Gearing Up for Bouchercon

I’m gearing up for Bouchercon, Oct 8-11 in Raleigh. This is my first conference as a published author, so I’m excited, yet somewhat apprehensive.

I’ll be hosting an “Ask A Cop” session in the Publisher’s Room at the Crooked Lane Books booth on Friday at 3 PM, talking about Red Line at the Meet the New Author’s breakfast on Saturday from 7-9 AM, and will be a panelist on The Diversity of Crime, Mystery & Thrillers panel on Sunday at 10 AM.

I’m looking forward to meeting authors I’ve long admired as well as readers who love the Mystery genre as much as I do.

Adrenalin Surge When Writing

I just finished writing a scene for my next book. My main character, an Oakland Detective Right Viewhomicide investigator named Matt Sinclair, and his female partner received a tip that someone they’re looking for in connection with a murder they’re investigating might be in a restaurant. They were told he’s an associate of one of the suspects, but since there were three suspects involved, he could be one of the other suspects. They just don’t know.

The two homicide sergeants meet with two uniformed officers and enter the crowded café, looking at faces and trying to match one with the photo from the man’s driver’s license. Sinclair spots the man at the same time the man makes him for a cop. The bad guy pulls a gun and Sinclair draws his.

Time slows. Sinclair feels like he’s moving in slow motion as his gun clears his holster underneath a rain coat and suit coat. He punches it forward where it meets his left hand. The hands lock onto the gun. The gun comes up to eye level. He takes up the slack in the trigger, a microsecond from pulling it the remainder of the way to the rear.

The scene is many times longer than this. It took me an hour to write. When finished, I got up from my computer and my hands were shaking. My character lived. It was over, but I felt like I had years ago when I carried a badge and gun for a living. Every cop has experienced incidents like the one I wrote about. We handled them. But when they’re over, the adrenalin that shot into our systems and allowed us to focus and survive dumps out.

I remember standing around after incidents like this shaking so badly I couldn’t hold my pen. My legs felt like rubber and my speech was as jagged as the nerves in my body. Writing this scene took me back to those incidents. It felt real, even though I wasn’t holding my Sig Sauer in my hand and I’m 3000 miles from Oakland.

I wonder if this happens to other writers, or if it happens to other retired cops when they watch a particularly real incident on TV, read an authentic passage in a novel, or rehash one of their war stories to a friend.

Why I Carry A Gun

Badge OPD LtA friend of mine from California recently asked me why I carry a gun. I know the anti-gun sentiment is very strong in some circles, that to some people the mere possession of a gun by anyone is offensive, and that the solution to the problem of violence is to outlaw guns. I have friends who feel this way…and yes, they’re still my friends.

In answering this question, I’ll assume my friend really wanted an answer and didn’t ask it in the manner of my ex-wife’s questions that took the form of, “Why do you need to track dirt into the house?”

Before I answer the question, I need to tell you about me. For nearly thirty years, I carried a badge and gun for a living. During those years, I saw firsthand what evil things people can do to others. I learned that there are bad men (and a few bad women) out there who will use physical violence to hurt and take advantage of those weaker than them.

I’ve seen it on battlefields on the other side of the world and on the streets of our nation’s cities. I’ve seen the results of that evil firsthand in thousands of assault, rapes and murder victims as a police officer in Oakland. I’ve seen it in a larger scale in mass graves and senseless IED bombings in Iraq.

The U.S. Army and the Oakland Police Department have given me some of the best training in the world so that I could combat that evil. For 30 years, I used that training countless times, as did my brother and sister police officers and soldiers. I know my efforts saved many lives over the years and put away many evil men.

Federal law authorizes off-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms nationwide. Our lawmakers recognized the existence of the kind of evil about which I mentioned and the special abilities of off-duty and retired officers to combat it whenever and wherever it appears.

From the time I was legally authorized to do so, I carried a concealed firearm even when off-duty. I didn’t carry it openly wear a macho tee-shirt to advertise my armed status. My friend in California, who only knew me off-duty, might be surprised to know that every time she saw me—several times a week for more than ten years—I was armed. I never expected to use it off-duty and hoped I would never have to. I didn’t carry a gun because I hoped to get into a gunfight any more than I kept a fire extinguisher in my house because I hoped for a house fire or wore a seatbelt because I expected to crash my car.

Nearly 40 years ago, I chose a life path dedicated to protecting the weaker members of society from those who would do them physical harm. I didn’t chose that path because I thought I was better, tougher, or somehow morally superior. I didn’t choose that path because I wanted to inflict violence on others. I chose it because I wanted to protect.

In a more perfect world, there would be no need for people such as me. However, that is not the world as it is. I wish evil did not exist, but wishful thinking doesn’t change the reality. I’ve seen it happen in places once deemed safe: schools, churches, movie theaters, shopping malls, and our homes. If I knew exactly when and where it would occur, I could probably leave my gun in my home safe 99.9% of the time.

In retirement, I pray I will never have to face a violent individual intent upon killing or seriously injuring an innocent person. However, if the situation arises, I want to be ready to do whatever is necessary to protect innocents from harm.

That’s why I carry a gun.

My Favorite Books of 2014

People are always asking me what I read and what my favorite books are. Since that’s too tough, I thought I’d share here ten of the best books I read in 2014. They’re in no particular order.Days of Rage

  • Days of Rage, by Brad Taylor. This is the sixth in the Pike Logan series, and once again, Pike saves the world (or at least the US and its allies) from the deadly terrorist threat. Taylor is a retired Army Delta Team commander and authenticity drips from his novels.
  • The Bone Orchard, by Paul Doiron. I met Paul at the Crime Bake conference in Boston in 2013, and love his Mike Bowditch character and his Maine woods setting. I liked the previous four novels of this series, too.
  • The Professional, by Robert B. Parker. I needed a P.I. story fix, and no one does it better than Parker with his Spencer character.
  • The Black Box, by Michael Connelly. Connelly published the first Harry Bosch novel more than twenty years ago. If you like crime novels featuring a police detective as the hero, you can’t go wrong with LAPD’s fictional detective Harry Bosch. More than 50 million of his books have been sold, so others must agree.
  • Cartwheel, by Jennifer Dubois. I chaired the Housatonic Book Awards, a writing contest sponsored by Western Connecticut State University, and over the summer, I read parts of more than twenty books, searching for the best. I read the best ones to the end, and two of us on the committee picked Cartwheel as #1. It’s characterized as a literary novel; however, for readers like me, don’t let that turn you off. It’s not only extremely well written, but it has a fast-paced, compelling storyline.
  • Duty, by Robert M. Gates. Yes, I read nonfiction books, too. I’m not much of a fan of politicians, and anyone appointed as the CIA Director and Secretary of Defense is, in my book, a politician. Nevertheless, I think Gates was one of the best DCIs and SecDefs of my generation, and his book gave me a superb reeducation on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the White House politics between 2006-2011.
  • Playing God, by Kate Flora. I really liked Kate when I met her last year, so I had to read one of her books. I loved it. Although Kate never carried a badge and gun for a living, she does extensive research and has charmed her way into the hearts of a number of cops in her home state of Maine, which allows her to write very authentic police detective novels featuring her Joe Burgess character.
  • Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane. Some call Lehane a literary writer; others consider him a crime writer. In Mystic River, as with other novels, he writes stories centering around a crime in beautiful language.
  • Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. Like her more famous book, Gone Girl, this is a superbly written book about a crime. Like Lehane’s books, some bookstores will shelf this with literary fiction, others with mysteries/crime fiction.
  • Broken Harbor, by Tana French. An Irish writer, her previous book won the Edgar for best first novel. Since this book was on my editor’s list of favorite books he’d read in 2014, when I saw it in the library, I figured I could take it for a free drive and if I didn’t like it, I hadn’t wasted any money. I’m halfway through so far and completely hooked.

It was hard to limit this list to only ten books because I’ve read so many more wonderful books this year. In addition, as a disclaimer, these are not necessarily my ten most favorite books. They were just the ones that jumped out at me as I went down my reading list and scanned my bookshelves. If your reading tastes are anything like mine, you’ll love any of these books.

If I Lose, I Die (Part III)

HandcuffsI squirmed out from under the three hundred pounds of dead weight, climbed over the bed, and stepped into the hallway, where I sucked in deep breaths of fresh air. I guided my partner out of the room, his eyes still shut tightly from the effects of the tear gas. Sirens grew louder and officers arrived and rushed inside the house with guns drawn because they couldn’t know what they would encounter.

An hour later, I sat in a chair in the hallway outside x-ray. My elbow had swollen to the size of a grapefruit. My sergeant sat beside me and helped me with my report. He told me that when the EMTs arrived and crushed an ammonia capsule under the suspect’s nose, he came to. His head was bleeding profusely, as head wounds do, and the EMTs estimated it would take twenty to thirty stitches to close his wound. Two officers were guarding him at the county hospital. Once released, he’d be taken to jail and booked on an assortment of felony charges.

I continued working for Oakland for more than twenty years after that day. My elbow healed. The only documentation of the incident was the police report and some medical records. There was no mention of any emotional or psychological impact—cops didn’t discuss that stuff back then. No one but me knew how close I was to dying that day. “He went for my gun and I beaned him with my short wood,” was the extent of my explanation in the locker room and over beers at the bar. “Just another day at the office for an Oakland police officer,” was the response from other street cops.

It wasn’t the last time I fought for my life on the streets of that city or visited the E.R. as a patient, and I wasn’t the only cop with such experiences. I doubt there are many police officers who haven’t had to fight for their lives during their careers.

In coming years, as a homicide sergeant I would investigate many officer-involved-shootings and speak at length with officers who fought for their lives. As a patrol Funeral Flagsergeant, I would sit alongside other officers while they awaited treatment in the E.R., and as an officer, sergeant, and lieutenant, I would attend far too many funerals: nine Oakland officers were killed in the line of duty during my twenty-five-year career, and another four in one tragic day a few years later.

Even today, some thirty years later, I remember how fast that incident and other similar ones happened. What seemed like minutes when fighting for my life actually only lasted seconds. No thoroughly analyzed thought process guided my actions during that struggle. It would be great if I could’ve acted like a programmed machine and instantly analyzed all data to come up with the perfect, minimal amount of force to subdue the offender. But in those critical seconds when I was close to losing control of my gun, I knew I had only one strike and I had to make it good. If that blow didn’t put him down, I might lose the fight, and if I lost the fight, I might die.

I’ve spoken with thousands of criminal offenders over the years. Some were pure evil, but most were just people who committed an act or a series of acts without much thought or regard to the consequences. I don’t know what the man’s intentions were that day, what was going through his head, what kind of man he was, what great or terrible things he had done in his past. The truth is, none of that would have mattered,—it can’t matter. I needed to base my actions on his actions alone, and in the heat of that battle, I didn’t think, I reacted.

I made it a practice to review critical incidents I was involved in throughout my career. During objective critiques, I often learned how I could do things better, how to not make the same mistakes, and where I needed additional training. Sometimes, my subconscious also reviewed the incidents and I would awaken at night drenched in sweat, the muscles in my forearm in spasm from gripping an imaginary gun in my sleep and pulling the trigger a hundred times.

I’m grateful I survived that encounter and grateful I didn’t kill that man. If I had died, I doubt there would have been any community outrage or national media attention. However, had I used my gun or had the baton blow killed the man, I’m not sure the public and media response would have been much different from Ferguson. That, quite possibly, is the most frightening part of being a cop today.

If I Lose, I Die (Part II)

Police BatonI heard my partner yelling into his radio for additional units when my arm was struck a second time. It felt like a blow from a sledgehammer. If I could have pulled my arm out, I would have gladly retreated, but my arm wouldn’t budge. A third blow slammed my arm. I screamed again.

My partner stopped pushing on the door, and the pressure on my arm felt as if it were in a vice and someone cranked the handle another turn. He reached around me, stuck his Chemical Mace canister through the crack in the door, and unleashed a stream of CN tear gas into the room.

A deep snort, like from an angry horse, came from the other side of the door, and I felt the pressure on my arm lessen. “Now!” I yelled.

My partner and I dug our boots into the carpet and shoved with all our might. The door flung open, and I fell into the room on top of the man, with my partner on top of me. A double bed was crammed against one wall of the small room, with an old wooden dresser across from it. The three of us tumbled into a mountain of dirty laundry, each of us struggling to climb to the top of the heap.

The sharp tear gas residue permeated the man’s clothing and skin. I choked and coughed and my vision blurred as tears filled my eyes, but I fought through the discomfort, knowing we couldn’t relax until we got the man on the floor, pulled his hands behind his back, and snapped on the handcuffs. He fought to rise to his hands and knees. I grabbed his forearm to pull his hand out from under him, but his entire body was covered in sweat and I couldn’t get a grip on his slick, thick arm. Meanwhile my partner was trying to control the man’s other arm through his own choking and wheezing with no more success.

I grabbed a wrist with my right hand and tried to double the hold with my left when I discovered my fingers would hardly move. My arm was numb from the elbow down. A golf ball-sized swelling protruded from my elbow. I pulled one of the man’s hands off the floor and threw my entire weight on his back. I glanced to my left, expecting my partner to be doing the same. Instead, I saw him crawling toward the corner of the room with tears flooding his eyes and mucus running freely from both nostrils.

My partner was out of the fight.

One-on-one, I was no match for this man. He rose to his feet with me still clinging to hisGunbelt back. I circled my left arm around his neck to attempt a carotid restraint, the so called “sleeper hold,” but my arm wouldn’t bend. I kicked the back of his knee, and when his leg collapsed, I pushed him face-first onto the bed.

I had fallen onto the bed next to him. I tried to roll away—escape now being my only thought—but he rolled me off the bed, and we crashed to the floor into the narrow space between the bed and the wall. I was half-siting and half-lying with my back pinned against the wall. I tried to get to my feet, but the man was on top of me. My breathing was labored from the effects of the tear gas and the fight. I felt as if I had just sprinted a mile, and my muscles were so fatigued I was ready to collapse. If he had decided to get off me and walk out the door, I wouldn’t have stopped him. But he didn’t.

He punched me once, then again in the chest. My Kevlar vest cushioned the blows which otherwise would have incapacitated me. One of his hands dug into the muscle on the inside of my thigh and squeezed. I yelped in pain and grabbed his hand to try to release its hold. I pried his little finger back, quite willing to snap it. He let go. He then reached for my gun, a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum revolver worn on my right hip in the department-issue clamshell holster.

I have heard other officers say they heard the words of a training officer or recall precise procedural steps when engaged in deadly encounters, but all I thought about was Poster-Work Outsurvival. I had been trained at one of the top police academies in the country, where instructors drummed the details of officer killings into our heads. Three Oakland officers who were killed with their own guns always stuck in my mind. Officer Robert Blan had stopped a man for a routine traffic violation and was shot and killed with his own revolver during a struggle. Officers Marks and Branhan were dispatched to a school for a disorderly subject who wrestled Marks’s gun from him and killed both officers. Our defensive tactics instructors ingrained in us one principle—never give up. In sports and games you can win or lose, but not in a fight with a suspect. If you lose you die.

None of those incidents or inspirational words needed to rush through my mind as I lay there fighting for my life. They were part of every fiber of my being. I clamped my right elbow to my side, protecting my gun the best I could. I tried to push his hands away, but my left hand was useless. My long baton, twenty-six-inches of second-growth hickory, was still in its baton ring on my left side, but twisted under my body. Even if I could’ve gotten it out, a long baton was useless with the subject so close. Using my mace wasn’t an option. My partner had emptied his canister into the man’s face with greater effect on us than him.

My last resort was to draw my gun, thrust the barrel into the man’s torso and pull the trigger before he could rip it from my hands. The man’s face was inches from mine. His red eyes glared rage. I felt his hot breath on my face. I twisted my body to put my gun side on the floor and pulled my short baton, a twelve-inch, fat, wood club, from the sap pocket of my uniform pants. Although we’d been given countless hours of training with the long baton—how to hit, where to hit—the short baton was a last ditch weapon, an extension of one’s fist, and required no special training.

Later, I remembered our baton tactics instructors cautioning us against hitting a subject in the head since a blow to the head could kill someone. But at that moment, all I thought about was survival. With my last bit of energy, I shoved my left shoulder against the man to get a few extra inches of space between us, and with all my might, swung the baton down on his head.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

If I Lose, I Die

The recent incident in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police, has stirred up a lot of feelings around the country. For some, it has evoked memories of their own encounters with police. For others, it reinforced feelings of racism or police brutality. And for a few, it provided fodder for their personal agendas. I carried a badge S&W 357 Mag Model 66and gun for thirty years, and the Ferguson incident brought up memories for me too.

In the early 1980s, I’d been a street cop for several years in Oakland, California. It was a tough place to be a cop; in most years, the murder and overall crime rates landed the city among the worst in the nation. A cop in Oakland experienced more crime and human suffering in a year than most officers do in a twenty or thirty-year career.

I was working a single-officer car on the swing shift, four to midnight, and was dispatched to a 415F, a family fight. My beat partner, working a solo car on an adjacent beat, was dispatched as backup and pulled his marked car to the curb behind me. The call had come in from an anonymous caller who said she heard sounds of a fight and a woman screaming for help in the apartment next to hers. My partner and I had each handled hundreds of domestic disturbances and knew the potential danger that existed in these emotionally charged calls and how one or both parties could turn on the police in the blink of an eye. Although we never treated these calls casually, they were so commonplace that it was impossible to get as amped up as with an armed robbery in progress call or a gang shooting. Besides, a calm demeanor often helped diffuse a volatile situation.

I stood well to the side of the door and knocked. A heavy-set woman dressed in a velour sweat suit answered. Blood ran from her split lip, her left eye was nearly swollen shut, and a tuft of kinky black hair, obviously ripped from her scalp, hung from the shoulder of her jacket.

“What happened?” I asked.

“What always happens when he drinks,” she said. “He beat the shit out of me for no reason.”

“Where’s he at?”

“In the bedroom.” She pointed through the living room to a short hallway.

My partner swept through the kitchen and living room and positioned himself at the mouth of the hall. I asked the woman a few more questions and learned her boyfriend had been arrested for beating her twice before. Both times she refused to go to court and testify. They had two children together, both of whom were staying with her mother in the Acorn Projects a few miles away. Although, she said she’d never seen her boyfriend with a gun and there were no guns in her house, I’d been a cop long enough to know that people routinely lie to the police.

“You want him arrested?” I asked. The extent of her injuries made the crime a felony, so we could arrest him even if she refused to press charges, but it exposed us to less liability when the victim made a citizen’s arrest. No matter what she said, the man was going to jail. It didn’t matter to me whether she later dropped charges and took him back, there had to be consequences when a man beats a woman. I hated returning to the same houses week after week, seeing the same women beaten. The only tool I had to combat it was the power of arrest, and I used it whenever I could.

“Yeah, arrest his ass,” she said.

I had her sign the department arrest report and called for an ambulance on my portable radio. I told her to sit on the couch and not move until the ambulance arrived. I’d seen women who one moment insisted we arrest the man, only to turn on the cops as soon as we tried to handcuff him. But my partner and I were both good at talking people into handcuffs. We would normally separate the two parties, and while one of us took a statement from the woman, the other would talk to the man and try to get a written statement. Unless there were extenuating circumstances, we’d then tell the man that we needed to take him downtown. Most resigned themselves to their situation and allowed us to handcuff them without incident.

I knocked on the bedroom door. “This is the Oakland police. We need you to come out and talk to us about what happened.”

“Fuck you. I ain’t going to jail again ‘cause of that bitch.”

I exchanged comments with him for a few minutes, but got nowhere. I turned the doorknob and pushed the door open a few inches. The man slammed it shut.

“If you don’t come out here and speak with us,” I said, “we have no other choice but to come in there and arrest you.”

“I ain’t coming out, so you do what you got to.”

I pushed on the door, but it didn’t budge. I could feel the man’s weight against the door holding it shut. I put my shoulder against it. It squeaked open an inch, then I heard a grunt from the room and the door slammed shut again. My partner put his shoulder against it and we both pushed. We got it open about six inches and I put my arm inside to get leverage and pushed with all my might.

I saw a large man several inches taller than me, with a huge head supported by bulging neck muscles. He was holding one of the old, black, Bell Telephone rotary-dial phones in his hand and yelling into the receiver that the police weren’t going to take him to jail. At six foot tall and 170 pounds, I was in excellent shape. I hit the gym several times a week and ran about five miles the other days. But the man on the other side of the door outweighed me by at least a hundred pounds, and when he pushed against the door, it closed on my arm.

My partner and I pushed as hard as we could, but we were no match for our opponent’s size and strength. My arm, trapped between my bicep and shoulder, was being crushed by the door.

I heard a crack like the sound of a home run and cried out as a sharp pain raced down Bell Telephonemy elbow. I peered through the crack in the door to see the man raising the old phone’s receiver for another strike. Nothing like the light plastic phones of today, the Bell Telephone receivers were heavy and solid.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

What Makes a Good Cop Bar

I was talking with Author Scott Deitche last week about his upcoming book, Cocktail Noir. He wanted to know my main character’s favorite drink, and I regretted telling him that Matt Sinclair’s had his last glass of bourbon six months before the story in the first book took place because of the wreckage booze caused in his life.

The conversation turned to Cop Bars, and Scott asked what makes a good cop bar. Movie cops drinkingSince I had spent quite a bit of time during my career with Oakland PD (well, at least the first fourteen years) sitting on bar stools after work, I had some insight into this. 

Location, location, location 

A cop bar must be close to and accessible to the police station so that it’s easy for cops to stop by when they get off work. Over the years, there’ve been a number of different watering holes frequented by OPD. When I came on, many day-shift cops would go to Dahkes, a bar within a Hofbrau directly across the street from the PAB (Police Administration Building/Police Headquarters). When I worked swing shift (4-midnight), the younger officers on the department frequented the bar in the Mexicali Rose Restaurant. It was two blocks from the PAB, and it wasn’t unusual to see every table in the bar area covered with pitchers of beer and margaritas and surrounded by half of the officers on the swing shift, along with dispatchers, EMTs, and nurses. When I transferred to Vice Narcotics a few years later, I was introduced to a small, dark, hotel bar across the street from the PAB where the undercover cops could drink without rubbing shoulders with the uniformed cops and thus marking themselves as cops. The Warehouse, four blocks from the PAB, has been THE cop bar in Oakland for the last three decades.

Cheap drinks

A cop bar doesn’t have to be the cheapest place in town, but most cops aren’t interested in $10 martinis or $12 shots of top-shelf tequila. They’re more likely to drink domestic beer (out of the bottle or by the pitcher) and simple mixed drinks or shots. Free happy hour food is another plus. 

Safe

It has to be a place where cops can relax and let their hair down, not a place where they need to look over their shoulder or worry the next guy through the door is going to hold up the place. They also have to feel comfortable talking about how the mayor, city council, judges, police chief, and half the brass are all idiots, without fear of being called into Internal Affairs or seeing their comments in the local newspaper. 

Cop-friendly management

What makes a cop bar is the attitude of the management and employees. The owner and bartenders either love or hate cops; there’s no in-between. Sometimes a place is aThe Warehouse cop bar for years until management changes and tries to attract a different clientele, so the cops drift away. Cops see the management and employees at The Warehouse as members of the police family. The walls of the bar are covered with police memorabilia: patches from hundreds of departments, photos, and plaques. Non-cop patrons are very welcome, but on more than one occasion, people who verbalized anti-police feelings after a few drinks were “escorted” from the bar. Truth be told, some were physically thrown out the door. ACLU attorneys or public defenders wouldn’t be welcome, but prosecutors from the DA’s Office are regulars. Although the term “police groupie” is out of fashion today and disparaging to those lovely women who love hanging out with cops, The Warehouse has their share of female patrons who have no professional connection to law enforcement. 

Everybody knows your name

The theme song from the TV show, Cheers, reminds me of the sense of community that exists in The Warehouse. A good cop bar is like an old-time neighborhood bar, only the neighborhood consists of shoes who carry a badge and gun for a living and their friends. I returned to The Warehouse for a fellow officer’s retirement party one night after not having been there for more than a year. Before I got halfway across the room, the bartender had an open bottle of Bud Light on the bar waiting for me along with a “How ya doing, Brian,” as if I’d never been gone.

Cop bars are also where police go to celebrate or mourn. Three years ago, I flew to In Memory Of Tee ShirtOakland from my home in Connecticut for the funeral of four OPD officers who were killed in the line of duty during one tragic incident. The Warehouse was where everyone went the night before and the night after the funeral. The street was blocked off to handle the crowd of hundreds of cops from Oakland and around the country, and the contingent from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and NYPD’s finest felt as comfortable there as they did at their cop bars back home.

Cell Phones for Cops

A few weeks ago, I was rewriting the manuscript for my first book and came upon a comment from my editor, questioning if my homicide detective character carrying a flip-style cell phone, instead of a high-tech iPhone, was dated. Since it’s been nearly ten years since I carried a badge and gun for a living, I reached out to my old buddies at Oakland Police Department.

When I came on the department in the early 80s, cell phones were a rarity. The mobile ones were big and expensive.Old Cell phone I remember being an officer on a critical incident and the incident captain had this mobile phone the size and weight of a brick. Later, the patrol command and district sergeants had car phones installed in their cars, but that was back in the day when a phone antenna on one’s car was a status symbol.

In the early 90s, the homicide unit where I was assigned at the time, joined the elite people in the department and got phones installed in our two stand-by cars, the cars used by the two on-call investigators. However, we still carried pagers, so unless we were the on-call team, we had to hit a pay phone whenever we got a page. Oh yeah, I got my first department pager back in the mid-eighties when I worked Vice Narcotics. That was when only doctors and drug dealers carried pagers, and when I was working undercover vice, I sure didn’t look like a doctor.

I think it was around the end of my time in homicide (the mid-nineties) when every investigator was issued his very own cell phone. When I made lieutenant and was assigned to patrol, I got a Nextel/Motorola model, one that was advertised as being tough enough for construction workers. By the time I left the department, all command officers, patrol sergeants and investigators had cell phones. They were nothing fancy—they made and received phone calls.

Today, I’m on my second iPhone and would be lost without the ability to call, text, email, and access the internet anywhere and anytime. However, my iPhone would last about a week in the rough and tumble life of a street cop in Oakland. My OPD friends told me the department currently issues Verizon’s Casio G’zOne Casio-GzOne-Commando-0 Commando. It’s a rugged MIL SPEC phone, described by one cop as a “not so smart smartphone.” When I was on the department, most people didn’t have their own cell phones, and we were allowed to use our department phones for personal business as long as we didn’t go over the allotted minutes, so I carried my work phone 24/7 and was always available for emergencies.

Today, nearly all cops have a personal cell phone, and they don’t use their issued phone for personal use since the department (read I.A.D.) can view the phone logs of the department phones whenever they want. That’s too bad, because I think that if I were a working cop today, I wouldn’t carry two phones off-duty, and a call to my work phone would have to wait until I next came on duty.