My parents raised me to respect police officers, to recognize that they are dedicated to protecting the rest of us, often at the risk of their health and very lives. That lesson has stuck with me to this day. I honor those who serve, especially my neighbor who is a detective and came in handy on the evening of my thirty-second birthday when the two of us, along with 7 1/2 drunken friends got pulled over coming out of the desert in a pickup truck with an M16 assault rifle and two open cases of beer. Protect and serve, indeed. He protected my ass from going to jail, and then served me a beer when all was said and done. God bless the men and women in blue!
The fact that I do not have a problem with the police has a lot to do with my parents and almost nothing to do with the local police in my home town. Those police were of the most dangerous sort: Cops with an inferiority complex. My home town was small and what was described as a “bedroom community” (which sounds way, way hotter than the reality). It was families with kids, mostly, and there wasn’t much for the cops to do.
This, you would think, would be an ideal job: You get to drive around all day doing nothing more serious than helping someone get the keys out of their locked car. Not exactly Miami Vice, but it does have the benefit of not getting shot at, which is a big plus in my book. But the dumbasses with badges in my town felt as if they weren’t quite cops unless they did studly cop-like things, and rescuing cats from trees wasn’t cutting it.
For example, I was in my early teens and home alone one day when I thought I heard someone in the house. Knowing that it could not be anyone in my family, I went outside and walked around the house looking in the windows. Finally, as I was about to chalk it up to my imagination, I went in the side garage door and as I did, I heard a garbage can turn over. I ran next door and called 911 to report that someone was in my house.
When the police arrived, they sternly “debriefed” me. Seriously, they used that word, as if I’d just come back from the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound. After I told my story, the cop in charge (the one with the biggest mustache) looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, son. We’re professionals. We’ll get this all sorted out.” He then pulled out the smallest, most feminine gun I’ve ever seen and advanced towards the house, ignoring the important information I was trying to tell him.
He came back thirty seconds later to inform me, “The door is locked.” “That’s what I was trying to tell you. You probably need the key.” The second time went a little better than the first in that the cops actually made it inside my house. They came back ten minutes later to inform me, “The house is clear. Nothing has been stolen.” Naturally, I questioned this. “How do you know that nothing has been stolen?” I asked. The cop patiently explained that in his vast experience, you could always tell a burglarized house because the TV was gone, but if it made me feel better, I could walk through the house with them and see for myself.
So as we were walking in, I said, “You checked downstairs, right?” “Downstairs?” “Yeah, downstairs! You know, down the stairs immediately to your left when you walk in? These ones right here?” With that, the cop yelled, “Clear the friendlies! Clear the friendlies!” and his cohort physically dragged me out of the house as he dropped into an exaggerated crouch and took aim at whatever monster might come out of this mysterious hole in the house called a basement. Clear the friendlies. What a fucking moron. (It turned out that the intruder was a friend of mine trying to mess with me, but he fled as he saw me go next door to call the cops. Good thing, too. Those fucking yahoos probably would’ve shot him 87 times.)
It was hard not to hold the local cops in contempt. I have numerous memories of my friends and I intentionally doing something to attract the attention of the police specifically so we could run away from them. For instance, I once sat on the corner of a street dropping lit firecrackers into a public mailbox in broad daylight, which was illegal since I was fucking with the public mail, and also since fireworks were illegal in my state. Sure enough, in five minutes a cop arrived on scene, and I high-tailed it out of there using a complex escape route: I ran behind someone’s house and hid in the bushes for five minutes. Then I calmly walked home. For overly aggressive cops, they sure were lazy.
The cops would never get out of their car to chase kids, and I can’t say that I blame them: We knew all the shortcuts, the hiding places, and since we knew all the kids in every area of town, we had numerous “safe houses” we could use to lay low. Besides, why bother running your doughy donut-filled body into the ground chasing swift teenagers when you can do fun cop-like shit like put out an official APB on someone?
My friend Eric and I were hiding behind a barn next to a well traveled road one afternoon after school. Every car that came by, we’d hit with a snowball. Nothing destructive or malicious, just a couple of kids looking for something to do. I remember as I got ready to look for our next victim I turned to Eric and said, “Hey, the next cop that drives by, I’m gonna fucking nail him!” and as I looked back, there was a cop stopped in the road ten feet away from me, looking right at us.
Eric and I hauled ass, bypassing my house and only doubling back after we were sure a decent amount of time had passed and the coast was clear. What we didn’t know is that another friend of ours who knew what we had been doing (but didn’t join us) happened to walk by while this was going on. The cop grabbed him and after figuring out that he had an innocent bystander, told him to hold tight for a second as he leaned in his cruiser and put an APB out on my description. I found this out on the phone later that night. “Get the fuck out of here, there’s an APB on my description?” I asked. “Hahaha, yeah, and the description is pretty fucking perfect. He got a real good look at you.” Luckily, I was able to cunningly avoid the resulting dragnet by not wearing my maroon parka for a week.
Probably my favorite anecdote about the local cops, the one that demonstrates their faux bad-assery and not-so-faux idiocy, involved a cop at a stop light. Looking to his left at a car in the left turn lane, the cop made a big show out of unlocking the vertical shotgun stand next to him, and fingering the weapon as if he was going to need to break into super-double-extreme crime-fighting mode any second. Instead, as the traffic began to turn left, the cop eased off the brakes, never breaking eye contact with the incredibly impressed people next to him. And of course he hit the bumper of the car in front of him, pulled the trigger on both barrels of the shotgun, and blew the cherries right off the roof of his cruiser. Bad cop! No donut!
Destroying public property and chasing after imaginary bad guys was not what our boys in blue specialized in, however. Their very raison d’être was to bust teenagers drinking beer. I lived in a subdivision which was separate from the town itself. The advantage to us was that the police were only allowed in if they were called. This meant that we could drink and smoke dope with impunity, as long as we didn’t do anything stupid like set off a large gasoline bomb, which of course we could be counted on to do sooner rather than later. But instead of sticking around for the police to come, we’d calmly set off in the woods knowing that the cops wouldn’t bother checking for us there. Chasing kids is tiring to begin with, and the woods? Well, they’ve got trees and shit in there, and worse yet, hills!
But if you lived in any other part of town, you had to be really careful. Standard operating procedure called for all cars to be parked at least one mile away because that is how the cops would find the party. They were very rarely called in because, really, a bunch of teens drinking beer isn’t exactly the end of the fucking world. Almost all the neighbors treated these occasional get togethers as “just something teens do”. Often they’d drop by to make sure the house wasn’t getting trashed and that everyone was ok. But the cops took it fucking personally.
We were at a party in a house one year when I was twenty-one, but the rest of my friends were only twenty. The party was being thrown by the owners of the house, a couple in their mid-forties, and the occasion was that their son had just had a birthday, or just felt like drinking or something. I wasn’t asking a whole lot of questions as there was a keg in the bathtub and everyone was really busy having a great time. Then the cops started knocking on the door. Loudly. And violently.
The owner of the house quickly told the partygoers that no one was to answer the door. “It’s my house, and I don’t have to open the door unless they have a warrant.” This frustrated the cops to the point that they sent a cop around back to open the sliding glass door into the kitchen. He grabbed the nearest kid and screamed in his face, “You open the front fucking door or you will be going to jail tonight!”
And so of course the kid opened the front door, and a whole shitload of over-amped dickhead cops came flooding in. The first thing they did was ask whose house it was. As the parents were upstairs concealing the keg in the bathroom, their son stepped forward and announced that the house was his. The cops tackled him, slapped cuffs on him (so tight you could see the marks they left hours afterward), dragged him outside and slammed him against a chain link fence until he was bleeding from his face.
This, however, became problematic when the kid’s father came downstairs and saw the police brutalizing his son. The police were left with no alternative other than to arrest him for providing alcohol to minors, which they did by tackling him in the yard and treating him much like they did his son.
Meanwhile, the cops inside the house were having problems of their own. First of all, the parents had made sure that all of the beer had been poured down a sink or a toilet. There simply wasn’t a drop of alcohol to be seen. And the cops, as brilliant as they were, were unable to locate the keg sitting in the bathtub behind a drawn shower curtain. “What’s the matter?” one particularly assholish cop asked loudly. “Why wouldn’t you answer the door? Chips aren’t illegal!” From way in the back of the room someone yelled, “Maybe we just don’t like pigs!”
Shit was about to get really serious when the cops had a little huddle. Since they had not been called by neighbors, they didn’t really have a good reason to ask for entrance to the house, and while normally they could use the confiscated beer as proof that they had probable cause, they couldn’t find any beer. Also, there was the issue of witnesses seeing them illegally enter the house in the first place, and then there was the touchy matter of brutalizing two people in front of numerous witnesses.
They solved this dilemma by unarresting everyone and then smelling everyone’s breath as they left. We’d reduced them from the role of public servant to that of a dad checking on his kids on Saturday night. The only person they pulled down to the station as a result of this breath check was a friend of mine who hadn’t even made it into the party: They grabbed him as he was parking in the street. He managed to stash his bag of weed underneath the police cruiser (a neat trick that I witnessed as I was asking the officer what my friend was being arrested for), and down at the station he blew a 0.01, the lowest possible positive reading. They jailed him for being a minor under the influence of alcohol, and held him until his pissed off parents bailed him out two hours later.
The legacy of that party was twofold: The cops, deciding that getting themselves in such a jam wasn’t a whole lot of fun, got the town to pass a law stating that any gathering of three or more people who appear to be under twenty-one constitutes an illegal party and the cops are allowed to enter and search the premises without a warrant. This was clearly unconstitutional, but not the kind of thing most parents are willing to challenge in court at a rate of $250/hour. Basically, the cops were being a bunch of bullying assholes.
The second legacy was that a significant number of people I grew up with, in a relatively prosperous and crime free small town, grew to hate the police. That is beyond fucked up. In a town of that size, the cops are not only supposed to be friendly, they’re supposed to be your friends, your neighbors. But due to their macho pride, they turned a lot of otherwise decent people against them. One final story illustrates how chickenshit these fuckers were.
After years of drinking and smoking dope in our private subdivision, enough people raised concern about the number of beer cans down in the park down by the river and the occasional late night drunken outburst of laughter and profanity. The subdivision decided to hire a security guard to keep watch on things on weekends. This is how we met Paul.
One night, as I was walking from the car with a six pack in my hand, I noticed an unmarked cop car parked thirty yards down the road with someone sitting behind the wheel watching us. So I walked over there and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Greg.” “Hi, I’m Paul. I’m the new security guard here.” “Nice to meet you Paul. Everything cool? I mean, this is all okay, right?”
Paul laughed, “A bunch of white kids drinking beer? Yeah, I think everything is a-ok.” Paul was an off-duty Chicago cop who was literally moonlighting to make a few extra bucks. He had to deal with murders, rapes, burglaries, and all kinds of shit. He couldn’t understand why anyone would pay him to sit in a car and watch white kids drink. “It is pretty fucking stupid, isn’t it?” I agreed. “Hey, you want a beer?” Paul took a beer from me with a quick thanks and a broad smile.
All that summer, we hung out by the river, drinking beer, smoking pot, and playing basketball when we felt particularly motivated. Paul felt that he had to stay in the car, but graciously accepted our beers until he decided it would just be easier if he brought a cooler full of his own.
One night, however, a neighbor approached his car with concerns over the age of one of our female partiers (she was 18). Paul walked over to us and said, “I told her you were all cool, but I think she’s going to call the cops. You probably want to make yourself scarce tonight.” We thanked him and went on our way.
The next weekend, I asked Paul what happened. “What the fuck is wrong with the cops out here? They’re all assholes!” He told me. As I laughed my ass off, he told me how the cops came down, flipped out when they saw a black man with a cooler of beer in the front seat, and they pulled his ass out of the car and were about to administer a beat-down when they noticed his Chicago PD badge in his wallet. “That changed their tune, really fucking quick.”
Now, instead of brutalizing a somewhat innocent security guard, they began pestering him with questions about what it was like to be on the Chicago police force. “I’ve talked to classrooms of motherfucking six year olds who were less impressed with me. What the fuck? I feel like sending some fucking gang bangers down here to shake these assholes up!”
Paul lasted the rest of the summer, and then when the weather turned cold there was no need to keep paying him. Winter was way more of a deterrent than a complicit security guard. I never saw Paul again. I hope he’s doing well and living off his police pension in comfort. Bless those boys in blue, the real ones, the ones who don’t shoot holes in the roof of their own squad car.