Welcome back, Detective Hussey, who by now needs no further introduction.
I listened with amusement this morning to a news report about a small town, veteran police officer who was, as the official report stated, teaching a trainee an arrest technique, when his gun went off and shot the rookie in the chest. The reporter said the younger officer would be fine, thank God, and the incident was under "internal investigation."
This translates to: "We were playing grab ass, and I was showing the kid my quick draw technique, when I hit the trigger and accidentally fired my piece."
I always find it comical when the general public, or police administrators for that matter, attempt to equate a firearm incident which happens to a cop to a firearm incident in the civilian world.
To a police officer, the gun becomes just part of his equipment. It is issued to him like a raincoat or a flashlight. In the beginning, he familiarizes himself totally with his weapon's system, its capabilities, its special quirks. Then he fires it once or twice a year on the range in a completely static environment, with no one shooting at him.
For most of their careers, cops are bored out of their minds. So when they are sitting around at home watching TV, or sitting in their patrol cars on the late shift, instead of whistling, or doodling on a desk pad, they play with their guns. In fact, it would have been possible for the police department to have thwarted some of their problems, had they done something about the boredom. In their infinite wisdom, they chose not to.
When I came on the department, one of the rules was, you always rode around with your window down. No matter how hot or cold it was, the window was to be down. The philosophy was you couldn't hear crime with the window up. If a supervisor was to see you somewhere with your window rolled up, you could be disciplined.
The other rule was, no AM/FM radios. We would sneak small transistor radios in our brief cases, but you'd better not get caught. They were adamant about this one. One year the new fleet of cars came in with AM dash radios, as standard equipment. The Chief delayed delivery of the new cars for several weeks, as the cars were shipped to the city motor pool and each radio removed and thrown away. We wouldn't want the officers to be distracted, better they play with their guns. Your tax dollars at work once more.
It is here I must explain about "choir practice." The term comes from some of author Joseph Wambaugh's novels about the Los Angeles Police Department. One of Mr. Wambaugh's most popular books came out in the early 1980's, and was titled, "The Choir Boys." It was the fictional account of the antics of several Los Angeles Police officers from the department's Hollywood Division. It told of irreverent, perverted, out of control cops who got together after their shift to drink, carouse and unwind at what they called "Choir Practice."
The term caught on nationally. You could go anywhere in the country and ask the local guys where their watering hole was and when was choir practice. You would be directed to either a local bar, a park or some other exclusive area where access could be controlled.
The Lakeland PD was no different. We had our spots too. One was the graveyard on the West side of the Lakeland Civic Center. We would sometimes gather there, coolers full of beer and liquor, and unwind, usually after an evening shift. If you worked midnights, the location would change. Some mornings would find everybody at "Benny's Oyster Bar" on North Florida Avenue. Benny Brackin, the owner would open up early for us, and at 8:00 in the morning, we would have a traditional breakfast of raw oysters and ice cold beer. Many times we have stayed at Benny's from early morning until the dinner crowd was coming in the evening. After the day shift, the place might be somewhere more suitable, like Bennigans or the XYZ lounge.
I tell you about choir practice because usually, after work, off duty, cops carry their guns, and sometimes when they drink, they play with those guns.
It was not uncommon to be at someone's house watching a ballgame or a movie, to look up and find some guy with his gun out, barrel stuck in his mouth. At one Super Bowl party at Officer Kevin Mimb's home, Steve Donoway removed his new Walther PPKS .380 automatic to show to Monte Mathis. Monty took the gun, pointed it at the floor and promptly discharged a round into the carpeted floor of Kevin's living room.
Monte has stories of his own. In 1984, he responded to an armed robbery in progress. Monte saw the bad guy around Florida Avenue and The Boulevard. Monte gave chase, and in the 200 block of W. Quincy Street, the bad guy wrecked his car and began to shoot it out. The turd's first round found its mark, as it ripped through Monte's chest and exited his back.
I'll never forget the screaming as the radio echoed, "I'M HIT!" Then the softer voice, "Hurry up guys, this ain't gonna' last long," as he saw the blood draining from his body. Monte however, was a fighter. He was able to compose himself, and return fire, wounding and disabling his adversary. The assailant would later die of AIDS in jail. How sad. Monte was decorated and revered for his heroism.
In this business there are a couple of sayings. "Commendations don't mean shit, a cop is only as good as his last headline," and "One aw shit will wipe out a hundred atta' boys." In 1988, four years after his shooting, Monte was working as a narcotics agent and as the guys were sitting around waiting for a deal to go down, they played with their guns. Monte placed his Smith & Wesson 9mm auto against another narc's head, cocked the hammer, then pushed the de-cocking lever, causing the hammer to fall.
An investigation ensued, after which Monte was fired. He stayed unemployed for seven months and thirteen days (not that he was counting). After a lengthy court battle, he was reinstated with all his back pay and benefits. Countless witnesses paraded through the hearing telling stories of pranks and practical jokes involving firearms. Ironically, when he came back to work, Monte regained his hero status. He did some time in the Internal Affairs Bureau, then was promoted to Sergeant. He is today, a valued member of the Lakeland Police Department. What a tragedy it would have been to deprive the citizens of his hero's experience and dedicated service.
Tom Brown and I would ride around on the midnight shift, unlocking the Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun, and tipping it forward from its dash mount. Which ever one of us was riding in the passenger's side would stick the shotgun barrel in their mouth and ride until we could pull up next to an unsuspecting motorist. The driver would then yell "Get away, or the cop gets it." People must have thought we were crazy.
All of us used to carry around a box of 140 grain, semi-jacketed, hollow pint, .38 special bullets, identical to the ones the Police Department issued, just in case you had to fire a few rounds. This day and age, carrying extra ammo is strictly forbidden.
One midnight shift, around 3:00 in the morning, a call for a backup went out from Officer George Kistner. George was a seasoned veteran who rarely got himself into anything he couldn't get out of. He asked for units to be dispatched to him on the north side of Tigers Stadium. We raced to help as usual. When we got there, George had cornered a wild pig.
The nearly 400 pound boar had apparently wandered out of the wooded near Lake Parker. When we got enough guys to surround the animal, we closed in and the huge pig was shot with our service revolvers. We picked the beast up, and loaded him into the trunk of Sergeant Pete Petersen's car. We took him to Pete's house and hung him up in a tree. The unfortunate animal was skinned and put into Pete's freezer, where he later became the guest of honor at yet another choir practice.
Gary "G.W." Fallin used to hunt rabbits with his duty gun on the midnight shift, and I can think of at least one deer that was shot with a riot gun near Lakeland Hills Boulevard.
The "nutty" gun lobby in this country is of the opinion that they would like to disarm the public and have the police who are the "professional" gun handlers, protect them. It's not that we don't have respect for guns, we do. We just understand that a gun is an inanimate object that is just a necessary tool for doing the job we've chosen.
I am sure that this chapter will shock a good number of people. Nobody has a sense of humor anymore. You see, people who day after day deal with a steady adrenaline drip have to reach for a little more dangerous form of recreation, such as skydiving, motorcycling or "barrel-swallowing."
I've seen service revolvers used to pistol whip suspects, and I've seen them used to hammer in nails to hang up pictures, I've seen them used for paper weights, and decorations. They're just tools.