By Gerry Goldshine
The brass ring for pretty much any rookie officer is that final day or night in their department’s field-training program. They’ve gone through the hiring process, completed the academy and are now at the end of twelve to fourteen weeks of having their FTO painstakingly scrutinize every citizen interaction, every arrest, every citation and every report. As a Petaluma officer, I finally grabbed my brass ring on a Saturday night in December of 1980. At that time, the Petaluma Police Department’s field-training program was about 12 week long, broken down into three, four-week phases. The last week of the program was known as “Plain Clothes Week”. During this phase, your training officer wore street clothes and was along only to evaluate you; they were not to assist you in any way though you could ask other officers for help. In essence, this was the police department’s final exam to determine your abilities to solo as a police officer.
Officer Dave Long had been my training officer for my final phase, working the Swing Shift, which ran from 1630 hours (4:30 PM) to 0230 hours (2:30 AM). On this memorable Saturday night, the swing shift sergeant had called off sick. Since Dave was the senior officer working that night, he had to fill-in as the acting Watch Commander. Dave asked Officer Tom Swearingen, another FTO, to take his place as my training officer. Dave then assigned us the busy downtown beat just to make sure I had an “active” final night of training.
As I recall, it was definitely very busy that night but one incident in particular still stands out in my memory; the party on Elm Street (no, not that Elm Street). Somewhere close to 0200 hours -2:00 AM- I was beginning to let myself think about finally reaching the finish line when I heard dispatch sending units to investigate several anonymous reports of a loud, disruptive party in the beat next to mine. A few of the people calling, complained that there were more than a hundred attendees and that some of them were tossing beer bottles and cans into the yards of neighboring houses. Other callers said that there were minors consuming beer and hard liquor. I knew officers, an hour or so earlier, had already warned the people throwing the party to quiet things or we would have to order it shut down.
A few minutes later, Officer Long requested all available westside units to respond to the Elm Street situation and meet up with him. The first clue I had this was not going to be a simple operation, was the legions of parked cars lining both sides of the street and throngs of people making their way down the sidewalks to the party, several blocks before I got even close. I pulled in behind a line of double-parked police cars, in time to see other officers putting on their riot helmets. I wasn’t exactly sure what had transpired before I got there, but I had a hunch that the first requests to shut the party down had been met with less than enthusiastic compliance.
There were about a half dozen of us standing out in the street, waiting for Officer Long to tell us the plan of action when a car drove up and parked in the driveway of the party house. Now you would think a bunch of police officers wearing riot helmets, in front of that same house, might be a clue that something was amiss. Apparently not to the occupants of this car, because the passenger, later identified as ““Stu Pidteen”, got out of the car holding a glass containing some type of beverage. Given the circumstances, Officer DJ Phimister, who was nearby, suspected the beverage might contain liquor and asked the young man to wait a moment. Ignoring DJ, ““Stu”” continued walking towards the front door, which, under the circumstances, seemed to be a rather impolitic course of action. DJ then ordered the teen to stop and in response, “Stu” sent the glass he had been holding, hurtling at DJ’s head, before running inside the house. Happily, it missed Officer Phimister, who took exception at coming close to testing the efficacy of his riot helmet. Naturally, he ran after “Stu” and since I was close by, I followed behind.
Just before making entry, I distinctly remember looking back at Officer Swearingen; he was, after all, my training officer that night. He had one hand raised, as if he were about to offer some sage FTO advice but then realized it was too late. Following DJ down a hallway towards the backyard, I couldn’t help from noticing the scores of people crammed inside that house; in fact, it was standing room only. I remember thinking that more than a few of the young men I ran past appeared to be on the very large and athletic side – as it turned out they were members of the Petaluma High varsity football team.
DJ managed to lay hands upon “Stu” just as he was about to scale the back fence. No sooner had DJ put the “habeas grabus” on him than one of the nearby partygoers decided he wanted a “piggyback” ride…on DJ’s back. Not prepared to play horsey, DJ reflexively let go of “Stu”, who attempted to make a beeline back to the inside of the house. I was close enough to grab “Piggyback Rider”, pull him off DJ and throw him to the ground. He lunged back up at me and I drilled him in the solar plexus with my baton, ordering him to stay down on the ground.
DJ was less than amused and “Piggyback Rider” suddenly found himself the focus of his attentions. As DJ was handcuffing “Rider”, I watched his back to prevent a replay because there were now about twenty very unhappy belligerent people moving to surround us; not a particularly good sign. While this was happening, some other officers managed to snag “Stu” just before he made it inside and he was quickly hustled out to the front yard.
So much was happening; I began to feel as though I were in a three-ring circus especially when I caught sight of another officer turning in a circle, spraying mace at about six or so people who had him surrounded. As if that weren’t enough, I saw another officer holding his 36-inch long riot baton in such a way to keep another portion of the crowd from moving past him to prevent DJ from arresting “Piggyback Rider”. At the same time, he was trying to keep an avenue of escape open to us. From out in front of the house, Officer Long asked over the radio what our status was in the backyard.
It was then that this officer holding back the crowd with his riot baton immortalized himself as a master of understatement. He calmly replied over all the noise and tumult, “It’s building!”
Finally, someone made the wise decision that was time for us all to “get the heck out of Dodge City” and make our way back out front. Officer Phimister somehow maintained custody of “Piggyback Rider” as we made our way back through the house. I think we were fortunate there were so many people crowded inside that house because none of them realized what had just taken place in the backyard.
A cacophony of noise greeted us when we got out front again. Sirens filled the night air, as units from the California Highway Patrol and Sonoma County Sheriff arrived to help us shut down the party. Up and down this section of Elm Street, you could hear the clipped voices of dispatchers and officers blaring from the various portable and car radios. Adding to the hubbub was the loud animated voices of the partygoers themselves, as they poured out of the house and into the surrounding neighborhood. In the resulting confusion, “Stu Pidteen” got into a scuffle with yet another officer and made his escape into the night, though he was thoroughly sprayed with Mace for his efforts.
In the midst of all this, I heard Officer Long calling me on the radio.
“Lincoln 36…Congratulations…You’ve successfully completed training…Now I need you to hold over for two hours.”
I quickly looked down at my watch and saw that it was 0240 hours; Swing Shift had officially ended! I was at last, exactly where I wanted to be. I wisely resisted the temptation to respond with a loud, ‘Yahoo”!
Epilogue: Since several officers knew “Stu Pidteen’s” identity from prior encounters, the District Attorney filed an assortment of charges and the Court issued a warrant for his arrest. In a town of just slightly over 30,000 people, it didn’t take long for us to find him and serve the warrant. With the passage of time, “Stu Pidteen” eventually became a far wiser adult.
As for the phrase “It’s building!”, for several years after, it became almost obligatory to describe any situation, large or small, that seemed to be spiraling out of control.