I can say many things about this Patrol Officer as a way to introduce them but wouldn’t want to leave too many bread crumbs to point toward their identity. They work nights in a Metropolitan Division of a major American City.
“I’m out there, walking out there, all day as a police officer with a mask on… it’s crazy! I mean… stick’em up, right? And I’m the police!!”
He stops to talk to his daughter to offer encouragement and a school project, then continues:
“Listen, Matty, desperate people are getting more and more desperate; the ceiling is being met – no matter who they are or where they are… I mean, normal people are already doing crazy things, know what I mean? Normal people. That haven’t had to stay home with their spouse for weeks on end ever, and their patience level is very short. I mean, in society we know, traditionally, that people lash out at who they are closest to. And now… because of the stress, so much… lack of knowledge, of what the next day will bring, plus health and economic insecurity… you get a lot of people who have, you know, sleepless nights, and they’re frustrated from sitting at home with people they are not used to sitting home with… Most of the calls we are experiencing are domestic calls.”
“Normal patrol coppers are dealing with domestics; battery, assault, or potential domestic violence… are up thirty- forty percent.”
Thirty to forty percent.
“I would say a majority of our calls are still transient related calls. Nothing’s changed, in that regard; except, now… it’s always an emergency code three call, which means somebody is throwing rocks or bricks at cars passing by, for example, basically, they are out of control and you can’t talk sense into that person. That’s it.”
“We have less people in _____ (I blur the division of the city and district to protect their anonymity here) then we have had in years because of the shelters, but… the homeless we have left on the streets are only the one who refuse to get any type of help. Plus, on top of that, people who have been moved to safe shelter…? Well, a good portion of them? Don’t want to be there. So… it’s a tremendous amount of wackiness going on in there – anything and everything… I mean, people who are crawling out from under a park bench where they were sleeping or coming out from the alcove they’ve been in and they find…”
“Here is the economic structure of a transient trying to survive, today. The absolute knowledge is that a good portion are mentally disabled. And even in normal times they are trying to find a way to survive, in some way shape or form… grabbing recyclables, begging for wares, at the off ramp, and in many cases are stealing in one way shape or form; breaking into cars, stealing a bag, whatever the case may be… but now… the potential victims of street thieves—- they are gone. There are no victims on the street. So, that means desperation for our street thieves. It’s all perspective.”
“Like professional athletes are still making millions of dollars, sure, but a waiter in a restaurant can’t work, and well the homeless person begging can’t support themselves either, because there is no one to beg. The only non-transients we see on the street are negligent and naïve people. Irresponsible people who are walking in groups without masks. Who fail to listen to and abide by stay at home orders. We still got people coming down as tourists. To come down and hang and chill! I mean…”
“The ____ Police Dept are issuing 1000.00 citations for people who are not wearing a mask. And all we are doing is educating. We haven’t been mandated to enforce in a stringent way. I’ll say, ‘you have your mask, right?’ ‘In my pocket.’ ‘Why don’t you put it on and take care of everybody- do the right thing. I always say, ‘do the right thing.’
“There is gonna come a time when we are gonna have to start enforcing at least the mask rule. Whether we believe it or not. It is what we are being mandated to do by state government. I don’t necessarily like to wear mine, but I’m a government official. So, everything begins with the example I produce and promote for the rest of the community. So, I never get out of my car without my mask. If I know I’m gonna be around a bunch of street traffic in the car – I want to promote and be a good example of that, so I’ll keep it on in my car even.”
“This is the thing. If you compare my department to New York… Those cats have been decimated. By the virus. __PD to date, we have only had _ sworn and civilian personal infected out of _____ if you count civilian based personal – that’s incredible. (The numbers he used showed that they were fortunate indeed). A good number of that _ have already gone back to work. Less than ___ at home under quarantine. That’s way better then we expected. And what I’m praying… and I agree we have to open up, in some way shape or form soon… but, once we open up… there’s a horde of people at the castle gate. ‘Cause there’s been a fire, right? Then when we open it up, a couple-people-at-a-time, it means the gates are gonna be run over and, and… the gates will tumble down. The fire for society is that people want to be free – and maybe no one is going to take into consideration… listen, if we don’t somehow try to get the economy started up again, we know we have to – but the ceiling of patience is being reached….”
“And everyone is trusting, me I’m trusting, we’re almost like the typical victim who gets victimized, right? Everyone’s so trusting everything is gonna work out, but yet, at same time… in another month, say… we’re gonna have people not have any idea how they are gonna pay their mortgage, their back rent, two- three months of bills, forget about it… we might not be out of this by November– and if they let the gates open and the mass of society runs through the gate… we will be at peak levels right away.”
“Listen, Matty, no one wants to think about worst case scenarios, but there are a lot of worst-case scenarios out there. Talking serious law enforcement stuff where I have to arrest people for not staying inside. That’s hard core. If you’re an officer and your job is to reduce crime and make certain there is no public disorder and community members are safe and secure and can enjoy a quality of life, well…. it’s … the ceiling is being reached.”
“I mean, the dynamic, in ___, prior to Covid, if I arrest you for selling narcotics, you will be out of jail tomorrow; seven years ago– that was a felony; ten years ago– possession was a felony; five years ago– it was a felony to have meth— now…? It’s a misdemeanor. Everything up to two pounds of dope is an infraction.”
“If I find you with a weapon in your car and even if that weapon is not registered to you, you can still be out of jail the very next day. Not serve any time. The D.A. might not even file. The D.A.s are so inundated with so many different crimes, they wouldn’t even be able to file them. If I’m addressing an individual on the street and they sock me in the jaw, that individual will be out of jail the very next day. That is pre-Covid. Now, post-covid, I can’t even arrest you. We arrest people, and a lot of the reasons originate from traffic stops P.C. (probable cause) vehicle registration or someone unregistered, etc – we can’t even do those stops. Now we can’t do that because the state said, ‘don’t worry, nobody can stop you if you have a late registration or bad license.’ If we run you and you have a thousand dollar warrant, we don’t do anything, we can’t take any risk to bring anybody else into system, because of risk of exposure. Maybe a five hundred thousand dollar warrant.”
“And you know, like your CVS or the local Rite Aid is your homeless person’s personal kitchen. I’m serious. This is pre-Covid. Now it is twenty times worse. Your Rite Aid over at ____ they are gonna walk into that CVS and grab what they need and walk out to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for each location. But today, if you go to, you know like, your Ross Dress For Less and Loss Prevention catches you for stuffing a bunch of clothes up your shirt and I show up, I arrest you and I book you, nothing’s going to happen, except I walk you out of the door in an hour and a half.
“Previously, you stayed the night in jail, and at least saw a judge, but now… if you steal a car, if I catch you stealing the car, and I take you into custody, and you start pretending you have a cough and sneezing and say you had a temp two days ago, I’m not gonna bring you to jail out of fear for contaminating the police station… Before– you would meet with my Superior and we start the two hour booking procedures… now my boss comes out, meets me at my car, stays ten feet away and asks a few questions, and then I drive you downtown (to a detention center) and we stand in line, me and my partner and my suspect, and we are like in Disneyland, but like six feet apart, waiting for a ticket to get our turn to get inside, and then you get up there, and you know, if the suspect is really smart… he sneezes and coughs, no one is gonna let him in and we do nothing.”
“Listen, Matty, we drive around in our vehicles doing nothing, we can’t stop anybody, and then if you have a vehicle code violation I can’t pull you over because of the mandate– and there’s no more people on the street to steal from, but there are still thousands upon thousands of vehicles just sitting there, vehicle thefts have increased twenty five percent… and now, all of a sudden, there’s a stolen vehicle activity call, so we got sixty patrol cars zooming over to get in on the activity, because they have nothing to do…. Listen, Matty, they make fun of me all the time, they call me.. “I’m like Driving Miiss Daisy, ’cause I don’t drive fast unless it is an officer needs help call– ’cause it ain’t worth it. The public doesn’t realize the liability of bringing on the lights and the sirens– normal people don’t understand the liability those two officers are now facing. If they get into a collision, if someone is hurt or killed, the department is gonna do all they can to NOT take care of you. Capital N. Capital O. Capital T. So, I drive super slow. I do. I don’t really give a fuck.”
“This is a normal day occurrence in ____, seventy percent of our radio calls have to do with a transient, okay? I mean, if I give you the company line, say I’m interviewing for for a promotion, I say, ‘we have to realize that we are not only responsible for our residential and business owners but also our community members who are experiencing hopelessness- that’s what I say at the interview, but the truth is.. I’m not flying through traffic at a hundred miles an hour because two homeless people are attacking each other with huge lead pipes – and every unit in the area is flying from an emergency call at 100 miles an hour… except me, I’m going 20. The safety and security of my family, I can lose my house, and everything, if something goes wrong… because of someone who can’t take care of themselves? No. I go super slow. Can’t buy into it.”
I ask him again to talk a little more about the uptick in domestics.
“The truth of the matter is in our society – we have both parents working. Most people are ships passing in the night. Many times, people haven’t shared four days together in the last ten years, and now they are forced to be together; or one, or both, are basically unemployed and you are faced with that person all the time… Then you throw on top of that dynamic…. an increased frustration, lack of clarity, desperation on how you are gonna feed your family, keep a roof over head, the car payments, or all of the above… It adds to the frustration and desperation in that home dynamic. If you already have a situation where there is a challenging relationship to begin with, now it’s increased exponentially.
“Listen, Matty, many of the residences we go to are very small apartments with eight to fifteen people inside. I mean this is a studio apartment with ten people living in it. Fights are going to occur. And frustration. People who are not living under the best circumstances already are faced with even more challenges. And these domestic calls… across the board – and society says it should be just men – but it is a fifty- fifty, baby.”
“And then we are also seeing an influx of… let’s say irresponsible people finding ways to throw parties in ___. Primarily through AIRBNB networks. (..) Last weekend, we raided a number of different house parties. There was a shooting at one. People are throwing parties for money. It’s crazy. And the people throwing these parties are facing huge fines.”
They had more to say about the ways people are scrambling to make a buck and how sometimes that runs into the law along with a brief description of the way infected people are coughing on each other as a weapon, but because of the strict codes of silence that they are forced to live under behind the blue wall, we chose to trim a lot.
“Matty, the general public doesn’t know the kind of scrutiny we have to live under.”
I reminded them that the aim of our conversation is to hopefully bring dimension and humanity to the real lives of people too often reduced to click bait and sound-bites. But in the end, we chose to blur some details that could be traceable to them. I walked away once again learning more about the nuanced truth beyond the Google search by simply listening. And… I also, personally, felt safer about enduring these crazy times because of the very things and phases they wanted me to edit so they wouldn’t get in trouble with Internal Affairs.