This post is the second reflection of the mysterious nature of “good police work” versus training, experience and all that…It is interesting to note that both authors are retired police officers who worked for different Northern California agencies, who don’t know each other and didn’t know the topic the other wrote about. Talk about mysterious….woooo woooo….–Thonie
Going Left Instead of Straight Ahead
By Gerry Goldshine
Sometimes, what’s called good police work is nothing more than an officer being in the right place at the right time; what actually makes it great police work is the ability to recognize a choice nugget of information and take the appropriate action. Sure, Hollywood would have us believe that solving a particularly notorious case always involves painstaking crime scene evidence collection, interviewing witnesses, checking video tapes, researching criminal information data bases and the like. To be sure, most criminal investigations do entail varying levels of meticulous work. Frequently though, it’s the beat officer who happens to drive by a local school and spots a window open that he knows should be closed. Taking the time to investigate further, our observant officer, winds up catching a burglar inside the school. Later, the bungling malefactor is found to be in possession of property from several other school break-ins. Great police work or luck because the officer decided to drive down the street where he was able to see that open window?
The arbitrary nature of police work came into sharp relief for me one fall night many years ago. I was heading back to the station and for some unfathomable reason, I decided to drive through a residential area instead taking the most direct route on the main boulevard. Going west on a quiet side street, I approached a four way stop intersection and happened to glance at the lawn of the church on the northwest corner, opposite from where I was stopped. At the edges of the illumination thrown out by my headlights, I caught sight of some scattered clothing on the lawn. They seemed to trail up to the large wooden sign that had the church’s name. About the same time, my sergeant, Sgt. Dave, arrived at the intersection on the cross street going north. At almost the same moment, we both saw movement near the base of the sign; immediately we each lit that area up with our spotlights. In the stark bright light, we saw a man with his pants pulled down to his knees atop a partially clad woman. My first thought was the front lawn of a church seemed a rather strange place to be connubial. However, when the man didn’t scramble to get off her, as would be the reaction of most people when being caught by the police “in flagrante delicto”. He also turned his face away as if he were trying to conceal his identity. All my “Spidey Senses” started tingling as were those of Sgt. Dave.
As Sgt. Dave got on the radio and requested additional units for a possible “261 PC” or rape in progress, I drove my patrol car right up onto the sidewalk to the edge of the grass, positioning it about 20-30 feet from the church sign. Sgt. Dave did the same, at a right angle to mine. Tactically, we had good cover and an excellent view of both subjects. When the other officers arrived, we detained the male subject for further investigation, without incident.
At first, he acted all indignant, telling us that he and his “girlfriend” just got carried away on their way home from one of the downtown bars. He was outraged that we had interrupted them, nevermind they were on the front lawn of a church. Sensing our growing irritation regarding the dubious veracity of his tale, he then tried apologizing for causing us any problems or delays. Meanwhile, the woman, who was bordering on hysteria, told us that she had been walking home from work when the suspect jumped out from some bushes, where he had been lying in wait. Grabbing her from behind, he dragged her across the church lawn, ripping off her clothes until he reached the sign, where he threw her to the ground. He was still trying to remove her panty hose when we drove up on the scene. The woman said he told her that if she called out to us, he was going to kill her. Needless to say, the man’s detention quickly became an arrest. Detectives later linked the suspect to another rape that occurred under almost the exact same circumstances and at almost the exact same location a year earlier.
Absolutely fantastic police work, right? Of course! On the other hand, one cannot help but ask, why had I turned left instead of going straight to the station, which would have been quicker? What brought Sgt. Dave and me to the exact spot we needed to be, at the exact time we needed to be there? For many a night afterwards, I would park somewhere quiet and stare out at the stars and contemplate the cosmic roll of the dice that brought us to that intersection at that precise moment. I couldn’t help reflecting on a drunk driver I had arrested several weeks earlier. Days after that arrest, he drove intoxicated once again. On his way home from one of the downtown bars, he missed negotiating a curve while going 65 miles an hour and killed both his passengers. I couldn’t help pondering on why he came into my little sphere of influence when he was alone in his car yet managed to take two lives several nights later totally unhindered. For some officers, mulling over these metaphysical quandaries become too much; they cannot contemplate how little control they have over certain events. As a result, many leave police work for other worthy endeavors. Me? Somehow the prospect of donning a robe and mediating upon the collected lint in my navel for endless years in search for answers to such metaphysical quandaries was less than appealing. Perhaps Rudyard Kipling said it best in his epic poem, “If”, part of which says;
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!”
Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.
Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in
the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty
in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement