonight, Brian, your still letting your emotions come over the radio. That will change with confidence & experience. Your responses to the units have improved from last week:  I didn’t see any errors in traffic or ped stop locations. Keep up this progress and you will be on your own in no time.”

Brian felt a burden lift off his shoulders. “Thanks, I am trying.”

Rosalyn smiled. “I know. If you weren’t, I’d let you know. Brian, don’t kid yourself, you will have some bad days. That’s expected, but as long as you learn from the mistakes, and don’t repeat the errors, that’ okay. Remember, I won’t let you do anything horrendous. Tomorrow, you will be going on a ride-along with Officer Bautista. Unlike the ride you went on with Officer Jenkins, you’re not going on a sightseeing tour. I want you to pay attention to your location at all times. Know which street he takes you on, the cross street and direction. Remember never to stand in front of a door or window. Obey his instructions to the letter. You need to report in at 2100 hours in the patrol briefing room, to sit in of their team briefing. Sergeant Redcliffe will issue you a portable radio and holder. Wear your uniform and bring a jacket. October can be cool in the evening.”

“Cool. I’ll be here.” Brian replied. He was excited; he’d had a good shift and looked forward to spending a shift accompanying Officer Bautista on his patrol. “

“Get out of here and get some sleep. I’ll be on the radio, so listen to how I handle business and once again, know where you are at all times.”

“I will. Good night, Rosalyn.” Brian stood up, his head buzzing with adrenaline from the praise. Oh yeah, I can do this!
Chapter 2
“You ready for this?” Sergeant Redcliff asked Brian before he opened the door to the briefing room. Raucous laughter greeted the two men when the sergeant opened the door.

Brian felt self conscious as he followed Sgt. Redcliff through the doorway, taking an empty seat. Fourteen pairs of eyes looked the dispatcher, already questioning whether or not he would be would be reliable radio person or at best, a dispatcher to tolerate.

“Jose has a ride-along tonight. This is Brian Holden. You’ve been hearing him on the radio this past two weeks. Brian’s training with Rosalyn. She’s requested each of you come up and introduce yourselves to Brian and give him some constructive feedback.”

A white female with chestnut hair whispered to a black officer. They both chuckled.

Sergeant Redcliffe stared at the two uniforms. “Jo, would you like to share the joke with the rest of us?”

The female officer stopped laughing. “No, Sgt. Redcliffe, I wouldn’t.”

“Then I suggest you save your humor for after the briefing. Sergeant Cooney’s on vacation today; so you can call me, or Lt. Rensen, if you need any help tonight. Everyone is in his or her assigned beats tonight. The new item is an ABP on a burglar hitting homes in the northwest. One victim caught the guy as she came home. Suspect is described as a BMA, mid 20’s, medium height and weight, short cropped black hair.”

“Hey, Sarge, that describes half of the city!”

“Put a lid on it, Marshall. The victim said the suspect was wearing a clown costume.”

“Clown? Jeez, I didn’t know they even made those anymore.” One of the guys blurted out.

“Why not go with one of the classics, like a pregnant nun?”

“Coulda been worse, he could have been wearing a Charlie Sheen costume!”

Hoots and groans followed the bad joke.

“Alright, enough; hit the streets.” Redcliffe barked.

Leaving the briefing room, Brian couldn’t help his excitement. He enjoyed the ride-alongs. After training, I going to finish college maybe I might apply to be an officer.

Officer Jose Bautista checked out the vehicle before leaving the lot. “First thing, call me Jose. Brian, make sure your X-unit is on channel 2, the car radio is on our main channel. I’ll leave my keys in the car if I have to get out quickly. When you get out, bring my keys with you. Here is a spare key to my patrol car. Whatever you do, don’t lose it! I expect my orders to be obeyed to the letter. If I say duck, you duck – no questions asked. When we approach a building, never stand directly in front of a door or window. Follow my lead. On stops or hot calls, stay in the car until you hear a code-4. Once the scene is called C4, you can get out. If I get in a foot chase, stay with the car.” He put the hood down and threw away a paper towel dirty with oil. “How well do you know the city?”

“I know the major streets and down town.” Brian replied. “I also know how the numbering works for the blocks.” A bright full moon lit the night sky, boding an adventurous shift.

Officer Bautista grinned. “Better than I expected. Pay attention to what streets we’re on and direction we’re travelling. If we get a pursuit or in trouble, knowing where we’re at is critical to getting us help.” He pulled out of the parking lot. “I patrol part of the south east end of town, where half of San Varlin’s poor live and before you ask, the other part of the poor live in the south west. We do have some economic growth in those areas. Business and yuppies are snatching up vacant homes, stores, and lots. The ‘have-nots’ are getting forced out of town. I guess it’s a good thing in a way, once derelict buildings become occupied giving the City desperately needed tax revenues. San Varlin is within a decent driving distance to the East Bay and Napa Valley. It’s a couple of hours to Sacramento, Silicon Valley, Tahoe, or Monterey.” Bautista cut-off his banter and pulled over to the curb, calling in a stop as he did so.

“Control, 9A11 12-94, Edes and Mark, 1298 C2.”

“9A11 10-4, 9A13 Edes and Mark, C2.”

Brian watched as the officer carefully walked up to a homeless man that slumped against an office building. Bautista talked to the man, who jerked upright momentarily, then fell back over again. Listening to the radio, Brian heard Bautista call in C-4 and request the fire department. Remembering the instructions, he pulled out the car keys before he opened the car door.

Another black & white pulled up behind their unit. The blonde female, Officer Farley, who’d disrupted the squad briefing, stepped out of the Crown Vic. She nodded to Brian as she took a position off to Jose’s side where she could watch the subject on the ground. Within a few minutes, sirens announced the approach of the San Varlin Fire Department, Engine 4344 and Paramedic ambulance 4319. 

Two of the engine’s crew joined the two paramedics to evaluate the patient. Brian stood aside, watching the process.

“Joe says he’s possessed by a demon.” Jose said with an apologetic look tot he fire crew.

Diego Fernandez shook his head. “Sure he is. Give me a break, it's cold outside and the rain cold are moving in. Joe knows the routine, don’t you? Claim to be crazy and it gets you three days in County. That’s 72 hours off the streets with a decent bed and three squares a day. Go on Jose, we got this." Diego glared at the patient. His partnerMalkin was takign Joe's vital signs.

"C’mon Joe, I’m not picking up your ass, you can walk to the bus.” Diego took the green sheet from Jose. The form gave the medical personnel at the hospital the right to hold a patient for 72 hours on a mental health observation. The homeless man followed the medic’s instructions, suddenly feeling better knowing he'd go somewhere where he'd be taken care of.

“Where are my car keys?” Jose asked Brian.

Brian handed the squad car keys back to Jose.  The two men returned to the vehicle, resuming patrol of Jose’s beat.

Driving through the dark residential streets, Brian was surprised by the diversity between the various blocks in Jose’s response area. One area resembled Main Street USA with full-grown trees lining the block of well-cared for homes. Driving two or three blocks over was a dilapidated zone: the houses desperately needing work, some yards had cars on cinder bricks, and at least two of the four corners were occupied by men selling illegal substances & women selling themselves.

Brian watched Jose made multiple stops on men hanging out on corner. Each of the loiterers claimed to be waiting for family members or friends. Each also claimed to have only been there for ‘a few minutes’ but Brian and Jose knew better. Jose had watched the block from a hidden vantage point prior to making his contact.

“These scum out here love Halloween. They all dress up in costume, carry bags of candy, mixed with their stash and sell the drugs as they wander the neighborhoods. It’s difficult to stop known dealers when they escort their younger relatives trick-or-treating. I know what they are doing, but unless I witness the exchanges, or a call comes over the TIP line, I have to leave the jerks alone.” Jose explained. He pointed out a BMA standing next to a two-door primed Toyota Celica. “See that guy there? That’s Scooby; he sells cocaine and pot, but you’ll never find the drugs on him. He usually keeps the bags under a bush close by. He’ll take your money and send his little brother, JJ, to retrieve the baggie from his stash. Scooby knows JJ will spend time in Juvie if he’s caught. Scooby has two convictions; his next one will be his third strike. JJ is only eight and he already owns more bling than I can afford to buy. And we wonder why low income kids reject school for the drug culture.”

At 2:00am, Rosalyn’s voice came over the radio. “9A11, 9A15, copy 1233a.”

“Control, 9A11 go ahead.”

“Control, 9A15 go ahead.”

“2478 Marberry Drive at Boarsdale Metal works.”

Both 9A11 and 9A15 acknowledged the call.

Pulling up in front of Boarsdale Metalworks, Brian was prepared to wait in the police car. Jose halted when Brian stayed inside.

“What’s the problem? Come on, just stay behind me.” The second officer, George Fowler pulled up second after Jose.  Fowler went westward while Jose & Brian walked east around the huge industrial complex. Halloween decorations were scattered throughout the grounds, large plastic skeletons, grave markers, wooden black cats, and more spider webbing than Brian could ever remember seeing in one place before. Orange, purple, and black lights blinked on and off around each window.

Halfway around the complex, sound of breaking glass made Jose freeze. He spoke quietly in to his portable. “George, did you hear that?’

“Affirm, Control give us a code 33 for sounds of breaking glass.”

“Stay behind me, be prepared to stop and duck if I motion.” With cautious steps, Officer Bautista crept forward. He halted at the corner of the building. He put out his hand. “Stay here.”

Squatting down, he peeked along the other side. Jose slowly moved around to the next side.

Brian waited, wondering what was going on. Finally, he heard Joe announce “Control, 9A11 code 34, proves okay, building secure.”  Brian walked around, curiosity encouraging him to find out what Jose had discovered. Laughter greeted him as he caught up to the officers.

George and Jose stood next to a Halloween display of a headless woman in front a mirror. She held an axe in one hand. The headless woman was an animation figure, her arm moving back & forth to break the mirror, which was the source of the breaking glass noise.  Jose and George were discussing the best neighborhood with Halloween decorations.

“Buckhorn still is the best. Even so, all this stuff attracts crime. I hate Halloween almost as much as I hate Christmas. “ George said   “I’ll see you later.”

Jose and Brian cleared and walked back to the squad car. Cruising around, Jose pointed out areas of high incidents, mostly drug dealing and prostitution problems. Turning on to a dingy neighborhood, Brian’s attention was diverted by a figure in white clothing being chased by a one in dark clothing.

“9A11 at 16th and Stoneridge, 415 in progress.” He advised dispatch “Stay in the car.” Jose ordered Brian.”

“9A13, 9A15 cover 9A11 Stoneridge and 16th.”

Brian watched as the person in white reached Jose. It was a man dressed in a ghost outfit. Jose directed the man to stop and take a seat on the curb. The second subject, a man dressed as Darth Vader approached Jose, screaming obscenities at the first man. He, too, was instructed to take a seat.

Jose was at a safe distance waiting for his cover when the man in white suddenly ran at Jose. They started wrestling on the ground. Brian heard Jose call out over the radio.

“740b! 740b!” Jose yelled in his microphone as he grappled with the man. The other subject sat on the sidewalk, frozen as he watched the spectacle.”

Sirens heralded the cavalry. Brian didn’t know he held his breath until he saw five different San Varlin units pull up and jump out to help Jose. Sergeant Redcliff was the third one to arrive. It took every officer to restrain the man. Handcuffing the fighter, Redcliff called in a code 4. Sorting out the incident, Sgt. Redcliff discovered the subject in black had been stabbed in the shoulder. Fire was requested for the man in black and to check out Jose who had a nasty laceration on his forehead.

Getting out of the car, Brian walked over to Jose. “Damn, that guy moved fast! I was tempted to get out and help you.”

“I’m happy you didn’t. He was high on PCP. I need to get this cut taken care of. The 245 occurred in Farley’s beat, so all I need to do is write up a supplemental and my injury report. I’ll start my paperwork while I’m at the ER waiting my turn. It should take the rest of my shift. You can stick with me or ride with Redcliff, your choice. My suggestion is to go with the Sarge.”

“I take your advice and ride with Sgt. Redcliffe. Thanks for letting me ride along with you, Jose. Seeing how you patrol at night and getting a chance to observe the problem areas at night will help me.” He held out his hand.

Jose shook Brian’s hand. “You’re welcome, Brian. Come back out with me anytime. I was hoping we would have some interesting calls, but almost getting my butt kicked by a ghost was not in my plans for the night.”

Brian laughed, “That has to be an understatement.”

Sgt. Redcliff drove around the city, showing Brian the current hotspots of activity. They drove through the largest park in town, Kelmar, which had a Haunted House and pumpkin patch. They startled a coyote with a rabbit in its mouth exiting the corn maze. Other than scaring some raccoons, the north end of town was quiet. Brian thanked the Sergeant and made his way back to Dispatch. Rosalyn was still on the radio when he walked through the door.

“So, what how was it?” She asked her trainee.

“Rosalyn, it was cool; seems like we had a little bit of everything tonight. That idiot that attacked Jose was high on PCP. I can’t believe how fast he moved or how quickly help arrived. I could hardly see some of the street signs – the lighting on some of the blocks is non-existent. It gives me a whole new appreciation for what the officers on nights have to deal with as far as finding locations.”

“Glad you understand now. Go ahead and take off. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you next week.”

“Thanks, I’ll see next week. Have a great weekend too, Rosalyn.” Brian replied. His stomach growled. He had a sudden craving for pumpkin pie. I think I’ll stop on the way home at the market and pick up a pie and some whipped cream – and a pumpkin to carve.

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