The “body” in the trash bag

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“There are four males in the restroom with a child in a trash bag.”

That’s what I heard on the radio while driving to another call tonight. The dispatcher was sending patrol cars to an unknown trouble call at a local park. She also broadcasted that the child looked to be about 7 years old.

Say what?

I had no choice after hearing that. The people in the traffic collision could wait because I was going to this call first.

I arrived at the park about a minute after the call went out. There was a group of males standing in front of the restroom. They looked calm and were talking. They didn’t even seem to notice my patrol car driving on the grass. I got out of my car and asked, “Is there a kid in a trash bag?”

A male in the group said, “No.”

“We got a call about a kid inside a trash bag in the bathroom.”

That’s when the male seemed to know what I was talking about as he said, “Oh, we’re making a movie.” The male, who was holding a camera, told me there was a doll in the bathroom.

It was dusk, so the restroom was dark. I walked in and saw a head and body wrapped in a trash bag like a mummy on the floor. The “body” was propped up against the wall like it was leaning against it.

Then I saw something that looked freaky. There was an eye staring at me from the doll head that was partially covered by the trash bag. There was also dark curly hair sticking out. The “body” looked like it was the size of a 5 year old child. With the darkness fast approaching, it looked real.

The male walked in and started stomping on the “body” to show me it was fake. The entire scene was bizarre. I must’ve have been in the Twilight Zone for a brief moment.

At first glance, it really did look like a body. Even though it was stomped on I still pulled open the bag so I could make sure it wasn’t a real face. That of course, made the “filmmakers” laugh when they saw me do that.

They explained to me about making a movie for a college course. I told them they were lucky the officers hadn’t walked in on them standing over the “body.” You could tell they hadn’t thought about that. Hopefully the three police cars, police motorcycle and helicopter overhead showed them how serious it was taken when we got the 911 call.

I got back in my car and spoke into the microphone as I said, “I’m 10-8 from the fake kid in the trash bag call.” I drove out of the park knowing I’d have a story to tell my kids when I woke up on Saturday.

When I put my uniform on Friday afternoon I never thought I’d be standing in a restroom watching someone stomp on a fake child’s body that was wrapped in a black trash bag with a big eyeball staring at me.

Once again, you can’t make this stuff up.

“You’re Making Me Sound Irresponsible”

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On Halloween night in 2014, three girls were killed in a hit and run crash while trick or treating in Santa Ana, CA. Two of the girls were twins. I remember hearing the news on my way to work that night. I actually closed my eyes and shook my head when I heard about the twins. How awful for a family to lose two daughters in one crash. It gave me an  ache inside that three kids were killed about the same time I was trick or treating with my kids.

As a father I couldn’t imagine what the families were going through. As a collision investigator I was glad I wasn’t the one who had to handle that call.

A few days later my partner sent me a picture from a news story about the suspect being arrested for the Santa Ana hit and run.

The person in the photo was Jaquinn Bell. I knew who he was because I met him in August of that same year. He had crashed while DUI in my city with his two kids in the car.

During our conversation that night he denied crashing. He also told me he parked his car, but didn’t know where it was. I repeated back to him some of the things he said because he sounded silly. At one point he said, “You’re making me sound irresponsible.” Nope. He was doing that all by himself.

On the night we met him he tried hiding between two houses, but was seen by witnesses and officers. He was actually on the phone with his dad at the time as he told his kids to get down when the officers arrived. He showed everyone how irresponsible he really was that night. He also showed it again on October 31st.

The other day he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the collision in Santa Ana. The time he’ll spend in prison won’t bring back those girls, but at least he won’t be able to hurt anyone else for a long time. That’s the only positive thing from this story.

In closing, I have one thing to say to you Mr. Bell.

I hope you see those bodies when you close your eyes at night. I also hope it haunts you for the rest of your life. You had no right to take those girls away from their parents.

“You Can’t Make This Stuff Up”

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“You can make this stuff up.”

That’s a saying in police work that everyone can relate to. It’s a simple sentence that describes so much of what we see and hear during our “normal” shift.

The other night my friend Sean and I were talking about some old stories related to that subject.

I told him a story about a crash I took on Wednesday night involving a guy with an ignition interlock device installed on his car. The driver was heading to our jail to stay the night as part of his drunk driving sentence.

He was talking on the phone and trying to blow into the machine while driving at the same time. He was too busy blowing into the machine and ended up crashing into the car in front of him. He described it to me as trying to multitask.

Sean said, “That guy can’t get a break.”
“No, he can’t. He said he lost his job that same day too.”

See, you can’t make this stuff up.

Sean then asked me, “Do you remember The Chief?”
“I took the crash when he was killed.”

The Chief was a famous transient because he was a mean drunk who liked to fight with the police. I never met him, but I was there for The Chief’s final call for service.

On that night The Chief got hit by a car while riding his bike. The car took off and left him lying in the street. That’s when another car ran him over while driving in the opposite direction. The second driver stopped and said she thought she hit him. I looked under her front bumper and saw a bunch of blood. I said, “Yeah, you hit him too.”

After I cleared the scene I drove to the hospital that was down the street. I walked in and a nurse asked me if I had been at the crash.

I said, “Yes.”
“Was that The Chief?”
“Yeah.”
“Was he killed?
Yeah.”
“Good. That means he won’t come in here again.”

You can’t make this stuff up…..

Last week another friend named Timi told me a story that had me laughing for days. About 18 years ago a man called the police because his poodle was taken by another man.

Timi went to the suspect’s location and knocked on the door. A man answered and Timi asked him if he had a dog. The man replied he did. Timi told him she was there because someone called about a stolen dog.

That’s when a recently painted purple poodle appeared. The man told the officers that his poodle was purple and the other dog was white so it couldn’t be the same dog. Nice try, but the purple dog gave it away.

Another reason to say, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

And then who can ever forget the drunk driver who crashed the other night? She was DUI and six months pregnant. After crashing into a pole, she pulled her pants down and left a number two right there on the sidewalk.

I’m still shaking my head at that one.

Once again. You can’t make this stuff up.

Just Call Her Poopy Pants

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There’s one thing for sure about this job. We see people at their worst. At their lowest of lows. At rock bottom. We see them at their Poopy Pants worst.

Some of this is self-inflicted. Some of it is just bad luck. The self-inflicted stuff is where the comedy of this profession comes out. It’s where some of the best stories come from. It’s where you stand there and say, “I can’t believe I just saw that.” Last Friday night will go down in history as one of the most unusual stories from a collision scene I have ever witnessed.

An injury traffic collision went out at about 2:15AM involving a vehicle that struck a pole. This is a pretty typical call for that time of the night so I didn’t think anything of it.

I drove down the street and saw a pole imbedded into the front of a car. An ambulance just arrived and there was another patrol car there. I got out of my car and walked up to an officer. He pointed to the crashed car and said, “She’s taking a dump on the sidewalk.”

Now, that’s not something you hear every day.

I looked over to the car and saw the passenger door open with a woman squatting down on the edge of the vehicle next to the seat. She was partially blocked by ambulance personnel.

I walked up and saw her pajama pants pulled down to her knees and there was a pile of you know what right underneath her. There was a strong odor of a person who had been drinking and who had just left a “number two” on the sidewalk. I have seen many people pee and vomit themselves while drunk, but this took it to an entirely new level.

Did I mention she was six months pregnant and unlicensed?

You just can’t make this stuff up.

When the tow truck driver arrived I pointed out the mess because I didn’t want him to step in it. The tow driver looked at it and said he didn’t want poop on the bed of his truck. I found it funny he was worried about that. Never mind all of the cars that have leaked hazardous fluids onto his flatbed tow truck in the past? Now he was worried about a little number two.

The tow truck driver then did his best to maneuver the front of the vehicle around the pile of poop with the skill of an artist painting a masterpiece. Instead of paint and brushes, he tugged and pulled with the cable and used a shim under one of the tires as the vehicle turned. Once the right front tire cleared the pile he completed the job and I left.

As I drove away I couldn’t help laughing and thinking how this woman was SOL (shit out of luck). I also remembered what a shitty job this was. And most of all, you also can’t make this shit up (I couldn’t resist).

Protest away, but you never know when you’re going to need a cop

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By now most people have heard about the Subway employee and her comments about the two police officers who were killed while on duty in Mississippi.

I was disgusted by this, but not surprised that someone would say something like that. It’s just the way it is in the world we live in.

Her comments were not just about two murdered police officers. They were about all of us and what she thinks of law enforcement in general. That’s fine. She can believe whatever she wants, but who is she going to call when she needs help? Who is she going to call if she’s ever raped? Who is she going to call if one of her children ever got hit by a car?

She’s going to call a police officer.

Three years ago our city experienced civil unrest after a couple of officer involved shootings. There was one particular neighborhood that was a boiling point and officers had to stand by while the district attorney investigators conducted their investigation. The crowd become more violent and additional officers had to be called.  This all occurred before I started my shift.

Eventually more officers were needed at the scene and I was sent. When I arrived, I stood in a line alongside other officers while the crowd was acting crazy. I stood there disgusted with the way some of these people were acting.

There was one particular woman who decided I was going to be her civil unrest project. She was upset about something, but I had no idea because I wasn’t even at work when the mess started.

She stood there and yelled at me. She spit on the ground toward my direction. She went on and on as I seemed to be the only one who drew her rage.

I stood there while she raged her personal little war against me, but her protest, anger and free speech fell on deaf ears because I had no idea what she was saying.  All I could think of was, “Whatever lady.”

I never forgot what that woman looked like because we spent so much quality time together. I even saw her complaining on the news about the police that night.

Fast forward six months and guess who I got to meet again? You got it. My long lost Spanish speaking spitting protester. She called the police because she needed help. How ironic is that?

What a small world. I was the follow up officer and stood by while he handled the call. I listened as a translator told us why the woman needed the police. Of course, it was for something trivial, but that didn’t stop her from calling 911 when she needed a cop.

I put on a professional face and just stood there. There was nothing for me to say. Her protest that day was more about being mad at the uniform than me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to have an opinion about her. Let’s just say, “#@##$!,” might be close to what I wanted to say.

I wondered if she recognized me. She gave me a few looks like she did, but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to get done with the call so I could move on to the next one. When it was time to leave, I silently walked  and bit my tongue.

In the end I have a message for people who want to protest.

Protest all you want. On my days off I have better things to do with my time than stand on the sidewalk yelling at people I don’t know. If that’s what you want to do knock yourself out. It’s America.

Just remember this. Who are you going to call the next time you need help? Not the Ghostbusters. You’re going to call a police officer. You have no choice so let’s work together. It’s easier that way.

Is your teen abusing medications to get high?

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Last week I was a witness to the beginning of another tragic story. I was left shaking my head and wondering where this teenager went wrong, or more importantly, where his parents went wrong.

On Saturday night I was dispatched to a traffic collision involving three vehicles. The call information mentioned that one of the drivers was possibly DUI. When I arrived, I saw an officer walking a male from the street to the sidewalk. From a distance I estimated his age to be about 14 years old. I just assumed he was a passenger from one of the vehicles.

I got out of my car and walked over to where they were. That’s when I found out this kid was actually 16 years old and he was the suspected drunk driver.

He rear ended one vehicle and then crashed into another when he tried to back up. He appeared under the influence and was eventually arrested for DUI. Of course, he didn’t have a driver’s license either.

The driver was under the influence of a dissociative anesthetic. Most people don’t even know what that is. A dissociative anesthetic includes PCP, ketamine and Dextromethorphan (DXM). DXM is the active ingredient in cough medicines. It’s also abused because it’s easily accessible.

This kid had been drinking cough medicine and also had four Xanax pills in his pocket from his mother’s prescription. Talk about a train wreck.

About an hour later I did a record check on his name and discovered he was arrested for DUI three months ago. Could his story get any worse?

I walked by a room where he was sitting and asked him what his blood alcohol was when he was arrested. The kid told me .20%.

I shouldn’t be shocked anymore, but every once in a while it still happens. I told him he was on the road to being a statistic and I warned him of the dangerous path he was heading down. He said he understood and seemed to listen to me.

Did I get through to him? Probably not, but at least I tried.

I leave you with this final thought if you’re a parent of a teen. You might want to watch the cough medicine bottle or other prescriptions in your medicine cabinet. You could be running low and didn’t know it.

Most people think it won’t happen to them, but there’s a chance it could. Don’t end up like some of the people we deal with. They don’t know there’s a problem until it’s too late.

Don’t forget the names of those killed while wearing the badge

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I think of my family every time I hear about a police officer being killed in the line of duty. I also think how I hope it never happens to me. I never want my family to be the ones sitting in the front row at the grave site being presented with the American flag by my chief. I never want them to hear the bagpipes being played for me.

Whenever I hear an officer was killed in the line of duty I reflect on some of the close calls I’ve had. I think of a few times when I or someone I knew, could’ve been the next name on the wall in our police department hallway.

Whenever I hear of an officer’s death, I think of how grateful I am for what I have and how I’m still able to do the job I love.

And finally, I also think about two officers who were killed over twenty years ago.

I started the academy on August 29, 1994 and graduated February 22, 1995. During that time there were two officers from the area who were killed in the line of duty. I never forgot their names because I attended their funerals with my academy classmates.

Those two funerals helped shape how I saw things from the time I was a young recruit to now, as a veteran officer with new gray hairs that seem to appear every day.

It was one of the best things the academy staff ever did because it made everything real. This wasn’t classroom stuff. It was up close and personal. It showed just how serious this job really was.

Officer Charles Heim was killed on October 21, 1994. Officer Michael Osorio was killed on October 31, 1994.

Officer Heim was an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. Officer Osorio was with the La Habra Police Department. They were killed less than two weeks apart and I can still remember seeing their pictures on TV.

Officer Heim was shot by a suspect and Officer Osorio was killed by a drunk driver on Halloween night. Officer Osorio’s department was not far away from mine so it really hit close to home.

I remember standing in the cemetery at Officer Heim’s funeral and being amazed at the sight of all the officers who were there. It showed me I was part of something much bigger than I thought.

When the bagpipes started playing I could sense the emotion around me as people fought back tears. Then the helicopters could be heard in the background. I looked up to the sky as they flew overhead. The rotors were loud and added something to the moment that is hard to describe. Then one helicopter broke off from the group and started flying in a different direction in the “Missing Man” formation. I remember saying to myself, “I never want my family to go through this.”

It was such a powerful moment and it stayed with me for the rest of my life.

Two weeks later I was at another officer’s funeral. I can still remember the heartfelt eulogy that Officer Osorio’s chief gave as I looked across the sea of uniforms that were there to pay their respects. That too, was another moment that stayed with me.

These funerals showed me that nothing can be taken for granted while doing this job. It showed the unspoken bond that officers have because they all potentially share the same fate while wearing the badge.

There’s nothing that compares to a police officer’s funeral. It’s different from any other funeral you’ve ever attended. It’s amazing to see how many officers are there for someone they might not have known.

A regular person sees it as a sad moment. A police officer sees it as a sad moment too, but there’s one big difference.

A police officer knows it could’ve been them. They also know it could’ve been their family sitting up front and being presented with the flag.

The officers in attendance also know this won’t be the last one who dies while wearing the badge. That’s what makes the funeral personal.

That’s also why we can’t forget the names of those who died while in the line of duty.

Be safe.

More About The Body Worn Camera

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The other night I responded to a neighboring city to contact the suspect in a hit and run collision. An officer from the neighboring department was also there. When I was done with the interview, I walked up to the suspect vehicle so the damage would show up in the video from my body worn camera. It was easy. I didn’t even have to get a regular camera out.

I looked over at the officer from the other department and said, “I love this thing.” With a raised eyebrow he looked at me like I was kidding. That’s when I said, “No, really. This thing is great.” He still looked like he didn’t believe me as he said, “Really?”

I then told him the advantages I have seen in a short time. Another officer from our department also told him the same thing.

He still didn’t look convinced and told me his department was testing them out. He said it would be hard to get used to. I told him it was easier to use than the audio recorder and it showed so much more. He still didn’t seem convinced.

He then said something lame. He said it would be easier for the younger officers to use because they were more technologically savvy. I could tell he was resistant to change.

Lately I’ve been asking random officers at my department what they thought about the BWC. Every person has instantly said they like it. Every one of them has also told me a story where the BWC was better than audio because it showed so much more.

A lot of officers also brought up stories where they wished they had the BWC when someone complained.

One motor officer told me a unique way how he uses his BWC on car stops. While on the stop he’ll hold the license up to the BWC so it will be part of the video in case something happened to him. I never thought of that.

The other night someone showed me a picture they took on their phone of a hit and run license plate. I held the phone up to my BWC so there was proof the witness actually took the pic. This way there was no doubt we had the correct license plate number.

I’m here to say this thing has been great. It’s not perfect, but I’m glad my department spent the money for the BWC sooner, rather than later. It will make our jobs easier in this crazy environment.

There’s nothing like having the video show how some of these people act on calls. It’s unfortunate that it has come to that, but that’s the world we live in.

It cracks me up on calls where people pull out their phones to record us. That’s fine. I’m recording you too.

More importantly, I have more gigabyte space to do it.

Do you know how many people died today in traffic collisions?

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How important is traffic safety to you?

How many people were killed in the time it took you to watch your favorite TV show? Do you know how many people were killed in the time it took you to drive to work, pick up your kids and go to soccer practice?

How important is this subject to you?

Now, try asking how important this subject is to the person who lost their husband, wife, son, daughter, grandmother, grandpa or child in a traffic collision. Try asking someone who has permanent back pain after being involved in a collision.

How important is this subject to them? It’s more important than you know.

32,719 people were killed in traffic collisions in the United States in 2013. That’s an average of 89 people a day. Every day.

That’s almost an average of 4 people an hour.

Ask any officer or firefighter who has been to a fatal collision. They’ll tell you how it didn’t have to happen. They’ll also tell you how many times they’ve seen carelessness take a life away.

The most painful sound to hear is a family screaming and crying after being told that their loved one was killed in a car accident. It’s the type of sound that stays with you. It’s the type of sound that hurts to listen to it.

You can feel if vibrating through your bones as each cry seems to pass through you like a cold wind on a winter day. It bites and cuts through you. It makes you shiver.

The sound eventually leaves, but it lingers like fingers grabbing at your heart to tug at it. You try to ignore it, but you can’t.

If every person heard that sound, it would scare them into being a safer driver. If every person could walk with me as I stepped over body parts at a collision scene, they would understand what it means to be a safer driver.

If every person knew what it was like to look at the bottom of their boots to make sure there was no flesh or brains in the groves, they would be a safer driver.

If every driver knew what a burning car with people inside smelled like, they would want to be a safer driver.

And finally, if every person could see what a child looks like after their head was run over by a car, they too would want to be a safer driver.

It’s these sights, smells and sounds that have made me be a safer driver. Now, let’s talk about that question I asked in the beginning.

How important is this subject to you?

Pass this along to someone and let’s try and get people to be safer drivers.

This job is really about the people

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We all have fast paced lives and that take us in different directions. Work schedules change and we slowly drift away from friends who seem to live on the opposite side of the world, but they are only on  the opposite side of the work week. Before you know it, years have passed and you wonder where all the time went.

I don’t normally work Monday night, but I switched work days because I gave a presentation last night.

Last night I ran into an old friend on a call that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. It was like a reunion as we gave each other a hug. We stood there happy to see each other with smiles on our faces.

For a brief moment there was no work pressure. There was no rush to fly off to the next call. It was just two friends standing in the street at a traffic collision scene. We talked briefly and then it was off to other calls. The moment was brief, but lasting.

About five hours later another old friend called to ask a question about an arrest she had just made.  I never see her either because of work schedules.

There was the quick hello of two friends who hadn’t spoken to each other in a long time. It was a few work related questions and then we were off the phone because we were busy.

Those particular people reminded me about the other great friends I’ve made over the years while working this job. People  that I have shared the same crazy calls with. Friends who have seen the same gruesome sights with me. Friends who have been frustrated by the events in the world around us. Friends who have felt like no one appreciated us when we were giving it our all.

We have all shared in the same nonsense, tragedy, scary moments and  frustration. We have all shared and seen the worst that man is capable of. We have all shared and seen the worst that can happen to people and their families.

All of this has created bonds that few people can understand unless you’ve been in the same boots.

The experiences at work have created  friendships that will last forever. One day when we are wrinkled and have more gray hair, we will be able to look back at all the times we laughed when normal people wouldn’t have.

We will be able to smile at all the inside jokes that only we could understand from working the street.We will still be able to tell the same gross stories over dinner and not even think about it.

These are things only work friends can understand.

When I finally put my badge on for the last time, I will know this job was really about the people.