3-4-2004 Cruisin' with the "Anti-Crime Unit"

During the Summer of 2003, I got to gabbing with some of the neighbors of a condemned home I was cleaning out on Park Avenue. One in particular was intent on complaining about our elected leaders. On and on he griped and at one point I asked him what he thought of the results of the May 2003 primary. He said he was disappointed. When I asked why, he claimed that he would have liked to see the former mayor win another term. I just had to ask why. He went on to list the mayor's mostly minor accomplishments and no, I showed no visible signs of revulsion. He bashed our "sleeping" firemen, and then he said he was happy to see that mayor force those lazy cops to finally start earning their paychecks.

I knew there was no point in jousting with yet another clueless soul, but I did mention that our cops were extremely short-handed and that fact was endangering not only our safety, but theirs as well. He offered nothing but the usual SAYSO banalities to support his ridiculous contentions. Back into the garbage filled basement I crawled, but that lil' guys comments stuck with me ever since.

Sadly, our mayor had managed to demonize yet another group of city employees for his own political gain. And the very same employees that are sworn to protect us no less. In a changing city suddenly riddled with drug dealers and slumlord properties, how could a resident feel so jaded about his own police department? I've thought about the ride-along in Plains Township I did and I always wished that I could do the same thing in Wilkes-Barre? Why? So that I could provide the average residents with a glimpse of what our boys and girls in polyester blue/black do while those very same residents are busy sleeping, or exploring some new orifice. With the political climate of the city being what it was last year, I knew a ride-along was an impossiblity. Especially for this nitwit.

As we all know, it's a new year, and the political climate has returned to something that resembles living in the United States again. We've got no shortage of serious problems to address, but our painful Banana Republic days are definately behind us. If ever a police ride-along was going to be possible, now seemed like the time to ask. So I asked. With the city being in a state of flux to a degree with departments reorganizing and whatnot, I had no clue as to whether it'd be a "go" or not, but it can't hurt to ask. Much to my liking, the ride-along was approved provided that I would sign a waiver releasing the city from any liability in the event that the ride-along went horribly wrong somehow. Saddle up, kiddies!

Last night, I rode with our 2 man "Anti-Crime Unit," Ralph Elick and Tom Harding, from 7 pm 'til 3 am. They said it was cool to use their names here. The anti-crime unit operates as part of the Narcotics & Vice Division. For our cops, the city consists of 6 zones with a cruiser assigned to each zone and back-up units that can float into a zone where the zone car is tied-up at a call. The A.C.U. (anti-crime unit), does not respond to 911 calls unless something really serious erupts, things get way too busy, or a fellow officer needs assistance. The A.C.U.'s mission is to visit the known drug houses, make dealers nervous, make buyers nervous, harass hookers, harass vagrants, and cruise the darkest of our alleys. Their primary mission is to arrest those selling drugs, those buying drugs, and to confiscate as much contriband as possible. To those that whine about cops not being there when you need one, I say to you that these cops are exactly where you need them, you just don't about it.

So, the guys armored-up and gave me the scoop on their covert operations, while I explored their office a bit. Then I was given a complete tour of headquarters. I was surprised to learn that approximately one third of the second floor is used for the secure storage of evidence. That's a lotta evidence, kiddies. Finally, it was time to roll.

I had to laugh to myself at my own ignorance. Where once I mockingly asked just what the hell a "semi-marked" unit was, now I knew as these guys used that lower profile to their advantadge all night. For this job, the lack of overhead lights is a plus. Although, in a city not known for maintaining anything properly, I did ask if this particular vehicle had brakes. As it turned out, it did, but they squeaked like hell all night.

At 7:55, we rolled to S. Wilkes-Barre and cruised through a lot of alleys checking the parking situation behind some known drug houses. We found our way to S. Main and headed north. As we approached the Square, we settled behind a vehicle with a broken tail light and yanked it over. It was occupied by a city fire fighter and he was given a verbal warning and sent on his way. A few of our fire fighters may act like they use drugs, but it's highly doubtful that any of them actually do when they are only a phone call away from some overtime and a three alarm fire.

We headed up to Brown St. looking for a guy who fits the description of our Thompson Street car-jacker. We couldn't find the address we were given and headed north on the boulevard. After a quick check with a detective, we learned the correct address and were on our way to 1XX Poplar St. Once on scene (8:40-8:53), the front and rear exits were covered as the front door was knocked on. No response. After repeated knocks and no responses, the neighbors were shown a picture of the guy we were looking for. Finally, a guy comes out of the front door and the questioning began. They hadn't seen our boy in over two months, didn't want to, and warned him to stay away from their residence. They did not have a picture of him to compare to ours, and we were on our way.

We found our way up S. Main only to find a young girl (8:55) leaning on a shopping cart pen as she was being approached by a single male. We circled them and came to a stop nearby. The guy quickly headed back where he came from and we approached the girl. She said she was waiting for a ride and was happy to see us when she did. She said the guy was looking for directions. We caught up to him at his rig and he asked how to get to River St. He was told how to get there and we peeled away.

By 9:01, we found our way to spot near S. Welles Street these guys call "The Honey Hole." After spending 8 hours with them, I understand why they call it that. The location they spy from their perch is more or less an open air drug flea market. And that same spot provides ample opportunities for traffic stops smack dab in the middle of the drug bazaar. Sitting just a few yards in front of us was a pick-up truck with three occupants and they were aware of our presence. At 9:05 they decided to leave and made a turn without using their turn signals. Here we go! As soon as they were treated to a bit of siren and lights, they were looking back at us and fumbling with something or other. It turned down Lehigh towards the boulevard. Again, no signals. The driver pulled into the Pepsi lot and the A.C.U. boys flanked both sides of the truck.

The driver looked as if he should have never left the cornfields of Iowa, the lady in the middle looked well-worn, and the other male occupant looked like a criminal to my untrained eye. Their hands were placed on the truck's tail and a search of the cab commenced. Buck knife? Oops! The driver had forgotten about that. Nothing else was found, and then the lady and the male passenger were handcuffed. The call for a caged unit went out. While waiting for the cage, it was explained to me that both of them had outstanding local warrants. Nothing too serious, but enough to arrest them and send them on their way to Magristrate Kane's office in the morning.

The cuffed guy has this to say: "I ain't sayin' nothin' man. I ain't gettin' shot for this sh*t." Apparently, he was a known drug player and he didn't want to divulge any information. At 9:25 the caged unit and ours headed into the basement of headquarters with two in tow.

Mother's name?

From 9:27 'til 9:55, their paper work was done, their tattoos were charted, and finally, they were advised to appear at Kane's office in the morning, or else. The kicker is, if they fail to appear, the very same thing will happen if they are arrested while the magistrate's office is closed again. In that event, they need to be arrested when the offfice is open so that they can be marched in front of him. At 9:58, we were rolling again towards the Heights.

As we rolled to the intersection of Northampton and Penn, a call came over the radio that a 2 year-old was playing in traffic on the boulevard at Northampton. Once we figured out where the "trestle" was (South St. Bridge), we, and a tow truck (?), searched for the toddler from 9:59 'til 10;04 to no avail.

10:04-10:07: Coffee stop at Uni-Mart. With a coffee in tow, we wandered the streets around Andover looking for some guy that had just trashed his girlfriend's car with a baseball bat. He was nowhere to be found.

At 10:19 a report of an assault vicim on Hanover st. came over the radio and we were but a minute or two away. Down Blackman we sped. We were first on scene, found the pregnant victim and her boyfriend that had lost his cool. He was searched, but not handcuffed. We left the scene at 10:33 after three other units arrived. One of the copper dudes was going to try to counsel these folks, rather than making a minor situation much worse. The boyfriend had lived here less than 6 months and made some comment about Wilkes-Barre being "The Poconos." As it was explained to me, most of our visiting druggies think this city is "The Poconos."

By 10:35, we were back at the "Honey Hole" and noticed a white SUV had circled the block. At 10:41 we started to follow him north on the Boulevard and called in a 27 on the Virginia plate. Everything came back negative, so we headed for the city gas station that was just announced as being open for business. From 10:48 until 10:52 we fueled in the wide open spaces of the DPW yard.

From 10:56-11:08 we cruised from East End through the entire Sherman Hills complex and then down Coal St. We headed north and took a drive through Nord End. While bouncing through a dark alley, we came across our buddy who was just arrested in the pick-up truck. He was enjoying a smoke an his side porch.

From there it was due south around the Sqaure and after we passed a known hooker (11:17) hanging out with some guy, we did a u-turn and headed back to talk to them. I was advised to change the names of the folks we encountered. Not because they're innocent, but because of any ongoing investigations and such. We'll call this hooker Katie Atlanta. She was a piece of work to put it kindly. I want to sign another waiver with the city. If I'm ever caught paying this chick for sex, I want the police officer involved to kill me. She looked like Grizzly Adams' twin sister, had no teeth, and babbled on like a hapless fool. While Tom conducted a field interview with the guy hanging out with Katie, she told Ralph and I the good news. She was tested and only had Hepatitus B. Wow! That is good news. Yikes! Anyway, she headed south for a forty ozer, and the field interview had concluded.

From 11:25-11:29, we swung through the downtown and made our way to the AM/PM Mini Market on Carey ave. 11:27-11:29: Potato chip break. Since Mandy, the hooker that barters for drugs was hanging by the pay phone, we parked behind Januzzi's and watched from 11:31-11:40. She wandered away down Academy and we followed. She was hanging with someone else on the sidewalk and they were playing with something unknown to me. We passed, turned around, headed back, and Mandy's cohort had split real quick. He looked for them. By 11:45, we pulled into a driveway and a search of the area with flashlights commenced. Nothing. We rolled onwards.

We patrolled a bit of S. Wilkes-Barre, The Heights, and eventually found ourselves parked at "The Honey Hole" again. At 11:59, a small car ignored a stop sign. We pulled him over. His license was suspended a ($300 violation) and he was advised to find himself someone else to drive the buggie. The whole time, Tom and Ralph tried to figure out where they'd run across this car previously. At 12:12, we were rolling again.

A $300 Winner!

After nine minutes of patrolling, we parked back at the hole only to find two people sitting in an SUV next to us. They seemed a bit unnerved by our presence and it was time to check them out. While we were checking their stories, guess who came sauntering up the street? Our very same buddy that was arrested earlier, the guy from the pick-up truck. This time, he was given an earful for not heeding the advice he was given earlier and sent on his way with the tiny girl who had checked-out okay. But her buddy in the back seat, some sort of business professional, was not so lucky. He had outstanding warrants from the State Police for a MVA involving damage, and, or injury. Time for the handcuffs drunkie. Time for another caged unit. Time for Truck 51 to tow the SUV.

Earlier on, the little chick made some crack about my being out of uniform. I.A.D. types don't wear uniforms, honey. The cage showed up and took our cuffed one, and Bobby towed the SUV. At 12:55, we were off to headquarters for another round of paperwork, prints, and pictures. We didn't make it that far. Almost, but not quite. As we we ventured into the intersection of Northampton and Penn ave., a late model Ford Thingamabob just about rammed us nose to nose while making an overly aggressive northward turn onto Penn ave. Ralph cranked that steering wheel faster than Junior doing spin-outs on the grass at Daytona and we were hurtling northward with the lights blazing. At 12:58, the car quickly pulled over just past the Times Leader building.

The chickie inside was enjoying a mixed drink. A Screwdriver. And she had a bit of an attitude about it. When the 911 folks provided her info, I recognized her name from her involvement with one of our local drug houses that was busted. As a matter of fact, these two guys were in on that bust. It was time for her field sobriety test. She complained that she couldn't do it while wearing KISS boots. Off they came. She was directed into the adjacent parking area, but complained about walking over wet grass in her socks. Over the grass she stomped. I thought she did pretty good and the A.C.U. boys agreed. But she was told that since she had consumed alcohol, she would not be allowed to drive any further. She did not protest, but she seemed miffed. She got on her cell phone and secured a ride from a friend. After her friend arrived and parked her car in the adjacent lot, the two of them were on their way.

She recieved a citation for driving with an open container and at 1:18, we finally made it back to headquarters.


This time, the computer was fired-up to catch up on the paperwork. While all of the updating was going on, I sifted through one of the detective's extensive drug paraphenalia collection. I can't even imagine owning a crack pipe and being so desperate for drugs. Where's my pipe? Bitch! Where's my f**king pipe? Sad. I was surprised to find a roach clip. Do they still use those things? I haven't seen one of those since 1976, the very last time I came in close contact with any Vo-Tech students. At 1:57, the paperwork was caught up and we rolled towards the Heights again. Guess where?

Yup. The Honey Hole. We were sitting there less than a couple of minutes when some guy starts peeking up the street at us. He peeked. He wandered out of view. He peeked. Then back out of view. He peeked...we're rolling. By the time we turned the corner, he was on a 10-speed and pedaling away. He didn't get very far. He employs the I.D. rope-a-dope tactic. No matter what name he provided, nothing came back on it. A common tactic in the drug industry. He was told his picture was going to be taken and he protested. He was given a choice. His correct name, or the picture. He posed very nicely.

John Banger Doe

His picture and the alias he provided will be entered into the big ring book back on the desk at headquarters for future reference. Namely, when he finally gets himself in some real trouble. Field interview concluded, he wanders north on his bike. No I.D. Picture taken. It was now 2:08 am and we drove around the block and settled back into our very productive hole.

After about 6, or 7 minutes we rolled and patrolled some more. We ended up back at the hole and sat for a spell. Things were suddenly quiet in this area. I wonder why. After a few minutes we went south on Welles and noticed a white SUV rolling behind us. It turned and parked. We went around the block and came back around behind it. It was moving away and rather quickly. Here we go!

In an instant, our Intrepid was moving even faster. The SUV turned and sped away north on Hill St. toward Park Ave. When we arrived at the corner, it was nowhere to be seen. Now the Intrepid was roaring as we sped towards Park Ave. We stopped at Park, and the guy had turned right towards Hazel Ave. and he was hauling ass away from us. After Ralph turned and had gotten us up to speed, for the first time, I wondered where the hell my seatbelt was. I was sitting on it. Too late. We caught the SUV at the light, waited for it to change, and followed him a ways up Hazel before firing up the lights. He pulled over by Ellis' beer store. It was pouring down rain at this point. It was 2:35.

The driver was a young dude and he was very courteous and very, very cooperative. Almost too much so. Even this non-cop was beginning to suspect something fishy was afoot. Looky here! Another suspended drivers license. He was instructed to park it in the lot. Then he was quizzed about drugs and gave all of the right answers in his mind, while unknowingly telegraphing all of the wrong answers. He was asked if he would object to a search of the vehicle and again, he was very cooperative. Looky here! A nightstick. He forgot about that. Whoa! What's this white powder in these Zip-lock bags? Um..baking powder for his seizures. And these bags of pot? Then he started babbling away. He forgot. His girlfriend. He mentioned having just started a new job. He has two kids, aged 4 and 7. Yessir, I do smoke pot, but nothin' else. I could barely follow the now meandering saga. Time for him to be searched. Looky here! A rock of crack cocaine in his pack of smokes. Time for the handcuffs again. Time for a cage again. Time for Truck 51 again.

I could feel compassion for someone hooked on drugs, but after he mentioned his too young children, all I felt for him was contempt. In all likelihood, these two kids will probably be under-achievers if not much, much worst off. Way to go, Dad!

See ya

By 2:58 he was rolling in the cage and another unit was guarding the SUV until Truck 51 arrived. We headed back to headquarters for another wonderful round of paperwork.

At 3:05 we were back near the cell block and the prints were being taken. By 3:20 or so, my shift was over.

Earlier, I had heard another officer jokingly state that the "Anti-Crime Unit" was creating work for him with all of these arrests. All of these arrests? One thing that needs to be noted here is that according to our 2-man unit, this was a very slow night.

I can tell you this much with certainty, I do not possess the correct temperament for this job. Dealing regularly with the caliber of the people I encountered tonight, I would get myself in trouble sooner or later. I was surprised by the complete professionalism of these guys at all times, no matter what. Even while they were arresting people, they were offering good advice, they were counseling, they were steering some towards agencies that could help, and they were courteous, if not pleasant while doing so. That's not how I pictured them being during the entire shift. I'm sure they can mix it up with the best of them, but they don't give anyone a reason to want to mix it up by how they carry themselves. Is that a direct result of having experience? Is it a result of excellent training? Or is it a result of having hired the right people? It's probably a bit of all three, but I know damn well that not every person wearing a badge is as professional as these two guys.

So that's my account of one slow shift spent with our "Anti-Crime Unit." Scroll back through it and count how many minutes were spent on anything but police work. Four minutes for a coffee. Two minutes for a bag of chips. And no donuts.

Rather than being treated to sniping on the pages of SAYSO, our cops should be treated with the respect that they earn every day.

There's never a cop there when you need one? It depends on where you look.

M.C. Killer Coors

If this post is loaded with typos, cut me some slack. I knew it was gonna be a long one and I was in a hurry.


"Anti-Crime Unit"

Total Arrests since 9/0/01...284

Firearms Siezed...28
Field Interviews...588