More Street Stories

Did You Know Him?

By Vail Bello, retired Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy


It’s inevitable. For that last 35 years, whenever a cop in the Bay Area dies, someone asks me “Did you know him?” It’s not out of ignorance; it’s almost always out of care. It’s usually from a friend or family member, and as of late, as my virtual community grows, it can come from a Facebook acquaintance. Usually my answer is no. But that’s not a real answer. The truth is, yes, I did. I may not have ever met the man, but I know him.
I know what he did. I know what it took for him to even be in that patrol car, the selection process, the testing, the academy, the hiring process. I know that part. And I know the sacrifices he made to do that job. I know how people said to him, and say now “Well, you CHOSE that job, you KNOW the risks”.
I know that. I know the countless birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays with family’s he missed, and he will now never have again. I know the drifting apart from friends who will always be friends, but can’t, …don’t understand the job, the shift work, the mandatory overtime. It’s inevitable. I know how the circle becomes smaller, because frankly, good, caring people don’t know how it is, don’t understand.
They can’t.
I know how he did his job for more than a paycheck. I know he did it to protect those who can’t protect themselves, who aren’t big enough or strong enough to help themselves. I know how he would go to countless, unsolvable situations, and solve them. Or at least de-escalate them for a night, just to keep the peace.
I know the times he had to look a grieving mother in the eyes and tell her there was no hope for her daughter, that her child was never coming home. I know how he had to stay strong when everyone else around him was panicking, or fighting, or grieving.
I know how he stood tall. I know what it means to run to the gunfire when everyone else is running away. I know what kind of fortitude that took.
I know the sheepdog. I know what it was like for him to put on armor, a gun, a Taser, and 20 other pounds of defensive tools to prepare for the possibility of a life and death battle EVERY DAY….and I know how his brothers and sisters feel today when they know he lost that last battle.
I know he won’t be forgotten. I know his deeds will live on through his brothers and sisters in Blue, Green, and Tan. I know that his sacrifice wasn’t necessary, that it should never happen, but happen it does.
So did I know him? I believe I did.

Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings: Fighting in Uniform: The Worst and the Longest

This will be the last Ramblings on fighting in uniform.  As I said before I didn’t fight a lot but sometimes I just couldn’t talk my way out of wrestling match.

I worked a few plain clothes assignments but never vice.  Vice officers are always fighting.  They get a violation and the criminal either decides he’s not going to jail on a morals charge, or he claims that he didn’t know it was a cop.  Suspects always use the defense they didn’t know it was a cop when arrested by a plain clothes officer.

Ironic that all the times I was dressed for a fight, you know jeans, tennis shoes and an old shirt, I never had to fight.

Not all my fights were with men as you might expect.  I was brought up to never hit a girl but once as a child I learned a valuable lesson.  My sister had been picking on me and hit me.  I hauled off and hit her back.  She never hit me again. Hum.

It’s December 24 at about 3 A.M.  My partner a female and I get a domestic family dispute call.  We arrive and expect it to be a husband/wife dispute.  No, it’s brother against brother and both have been drinking.  Brother “A” punches brother “B” in the nose, breaking it.  Brother “B” demands a citizen arrest of brother “A”.  Both brothers are in their 30’s and by law we are required to accept the arrest.

Brother “A” gets handcuffed and placed in the back seat of our police car.  I’m about to drive off when the boys’ mother, also drunk, races out of the house and screams, “You’re not taking my son to jail on Christmas Eve!”  She reaches in my open window and grabs me around the neck.  I swing open the car door and knock mom to the ground.

As I step out of the car, Mom attacks me. Mom is about 5′ 3″ and 100 lbs. soaking wet.  I declined using the department approved choke hold and go for a rear wrist lock. I’m thinking it will be more humane for a little old lady.  I hear a familiar snap sound—shit, I broke her arm.  Mom and the son both went to jail on Christmas Eve.  Mom first stopped off at an emergency room to have her arm set.


Police grab a union worker as others protest during a tense moment as union workers block a grain train in Longview, Wash.,  Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.   Longshoremen  blocked the train as part of an escalating dispute about labor at the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Police grab a union worker as others protest during a tense moment as union workers block a grain train in Longview, Wash., Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. Longshoremen blocked the train as part of an escalating dispute about labor at the EGT grain terminal at the Port of Longview.
(AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Another time I’m walking a Morning Watch foot beat.  We are walking thru an alley just south of Hollywood Boulevard at Highland.  We see two guys and a girl standing next to a parked car.  They are acting suspicious and we approach in the dark.  When we get up on the car we see a second girl crouched down.  I walk up on the girl, she screams, jumps up and grabs my badge.


Cops are very protective of two things.  Their gun (which if taken away from them will get them killed) and their badge.  The badge is earned and carried with a cop at all times.  An officer keeps the same badge throughout their careers unless they promote.  Most cops shine it every day before pinning it on their uniform and if shined enough the windows of City Hall were rubbed smooth.  My badge said “Policeman”.  Later, when females were hired for patrol, the badges said “Police Officer.”  I use to say that I spent more time sleeping with my badge than I did with my wife.


Anyway this young girl grabs my badge and is attempting to rip it from my uniform shirt.  Without even thinking, I grab the girl by the neck and lifted her with one hand and threw her on the hood of the car.  The girl had been to a club drinking and when they got to their car, she decided she had to pee.  She squatted down when we walked up on her.  She was embarrassed being caught and even more embarrassed when she went to jail.  Yea, she made a complaint against me.


This last story involved the longest fight I was ever in.  The Hollywood Palladium in the 70’s was notorious for booking rock groups.  With rock groups, comes drug abuse.  I’m working with Officer Bob and we get a call of a 415 Man (disturbing the peace) a block from the Palladium.  The citizen says this guy was running around in his yard acting crazy and jumped over his fence.  He went east.  We tell the citizen the standard Adam 12 line, “We’ll check it out.”  We get back in our car and drive east.  We only travel a few houses when another resident runs out and asks us if were looking for the drunk nut.   The resident says he sitting in his driveway.  Oh crap, we’ll have to take the drunk downtown to book and it will take us a couple of hours.


We walk up the driveway and see our suspect sitting in some tall grass.  He’s looks stoned and I can’t see his hands due to the grass.  I walk behind him and grab his hands.  As he stands up he digs his heels in the ground and throws me back against a block wall.  I apply a department approved choke hold as taught to me by Bob Jarvis at the Police Academy.


This suspect is only about 5′ 6″ and a 130 lbs.  I’m 6′ and 160 lbs. of a fighting machine.  My partner, Bob is a weight lifter and very strong.  Somehow my choke hold slips and this little guy refuses to pass out.  I’m trying to reapply the choke hold and Bob is whacking the suspect across the shins with his baton.  Both of these tactics just anger our suspect.  I vividly remember Bob throwing his baton away and ripping his clip on tie from his shirt and jumping in to control this drug crazed lunatic.


We can each control an arm, but when we try to pull his arms behind him, so we can handcuff him, he gets a burst of strength.  We’re rolling around on the ground for a good ten minutes.  With our body weight we can keep him pinned to the dirt.  We count, 1, 2, 3, and swing his arms behind his back.  After 5 minutes we get one hand cuffed. 1,2,3, pull his arms back, this time we were inches from cuffing him.  This goes on for another 10 minutes, 1,2,3, ah shit we almost had it that time.  After a long time we get this little guy cuffed.  The resident watched from his kitchen window and couldn’t believe the strength of the little guy.  We would need him as a witness later when our suspect made a complaint against us for excessive force.


We booked our suspect at Hollywood Jail and the next day he couldn’t walk to the Sheriffs bus due to the whacks across the shins.  We had a couple of interviews with Internal Affairs and were cleared of the charges.  Our suspect was loaded on PCP.


There’s a funny ending to this story.  Six months later, I get a radio call to an apartment regarding a loud party.  We knock on the door and the owner gets right in my face about what a brutal cop I am.  That’s right it was the little guy I ruined a uniform fighting with.  I run him for warrants and sure enough, he didn’t show up for court on a traffic ticket.  I can’t arrest him in his residence at that late hour due to a law.  I advise him to take care of his warrant and he tells me to do something anatomically impossible and said something about my mother.


The law restricted his arrest in his apartment until 6:00 A.M.  At 6:01 A.M. that same morning, I knocked on his door and asked him if he had taken care of that warrant.  He said he hadn’t.  Guess what, he went to jail again.  Don’t talk about a cop’s mother.


As I said before I didn’t like fighting, even when you win, you lose.  Torn uniforms, Citizen Complaints, but thank goodness your skin grows back. 



Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings: More on Fighting

Police in a joint immigration task force take down a prisoner who will be expelled from Canada for being in Canada illegally. All images ©2013 Peter Bregg
Police in a joint immigration task force take down a prisoner who will be expelled from Canada for being in Canada illegally.
All images ©2013 Peter Bregg

I said I didn’t get in a lot of fights and I guess I didn’t for someone who spent his whole career in patrol.  Most cops who fight a lot have two to four years of experience.  After four years they get smart, I think its policy.  That is not based on any scientific data, but on years of my own experience.


See, young cops have to prove they are the king of the hill.  They will fight any dirt bag until they get tired of replacing expensive uniforms and waiting for their own skin to grow back.


I’m going to take you on a little side trip.  You see, in the academy the city gives you two brand new uniforms, free.  Of course they fitted you for the uniforms after three months of intensive physical training.

Some recruits hadn’t been in good physical condition since high school or boot camp in the military.  So now they head out into the world of crime and bad guys.  Those new uniforms, which by the way cost over a $120, will last as long as you can still fit in them and they don’t get ripped in a street fight.  The next set of uniforms, you paid for out of a less than generous paycheck.  In later years, officer’s got a uniform allowance check, mine was used to pay off credit card debts from Christmas.  I couldn’t afford to fight for 6 months.


You pay to replace a few uniform shirts or pants instead of going to a movie and dinner with your family and you’ll wish you had paid more attention in that class on the art of persuasion. It was called “Verbal Judo.” 


Nothing will ruin a nice expensive 100% wool uniform faster than a roll around on an asphalt street with some law breaker who will get timed served by some judge.


Ok, another reason not to fight is that you might get hurt.  Getting hurt is a part of the job but sitting at a desk for a couple of months while the dirt bag you fought with is out committing more crimes is just not fair.  I know of a half dozen cops who have broken their hands hitting some bottom feeder in the head.


I remember Officer Bill punched a guy in the face when it appeared the guy was kidnapping a women.  He broke five bones in his hand.  The husband was only trying to get his drunk wife in the car. Oops.


Officer Dale broke his hand hitting some well-deserved recipient and was chastised by the Captain. The Captain then showed Dale the proper way to hit a suspect without injury to your hand.  Dale still had to work the front desk until his hand healed.


Most cops are accused of racial profiling certain people.  The fact is that certain groups of people are prone to fight, especially when drunk.  I’m a product of my environment.  Now, Hollywood is multi-racial so we didn’t have an overwhelming population of any race.  My experience tells me that if you want to fight with a Hispanic, say something about his mother.  I’ve been told that after payday Harbor Division Longshoremen get drunk and want to fight.  I also heard that Samoans love to fight.  But no cop disagrees that a drunk American Indian will fight for no reason other than he’s drunk and you’re there.


In Hollywood, we didn’t have a large population of American Indians, but I know that Central Division had a lot.  I suspected that Central cops would put a drunk Indian on a bus, one way, to Hollywood.


When you get in a fight, you seldom have time to prepare, but every once in a while you know it’s going be unavoidable.  I had one classic time that I knew we were going to be rolling around on the ground. 


We were driving around Hollywood one beautiful night when we get an “Arson Suspect” call at the Greyhound bus station on Vine.  It’s about 2:00 in the morning and the bars have just kicked out the last patrons.


We drive up to the bus station and see a trash can bon-fire in the middle of the street.  A small group of people are standing on the sidewalk.  I lean out the car window and ask who “Started the fire.”  From behind the smoke and flames, I hear, “I did, what are you going to do about it?”


I look at my partner and say, “We have a freebee.”  My partner is already taking off his watch and removing his pen & pencil.  Watches get broken and pens and pencils rip uniforms in a fight.  You guessed it—our suspect is a drunk American Indian.  We tactically deploy; ok, we split up a little.  We tried to talk the Indian into surrendering without a fight.  Later the Department gave classes and called it “Wooshaw.”  Getting a suspect to surrender without a fight, with words.  Well, this Indian missed the class and charged my partner.


The two of us and this drunk Indian roll around on the ground for a good ten minutes.  We finally avenge Custer’s fight at the “Little Big Horn” and handcuff our suspect.  Our suspect looks us in the eye and says, “Ok, fellows, good fight, let’s go to jail.”  All he wanted to do was fight before he got a bed and three meals on the city.  Me, I got a few abrasions but my uniform only got dirty.  My partner got a nice tear on a new pair of pants.  What the fight cost:  Indian, free meals and a bed, me, two band aids and some antiseptic, my partner a new pair of pants $80.


Next the worst and longest fight of my career.


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