Community Auditions

NEW BRAINTREE, MA April 3, 2013  Every time a police officer is required to enter someones home he or she is placed in a momentary disadvantage.  You are entering someone’s castle as if you are an invited guest.  Arguably, whenever a police officer enters the average home it serves as an audition for whether or not the police department will get a thumbs up or thumbs down on that day.  I understand and espouse the community policing model that regards every citizen encounter as an opportunity to press the flesh and high five a few school children.  You will be judged with each contact you have.  If something doesn’t go just right then you will receive a failing grade – a bad audition.

With every person I meet I am watching for consistency in behavior.  How different is John Q. Citizen on Saturday night from Sunday morning?  Is the man you see heading into mass on Sunday the same guy who raged at you the night before when you had to break up a party that his teenage son had sparked?  They weren’t hurting anybody after all and in spite of being minors using alcohol he had taken all the car keys.  What is all the fuss about?  Was I auditioning or was he on his first audition with me and my crew?

It is well known that parents set the tone for the behavior of children.  They model proper etiquette and provide the tenor for community involvement.  Most fathers wind up coaching youth hockey or little league while the mothers take turns teaching the cub scouts to be brave, courteous, and loyal.  There are some obvious twists to this idyllic portrayal of today’s modern family who audition regularly the the community hit parade.  Some of these community auditions raise the specter of negligence and frank stupidity.

One of my roles is a field training officer.  I am the sergeant that keeps track of the important things new trainees must accomplish before they are free to patrol on their own.  In a sense these officers are auditioning both for the citizens and for me.  On this night we received an E-911 call from the state police.  Cell phone calls regularly are routed through one of the barracks nearby and transferred to our dispatch center.  On this night an emergency call went dead but not after the call taker could hear a flurry of f-bombs being thrown about and a female asking for the police.  It sounded like a large fight and was located on a street in my town.  Not good.

After a survey of the area in which the call had been triangulated we found what appeared to be a large group of males standing around a bonfire.  My training and experience suggested that this might be the very spot we were looking for.  I called for additional cars and we approach the lot just to see what was up?  Remembering that all citizen encounters are auditions we were on our best behavior.  Always.  But we needed to find the female who had made the emergency telephone call because clearly there had been some urgency and there may be someone injured or in danger.  We would deal with this group later.  Meanwhile one of the back-up cars stopped at the home of a neighbor who also had a large bonfire just to see if anyone had called for help? More than one adult at that home was intoxicated and borderline belligerent.  The bellicose homeowner waved me in and strongly urged me to leave the others alone – suggesting to me that he knew the identities of the crew at the bonfire down the lane.  In fact, this group was the parent units of the boys just next door – just having fun.  “They are good boys and have no alcohol” ranted the unsteady former den mother.  I didn’t need to bother going back.  But little did she know about the E-911 call I was investigating.  I was unmoved by her audition and could plainly see she needed some spit and polish on her act.  It was her niece who called 911 and she knew it.  This from a woman with whom I had had prior contact after giving her son a citation for operating his 4-wheeler on the road and refusing to stop.  She believed I was unfairly targeting the newly licensed operator.  I suggested that he may not have the maturity to be driving a car. She went directly to the chief of police to report my insolent remarks.  At this point neither audition was going well.  I felt like a circus clown who couldn’t raise a smile in his audience.  I needed to speak with the female who called 911.

Finally her father emerged from under the circus tent and confided that it was his 15-year old daughter who had called.  She didn’t get along with her cousin who was hosting the group next door and she went home after the exchange of niceties.  She was fine.  Very well, I would clear the call once I spoke with the person who had felt threatened enough to call 911.

The house was dark.  Not a single light was on.  The precocious teen answered the door and in the shadow behind her I could see a large figure of a person.  Reluctantly she turned on the kitchen lights revealing a 19-year old male whose vehicle we had run just a few minutes before. “Are you boyfriend and girlfriend”? I asked,  No. The male stated he just wanted to go to sleep – a bleary eyed non sequitur. He too was intoxicated and from a town quite a way from this house and had no healthy purpose for being with this young woman that I could see.  His audition with me went poorly.  I suspect he was working magic on the little girl but it failed on both my officer-in-training and myself. He was arrested and taken into protective custody.

In all, 6 underage drinkers went to jail that night.  Most of the parents who were called to our station were grateful and respected our decisions as they picked up their kids.  The parent of one male who was handcuffed asked why that was necessary and could care less about officer safety. He too would speak to the chief. This triggered an age-old debate about handcuffing juveniles but in the end I want to go home at night and I want the officer’s trained by me to be safe.  It was a night of auditions some good and some bad.  The father of the girl who called 911 won’t get my vote for his act.  He called wanting to know why we had taken away the man with whom his daughter had been spending time – another non sequitur I thought.