By Gerry Goldshine
It is a truism, that police officers face a bewildering variety of hazards every day, from flying bullets to toxic chemical spills. In the final phase of my field-training program with Petaluma Police, I encountered one such hazard that seldom gets airing. We had been having an uncommon cold weather spell for the Bay Area, with nighttime temperatures hovering in the low twenties for several weeks. While this may be sweltering winter weather in some other parts of the country, for us it was damn cold! Since a good patrol officer always keeps a window partially open to hear what’s going on around them, cranking up the car’s heater and defroster was de rigueur and venturing outdoors in such temperatures was akin to freezing one’s arse off.
Still, duty calls and a possible residential burglary in progress call, on an otherwise quiet night, was not to be passed up. My Training Officer, Dave Long, advised dispatch that we would respond out of beat and be the primary unit on the call. He felt it would be good training for me on such a “brisk” night.
By that time in my training, I actually knew where I was going without having to look at my city map (no computer navigation devices back then). Making a textbook tactical approach, I came in slow, blacked-out and found a place to park in the shadows several houses down from the reported address. Once my backup had arrived, we conducted a thorough, stealthy search around the house in question only to discover the “suspicious” noises that the reporting party had heard were coming from two old tomcats duking it out in the backyard. I got an “A” for effort anyway.
It was so cold, I really wasn’t disappointed it had turned out to be a nothing call. We notified the homeowner of what we had found then made haste to get back to the warmth of our patrol car. I was just about to step off the curb when I felt my one of brand new Rocky Brand Police boots, with the deep waffled soles, lose traction and suddenly slip along in the grass. I knew without even having to look, what I had just done. From the loud expletive I let loose, Officer Long knew exactly what I had just stepped in.
Naturally, he thought it was hysterical and was laughing uproariously as I tried to get the foul substance off by scraping it on the curb edge. Waffled soled boots do NOT scrape clean on curb edges, the fact of which only made him laugh harder. Dragging the offending boot through the frost covered grass, limping like Chester from the old “Gunsmoke” western television show didn’t help much either. His eyes now watering from the mirth he was experiencing at my expense, he suggested I find a hose from in front one of the houses and wash off the bottom of my boot. I politely pointed out that this would be futile as all the hoses were undoubtedly frozen solid.
Dave’s laughter slowly trailed off as he slowly began to visualize the unpleasant scenario about to unfold. It went without saying that both our windows were going to have to be rolled down. As a result, the car heater would have to be on at full blast for us to stay warm. Unless we wanted our lower extremities to become numb, that would mean keeping the ALL the heater vents open. Thus, there would be hot air blowing on the offending boot, spreading the noxious odor throughout the car. Moreover, we were on the far, east side of town and more than a few minutes from the station. I suggested that I could remove the offending boot and put it in the trunk. Dave considered it but then said it would be our luck to get a hot call and I would be “hobbled” with one boot, so that was not a viable option.
The ride back to the station was just as bad as you can imagine it would be. Of course we manage to hit every red light. I’m not certain who gagged more, Dave or I and each time one of us did, the other would laugh until the tears flowed. For some reason, cops always find such things hilarious. Fortunately for us both, the hose at the station hadn’t frozen solid and I was able wash to my boot clean. I suppose that it was with great relish that Dave made sure that my evaluation for that night reflected that I had really put my foot in it.
Epilogue: This was not the end of my aromatic adventures with FTO Long. Several nights later, I was the recipient of a baby skunk’s expert marksmanship from underneath a redwood deck. Once again, we were about as far from the station as we could be and it was just as cold outside. I was not allowed inside the station and was made to change my uniform outside the back door. Someone in the dispatch center made sure the outside intercom was on so that I could hear the belly laughs from everyone watching me on the backdoor security camera feed. Embarrassment aside, that damn little bastard of a polecat cost me a brand new uniform because no drycleaner would touch it.