And THIS is why my job SUCKS.

Posted: March 4, 2008 in Life

 There’s a lot of detail left out of some of this. Sorry, but I can’t give but so much information about this and not violate my oath and certain laws.


 Everybody says that their job sucks. It’s part of the working life. Anytime someone says that their job sucks, you pretty much know what’s coming. They’re going to tell you about the bad boss, the money, the guy that does nothing but gets ahead anyhow, etc.

But my job sucks for different reasons. Oh, sure there’s all of that other stuff, but there’s stuff that makes that look as trivial as it really is. In the last two weeks, I’ve had two of those nights.

I’ll start with the “little” one first. It also happens to have been the first of the two anyhow. Friday about two weeks ago, another officer and I got a call to check some people out late in the shift. When we got there, we found a group of ten waiting for a chartered limo van to pick them up and take them home.

 Quick talk to the group and we find out that it’s a big party for the birthday girl. She turned 21 that day. Nice kid.

Two of the ten had been acting a bit stupid though and had a complaint called in on them by a security guard. We pulled the two of them aside and started talking to them about what was going on. We explained that we were going to give them a “warning” since what they did wasn’t all that, but we did have to run their information to document the contact with them. The guy handed me his ID. The girl said she didn’t have any on her.

Although, she said that while swaying slightly back and forth in that “I may have had one too many” way.

I told her that I knew she had ID since she’d been club hopping. No ID, no service. She’d been drinking so she had ID. She looks at me with an “oh, shit” look and slowly pulls her ID out of her pocket. ID that said that she was not 21. She’d been hitting off of everyone’s drinks all night and got a little more tipsy than I think she intended.

Long story short on this one. She seemed like a good kid. My gut was telling me not to jam her up and run her in. The fact that she was so scared that she was about to wet herself and didn’t get crappy with us helped in that department as well.

But this is where I was stuck. My only two choices were to run her in or let her go. If I ran her in, then I was giving a permanent criminal record to someone who was just being a dumb kid doing a stupid thing. And something that I did once or twice at that age.

We opted to scare the crap out of her to the point that she was crying and then tell her that we were cutting her and the birthday girl a break. We made it clear that we had her name on file and that if any of us came across her drunk again before 21 that it was a fast trip to lock up. The group got on the limo van and went on their way. I’m still not sure that she didn’t pee herself before she left.

Now, you’re asking what sucks about that, aren’t you. What sucks, is that there used to be a better option. Back in the day, back in my father’s day as an officer, we could have sent everybody else on their merry way and held onto her. She wouldn’t have been under arrest mind you. Nooooo. We would have called her parents and told them that they could come pick up their drunk under age daughter from the station.

You get a scared spitless kid who then gets a really ticked off parent picking them up after a long drive and making it an even longer drive home for the kid. The kid catches hell, gets punished by mom and dad and maybe they don’t make this particular mistake again.

But we can’t do that now. Laws written to protect us from liability and the public from abuses of power have kinda stepped in the way. Yeah, those laws do some good, but they sometimes hamper our ability to actually do something that might help keep someone from being a repeat screw up and getting into even worse trouble later.

See, we sent her off into the night scared. That might do some good. But it might not as well. Her friends could have been going down the road telling her that she really pulled one off and that we were being kill joys. She could later think that she got one over on the system once, so she can do it again next time. And, somehow, I don’t see her or her friends mentioning to mom and dad that she just missed getting arrested for drunk in public under age.

You hope you did the right thing. You hope that it’s not going to bite you later when you hear about them doing something like it again and hurting themselves or someone else. But if you’ve only got the two options, you have to choose one and hope for the best.

But, like I said above, that was the “little” suck. Here’s the big one.

Four days later I got a call that presented to me a man who has literally fallen through the cracks of the system. I was confronted with a man that will either cripple or kill himself, cause someone else to be crippled or killed or really mess up someones life in a serious way. And there’s not a God damned thing that we can do about it.

This man (we’ll call him John after John Q. Public) is a mental case. He’s not violent and he’s not immediately noticeable as a mental case. Well, unless he’s crossing the street.

That’s what we got called about. See, John tends to cross the street in a rather… unusual manner. If john wants to cross the street at 7th and Broad Street, he starts crossing the street at 11th and Broad Street and walks a long diagonal path through the traffic. And in the case of my little get together with him, he was walking through the rush hour traffic.

And he has no clue that the cars are even there while he does it. He looks straight ahead like a robot, never acknowledges the traffic and strolls on about his merry way. We gave him a warning, his third, and sent him on his way to the shelter that he stays at. I stopped him again three hours later walking straight into the cars on Broad Street again.

This is where the problem comes into it. In those three hours, we called the magistrates, we called Crisis (they deal with mental subjects) and we spoke with some of the city guys who have dealt with him since he showed up in the city a few months back. The long and short of all of that is that there’s nothing we can do with him.

We can’t really charge him with a crime beyond, basically, jaywalking. That will get him a date in traffic court, but it won’t get him off of the streets. Crisis won’t take him. They’ve taken him before, evaluated him and stated that he no longer qualifies for detainment and treatment. They said that the rules that govern them have been rewritten several times over the last few years with too much focus on money and not enough on helping people. Now, they cut loose people that would have been treated only a few years ago. And the city has been running into dead ends with him for two plus months.

I wrote him for basically crossing outside of the designated areas, gave him his court date and let him go. and a few hours later, he was reported for doing the same thing again.

I’ve spent over a week looking stuff up to try and find a way to get this guy off of the streets. I’ve made calls, looked up codes, looked up obscure references in the law codes, looked up court rulings and generally fried my brain over this. The end results? Just what I said above. We can’t do a thing.

If it hasn’t already sunk in as to why this really sucks, here’s why.

John is so mentally incapable of looking out for his own health, welfare and well being that he’s going to get himself hurt, injured, crippled for life or killed. And we can’t do anything about it. And, believe it or not, it’s worse than even that.

If John causes a driver to swerve to avoid him, then the results could be that car hitting a pedestrian, someone on a bike or another car. John’s mental state and street walking could then actually cause the injury or death of someone else. And we can’t do anything about it. And, believe it or not, it gets worse yet again.

Think about the driver. Imagine if you were the driver. You’re zooming down the street, your heading home after a long day at the office and then, seemingly out of nowhere, John steps right into the front of your car. You cripple him. Hell, you kill him. How many times will people have to tell you it wasn’t your fault? How long until you stop seeing him bouncing off of your hood? How long before you get over the feelings created by, your fault or not, you killing a man?

And we can’t do a damned thing.

So, yeah, one week of working at this to finally be told that John has officially fallen through the cracks. The law is restricted in what it can do to him and the mental health agencies have been crippled by the penny pincher crowd to the point that they can’t do anything for him.

Well, there’s one thing we can do. We can wait until the inevitable finally happens. And, thanks to the area he now frequents every day, I’ll either be on hand to hear about it the day it happens or I’ll be here to see it happen.

And THAT is why my job SUCKS.

  1. Mimi says:

    I loved this. Very well written…

    And that’s a very frustrating position to be in. You’re right. It sucks.

  2. Micha says:

    Jerry, you are a very conscientious police officer. I also agree that this post is also very well written.

    I was wondering if in the case if the drunk girl you had the option of calling her parents and informing them of what happened and still keeping it unofficial? Or maybe if you were intimidating enough you could get her to call her parents?

    As for the second case, it seems the law and the system is failing you here. You could ask Bob Alfred for legal advice, and others could provide you with better advice on the welfare/mental health aspect of it.

    If, at it seems, the system doesn’t provide a solution, could the community? Is there a shelter or church somewhere that keep an eye on the guy, make sure he doesn’t stray outside and into danger? Is there some charitable business or institution that could offer him a job that will keep him away from the streets? Is there a more responsible homeless person who could keep an eye on him in exchange for something that you as a police officer could offer? I don’t know, I’m just grasping at straws here. I really have no qualification to say anything.

    Does your job suck? The system certainly does. But as I see it, you at least tried to do something as much as your place in the world could offer. It sucks that you are not in a better position to help, but you are in a position to help some, and that’s a good thing.

    I hope you don’t mind, I sent a link of this to my sister Alona, who is studying psychology in Berkeley, and who is working on a Phd about moral dilemmas of Israeli soldiers. I thought she might be interested.

  3. Gardner says:

    Jerry, I hope that our panty-wastes in government read this and can fianally understand what our law enforcement officers deal with daily because they won’t open their pockets a little. I know you do your best with what little our system gives you and that puts you at the top of your profession, because not all officers care enough to follow through.

  4. jjchandler says:

    It’s cool Micha. Don’t mind at all.

    I’ll give you better answers to your other questions when I have some time tonight.

  5. Bill Myers says:

    Jerry, having heard these stories over the phone the other night, I don’t have much more to offer now than I did then. Except maybe that you’re at a point where all you can do is accept that you’ve given it your best shot. It’s an imperfect world.

    Gardner: not to be snarky, but it’s actually pantyWAIST, not “waste.” Pantywaists were undergarments for children consisting of short pants and a skirt that buttoned at the waist. Calling a male adult a “pantywaist” was a way of disparaging his manhood.

    Please don’t take offense. I’m a would-be writer and a champion speller, so these things are of extreme interest to me. Just ask Jerry. 🙂

  6. Sean says:

    For the first situation, with the girl, could you have called her parents? Still let her off with the warning, but also inform the parents? As for John, I wish I had something. I’d love to start something to help people in that and other kinds of situations, but the resources just aren’t there.

    Sorry this took so long to respond, I’ve got some stuff going on.

  7. jjchandler says:

    Micha & Sean,

    I might have gotten away with calling her parents and cutting her loose once, but we’re not sure were we stand on that now. Being that she wasn’t a juvenile, I couldn’t tell her to give me anything beyond her ID without arresting her. While telling her to give me her phone number and calling her parents doesn’t quite break any rules in my department, it certainly skirts a few. Any info that I pressed her for beyond the basic stuff, especially with her being a her, that could be construed by a lawsuit aggressive parent or lawyer as “abusing my authority” isn’t smiled upon in our regs. Our last chief didn’t care because he was too disconnected from his job to care. Our new chief is a by the books, by the numbers and by the letter type of chief. She tends to come down on people for stretching the rules, particularly where departmental liability is concerned. We’re still feeling her out and several of us can’t afford a week on the streets without pay. It’s something that we’re approaching her about to see where we can get some wiggle room and still have the department behind us.


    I’m sorta at that point, but I’ve got about three more weeks to find something that I can use on the court date. When the court date has come and gone, then I’m done since that’s basically my best chance to bring something to the courts attention that might net John some extra off the street time. He could also zone out and not show up. If he does, they put a warrant out for his arrest and he gets picked up for contempt the next time he gets stopped by anybody.

    Not a great solution, but it gets him in the jail. For everyone else, as I told this to Bill on the phone, this is actually a good thing beyond just getting him off of the streets. Once he’s in jail, a deputy can look at him, decide that he’s mental and get someone to check him out and set up some treatment. The bar for treatment is lower once you’re in the jail then it is if you’re free and walking the streets.

    Of course, the big race in that is getting him into the system, if we can, via his court date before he comes across a joker in a badge. There are a lot of cops in this area (and lots of others) that have a different way of dealing with the Johns of the world. It’s called a bus ticket. Can’t solve the problem? Dump it off on someone else.

    That’s actually how we think we got John. He was up in PA and a cop gave him a bus ticket to get rid of him. Lots of that goes on these days. Out where I live, we get a lot of late night walkers that get brought to the county line by the city cops and get told to walk on down the road. I’ve never shared the like for that “solution” that others hold. That may make John not our problem, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

    And before anybody reacts badly to those guys, they’re not that different than me. They’re not being malicious, lazy or cruel. They’ve hit a frustration point and their solution is to move the problem down the road. While the majority of that mindset may be that they simply don’t want to deal with it anymore, a portion of it is thinking that, if there’s nothing that can be done here, maybe someone else will be able to do something about it elsewhere. Some of the guys that do this have been banging their heads into the wall more often and far longer than I. They’ve earned at least a little slack on the subject.

    Gardner ,

    Bill will be by the house later this month. You can slap him with a large haddock then.


  8. Bill Myers says:

    As long as it’s a beer-battered haddock.

  9. Sean says:

    Jerry, as far as John goes, is there any legal way that you can check his background, see if maybe he’s got family somewhere, or some prior military connection, or is there some church group or something maybe that could help?

    And there’s nothing sadder than a drunk fish that’s lost a fight.

    Tasty, though.

  10. Micha says:

    Thanks for the info Jerry. I suspected that the issue of liability would creep its ugly head.

    My sister says: “Interesting… and unfortunate that the system doesn’t have what to offer the mentally ill homeless. I wonder if there are non-profits that would serve him? In the Bay Area, those are very big.”

    Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Either hope he gets arrested or try something non-governmental, assuming one is available.

    Again, thanks for sharing.

  11. jjchandler says:

    The Bay Area? Richmond is a wee bit too far inland to ba a part of the Bay Area, but I get what she’s saying. As for the non-profits, this is what I got back as an email from some old family friends.

    “Sorry, I wish I knew a loophole. I’ve fed many of those same people at Freedom House that you’re talking about, sent them back out onto the streets knowing they’re going to be rolled when they get their gov. check. You have to be with them a couple of minutes to realize that they shouldn’t be out on the streets but in a hospital somewhere. But as you said the rules have changed and so they live in the streets mostly because they really aren’t mentally capable enough to hold down a job.”

    Freedom House is a non-profit. The woman who wrote that and her family have been doing work like that through her church since as far back as I can remember and I’ve known her daughter since I was in the first grade. They run in to it as well these days since even the non-profits are having to beg for funding from the State and the Feds.

  12. Pat Nolan says:

    I hope you dont mind, I followed the link from PADs site.
    Have you tried to get a local hospital to help?
    I’ve worked in an Emergency Department alittle north of Minneapolis for almost 15 years. We serve roughly 4 counties with around 15 cities. We see these kinds of pt’s everyday. We have a couple guys who like to do what your John Q. does but they like to do it on the freeway.
    I’m wondering if when you say Crisis wont take him because they say he no longer qualifies for detainment and treatment is the same thing that we end up doing with these types of folks.
    The Police bring these people to us. It could be they have run out of their meds and have no way to get them refilled, refuse to take their meds, Police picked them up for whatever reason and found the person wasn’t “right” or simply a perp playing a game to delay the inevitable trip to jail. (These folks really piss me off)
    A doctor evaluates the Pt’s mental status usually puts them on a 72 hour hold that guarantees a face to face with a phyciatrist who can a least get them meds, if thats the issue.
    Our problem is we run out of room to admit these Pt’s. Sometimes they sit in our ED for 18+ hours before we find someone who will take them.
    We have even transported them up to Fargo North Dakota because it was the only place open.
    Not sure if any of this helps but hopefully an idea you might be able to use, good luck.
    My brother is a Police officer and hear from him the frustrations you guys go through. They simply do not pay you guys enough for the job you do.

  13. jjchandler says:

    I don’t mind at all, Pat. My blog isn’t an exclusive clubhouse.

    Thanks for the ideas. We’ve looked into some of those and I’ll poke around with some other ideas as well. Of course, by this time next week we’ll be in court. That may help matters somewhat.

    As to what Crisis meant; he doesn’t meet their standards because he’s not violent. If a subject is showing violent tendencies or actually doing things to immediately harm themselves, then they get treatment. They’re have to be attacking others are doing stupid stuff like stabbing themselves in the arm with sharp sticks. “John” just quietly looks straight ahead and doesn’t move or talk unless you ask him to. And, even then, he barely says anything when he talks. Out on the street, he just looks straight ahead and walks obliviously into traffic. He doesn’t yell out, he doesn’t cuss and curse at others, he doesn’t physically gesture at people in menacing ways and he doesn’t, outside of the street walking thing, do anything to distinguish himself from other people. When he’s walking on the sidewalks, you’d never look twice at him.

    Because of the new rules and regs that they and others have, a person has to be an immediate threat to other people’s physical wellbeing or to their own. The fact that he is a threat but that it’s in a way that’s not physically abusive disqualifies him from help. It’s stupid and it’s all based on money.

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