Thursday, March 09, 2006

Top Cop

I was a Police Officer for about 6 months and suddenly I found myself Chief of Police. I was all of 28. I had just recently completed the SD Police Officer training program that was taught by the SD Division of Criminal Investigation and had 6 whole months as a rookie under my belt. From that I got a pretty good idea of what I was suppose to do, how to complete an investigation, etc. A local DCI agent held my hand and walked me through everything. We carried only 6 officers plus an animal control officer and 6 reserves. I had 4 full time dispatchers and four cars; all used state police cars and all big bore Chevy's and Dodges. It turned out to be an interesting ride. It started with my first burglary investigation after only a couple of days on the job as I was also the department's only investigator.

The call came on at 8am, a burglary at a local business. I showed up with my fingerprint kit [it even had a magnifying glass with it], my camera, my notebook and about as nervous as a whore in church. I dusted the whole place for prints and did about a dozen lifts. Took photographs of everything and wrote copious notes, interviewing everyone that worked there and came away with a couple of good leads. My new best friend, DCI Special Agent Tom helped me with my evidence and suggested things like "The next time you find a fingerprint to lift, photograph it and the location before you lift it or you can't use it in court". I even managed to lift my own print. I at least dazzled everyone that was around with my great show. I even got a confession out of one of the leads and we sent him off to probation. My next challenge was a burglary of a city building, stealing, what appeared to be, only burglary tools. Agent Tom gave me a great lead and I got right on it developing enough probable cause to get a quick search warrant of his house. If I could find those tools, all marked property of the city, it would send him back to prison. The only problem was, the Sheriff and the State's Attorney were using this guy as a snitch on something else. The easy thing to do was to tell me and I would back off. Instead they put me through hoops to get the warrant and in the mean time told the guy we were on to him and ditch the tools. Big lesson #1 never ever trust an attorney again or an official who gets his job by the election process.

Sturgis has a large Motorcycle Rally, the 2nd week in August, every year and it was coming soon. We had word that it was going to be very well attended but there is not too much preparation you can do with a 6 man department. I went to the City Council to try and get funds to hire a few more officers for the 100,000 or so people that were expected but they turned me down. About four weeks before the races I got a call from a Chief of Police in Colorado giving me a heads up that his local gang with national affiliations was holding a national convention and that they had leased local land in the Black Hills for their convention. What this meant was they were safe, on their own property, from law enforcement interference. Traditionally the bad gangs were tracked across the country by State Police Departments and when they entered our county, they were met at the line by the Sheriff and a large posse and were turned around at the barrel of a .357 magnum. They always chose to leave. Not this year! I was told to expect 250 to 300 members. Later I received a call from the Motorcycle Gang Division of the LAPD informing me that they had murder warrants for several Hells Angels who had been part of the security detail for The Rolling Stones Concert at Altamont Raceway Park in Calif. The concert had gotten a little bit out of hand killing Meredith Hunter. They heard that they would be in Sturgis, for the Motor Classics, but traveling with the Gang from Colorado. They would send me information on these people, photographs etc. [Oh Goody]. I talked to the FBI and they gave me no help on intelligence. My friend Tom, with the DCI, provided me with much more intelligence on a daily basis, and we got additional help from the State Police as they would beef up their local patrols and move other officers closer to our town to be available if necessary. Back I went to the City Council with this new information. The only help they would give me was to authorize me to put our reserves on and pay them. This would amount to 6 additional officers who weren't trained except to work the races every year but that was pretty good training, now that I think about. It is called Trial by fire. One of my friends worked as an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special Agent nearby and promised that he and his partner would be available for the festivities. Our force was growing. I was too young and lacked any sense of my own mortality and nothing really bothered me. I was going to be Super Cop and save the town. [We always had some gang activity problems at our races and when I was 12 my brother Bill saved the town. We had a motorcycle gang from the other end of the state come and do terrorizingrrorising of out local citizens. My brother was a pretty tough dude at this time. Well the occasion came when my brother and some of his buddies were walking down the street and the Sioux Falls MC gang was walking towards them. Their trick had been to force everyone to walk into the gutters as they came down the street. Brother Bill and his group were having nothing to do with thconfrontationroccurredn occured. My brother put the leader of the gang in the gutter with many bruises and invited anyone that would like to join him to speak up. Since no one spoke up he suggested they might get on their bikes and ride away. They did. My mother told that story a thousand times and it always started out "Do you remember when my son Bill kicked the motorcycle gang out of town?" I was planning on following in his footsteps] We all put our heads together for some planning sessions. What came out of these sessions was: 1] Local, regular patrol officers would work using their cars on a 16 hours plus basis; 2] Reserve officers would work the downtown area on a 12 hour basis; 3] "No Drinking in Public" law would be enforced religiously and was the responsibility of the reserve officers. All violators would be immediately taken to a JP for resolution; [The advantage of this was that power of the JP's were huge as they could immediately set fines up to $500 and send people to jail for 30 days] 4] No overreaction to any incident and dispatchers would attempt to call for responses on a measured basis only. 5] Any eluding attempts by motorcycles would be handled by one car only, to conclusion with the notification of the State Police for assistance when chase left city limits. [Our vehicles would reach 130 to 140 mph and our knowledge of the chase areas would be fully to our advantage]. These were all great plans. Normally the second full week in August when the bikers all showed up for the races and the problems started the Police would get excited and put on the local reserves. This year they showed up one week earlier to attend the Days of 76 celebrations in Deadwood, only 10 miles away and the overflow reached us and our duties started 1 week earlier than expected. I got all excited and put the reserves on also. We were a little town of 5000 but our Fire Department supplied services [ambulance and fire] hundreds of miles away and they were stretched with 3 ambulances on the road almost all of the time, mostly picking bikers up that had crashed. We had an arsonist hard at work setting grass fires all over the county to the tune of 1 to 4 a day so the FD [all volunteers] were stretched about as far as they could be. The Sheriff informed me they wouldn't have any deputies available for us as another town in the county, 120 miles away, was having their yearly celebration and they would be up there. Things looked like they were starting to fall apart! We were about as busy as we could possible be and our celebration was still a week away.

The sheriff and I headed for Deadwood, during the week along with two others who were members of our Fire Dept, just to see how things were going over in Lawrence County and the town of Deadwood. We parked at the S.O., told the dispatcher we were going over to where the action was. The Lawrence County Sheriff spotted us and we talked for a few minutes. He said it was way worse than what they had expected because of all the early arrivals of so many bikers. Deadwood billed itself as a Wild West Town and had always been fairly wild open. When I was in High School, I remembered lots of prostitution with 4 or 5 houses of ill- repute located in the bar areas. Lots and lots of bars and lots of illegal gambling activities. The Days of 76 celebration was always a good place to go for a truly wild weekend and a good place to go and get your butt kicked. We told the Sheriff we were going over to the Main Street area and check it out and he said he didn't have any deputies left to bail us out if we got in trouble. The Main Street celebration was way wilder than any of us remembered and probably a good indicator of what our week was going to be. On the way back to the SO a group of high school kids were sitting on a knoll drinking beer and as we went by one of them hollered out "Pigs, Suey hey Suey". We turned and walked up to the group of youth who were laughing very boisterously until our Sheriff reached down and extracted the shouter-outer by his hair [long hair was in at the time], spun him around, and cuffed him. It was about one block to the Sheriffs Office and Sheriff John kicked him in the butt all the way. Pig was a term of the Viet-Nam War protesters and we didn't take kindly to it. He was thrown in the lockup to spend the remainder of his celebration and to contemplate the probability of $100 fine for disorderly conduct and telling his parents what had happened, in the morning. The only other time anyone ever called me a Pig was a lawyers son who I had just arrested for sale of LSD, which was about 2 weeks after this first Pig calling. He spent the night in the slammer and the next day he plead guilty to sale of an adulterated food substance, and was fined $50. The operative words here were lawyers son.

The office was in a bit of a turmoil because they had an automobile accident about 3 miles past the next town in the county. The problem was they had an ambulance available but no EMTĂ‚’s. Their ambulances were as stretched as ours. Two of the guys with us were ambulance people and took their ambulance to handle the accident with two people injured. I had been called back to Sturgis but on the way down the canyon the Sheriff and I came across an accident. Seems that a biker had been riding down the canyon, at a high rate of speed, with his girl friend on back, and lost his lights. No street lights and no guardrail and they ended up at the bottom of a dry creek bed. His head was crushed against a large boulder but she survived. It was in our county and was our 1st of seven motorcycle fatalities for the races. [watch for part II, "The Sturgis Motor Classics" coming as soon as I can write it]


T. F. Stern said...

I enjoyed your story; sounds like when you jump into something you do it head first.

I used to cut the shoulder patch off of my worn out shirts, the ones that I was supposed to turn back in to be destroyed to keep the bad guys from pretending to be cops, I would glue those patches to trophy plaques. I would then engrave the award, "HPD Watering Hole", and give them to businesses that were pro-police, let us use their facilities, lunch rooms, and the like. We even gave a plaque to the Blood Center, a place we would visit every so many months to donate our blood.

Ted said...

Thanks for the comment. That's a pretty good idea about the patches.
Ya, I do jump in head first, burn myself ou and then go on to something else that I can jump into headfirst. Even worked as a locksmith once.