If you want to be really disappointed...go on a ride along.Solleks observed that the hoi polloi could not possibly understand the workings of the police department until they had ridden along with the police and observed regular operations. I responded that I'd tried to ride along with police and been told to mind my own business, so I felt that Solleks was pretty safe with his comment. Solleks immediately offered me the chance to ride along with him and his partner.
Red hot damn!
Solleks works out of the Scott Park police station (2301 Nebraska Ave., Toledo, OH). He and his partner, Partner, work the 3:00 to 11:00 shift which I'm given to understand means we'll see some excitement. Better yet, the February weather breaks and the temperature climbs to an unseasonable high of around 50 degrees. I have hopes of high speed driving with the lights and siren on. Curbing my enthusiasm, I arrive at the Scott Park station a little after three. The station is nicely appointed with a rough cut stone floor in the foyer and a helpful Sargent behind the ubiquitous glass partition. I'm presented with a list of rules and a release of liability, which essentially states that if a criminal sprays the car with machine-gun fire, the city of Toledo is not liable. Solleks shows up a few minutes after three.
Solleks is not what I expected. For one thing, he's a little short to be a policeman. I meant to talk to him about this, but it slipped my mind. Physically, Solleks is the antitheses of the hackneyed, doughnut munching policeman. By his own admission Solleks works hard to stay in shape, and I suspect his partner does the same. Both officers are fit with the athletic build of a hiker or swimmer. Additionally, both Solleks and Partner are articulate and obviously well educated, possessing excellent diction. As the evening progresses both display erudite legal knowledge along with an awareness of civil rights and practical application that is impressive.
Solleks takes me on a tour of the Scott Park station including the firing range downstairs. The gun range was built by the University of Toledo police department just before the station was sold to Toledo. The range is great, and includes a rifle range and moving targets. I note that the walls and ceiling are somewhat scarred from stray lead, and Solleks explains that the department can use the range for various scenarios, including having a patrol car parked in the middle of the range. In the past, the city of Toledo provided officers with ammunition for regular firearm practice. This is no longer the case, Toledo being dead damned broke and in hock right up to the top floor of One Government Center. I ponder this situation for about two seconds as we walk along the range. I'm a recreational shooter, and I find the cost of ammunition to be somewhat prohibitive. A quick check of Cheaper Than Dirt reveals that good old 9mm Blazer ammunition costs $11.00 for a box of 50 shipped right to my door. Regular practice (in my opinion anyway) requires at least 100 shots per week, meaning one visit per week to the range, and I'd be happier with two visits. That's four boxes per week, meaning that if I'm to stay in shape I'm going to shoot the hell out of $50 a week. That kind of money tends to add up, and I think the city should be picking up this tab for everyone.
Solleks takes me out to the parking lot where I meet his partner, Partner. Oddly the man reminds me of Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon, hence his moniker. Partner looks nothing like Eastwood, being about 80 years younger and lacking in Eastwood's weathered appearance – two things his significant other is likely grateful for. Our patrol car is a Dodge Charger with a very durable partition between the front and back seats. Guess who gets to sit in the back.
I'm tall. I still stand five foot eleven and a half inches in my stocking feet, and I'm carrying a lot of extra weight. I consider the rear compartment with it's hard plastic seat and six inches of leg room. I fold myself into thirds and slide in, trying to find room for my knees. There isn't any. I fidget around and try to find a position that works without overwhelming success. I ask Partner if he'd move his seat up just a little. He agrees, but Solleks objects saying that physical discomfort builds character. I sit sideways with the seat belt buckle digging into my rump. After I locate and move the thing that's sure to cripple me after the third chuck hole, I feel measurably better. Solleks informs me that they'll let me out every time they stop unless there's likely to be trouble. He adds that he hopes the bad guys don't steal the car while I'm stuck in the back. This is my hope as well.
In truth I'm too excited to notice much discomfort. I've been in worse places than the back of a patrol car and I'm still okay, and I want to see some bad guys busted. Solleks shows me the computer system in the car and the listing of opportunities for police work. I count about a dozen items waiting for attention, but none of them are remotely serious, Partner says. Solleks selects one from the list, a burglary which was discovered about 1:30 this afternoon. The criminals are long gone, but a report must be taken and the officers can look the crime scene over. We get interrupted on our way by a call about a possibly suicidal woman at Flory Gardens. Solleks turns on the lights and siren and offers conclusive proof that he knows what the accelerator is for. I'm happy. I estimate our speed at 60 or better. Cars move out of the way. One SUV stops dead in the hammer lane and Solleks stops behind him until he moves to the right. One car in front of us takes advantage of the hole in traffic to pass a half dozen other cars before pulling over. We arrive at Flory Gardens, which is part of the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority and a woman buzzes us in. We find the correct apartment number and Solleks informs me that when two officers team up, one does the driving and the other does the talking. Ergo, Partner will knock on the door and see what's up. I'm tempted to ask if Partner needs to practice what he learned in his last sensitivity class and if Solleks is perhaps mentoring him, but I refrain.
As it turns out, the woman in question is an overweight fifty something living in a one bedroom apartment and she doesn't spend a lot of time cleaning house. The woman can't stop crying. Partner offers some reassurance and tries to find out the problem. It turns out that the woman had her taxes done by a local preparer who told her that she'd get a nice refund check from the IRS. When she called the IRS they demanded a PIN that she didn't have, and that's when the world came to an end. She has bills, she says, and she doesn't know what to do. Given the monolithic labyrinth that is the bureaucracy of the IRS it's little wonder that the poor woman is upset. The IRS is not designed to provide tax refunds, correct information or friendly customer service. Rather, it is obstructive by design. This woman is poor and is near the wrong end of the bell curve. What hope has she?
Solleks and Partner turn in a stellar performance. While Solleks asks a few questions and offers reassurance, Partner uses the phone and dials the IRS, then navigates the customer support automation tree right up to the prompt for a social security number. Partner then passes the phone back to the woman, who tearfully enters her SS number and begins working the system for herself. After a minute she gets a pen and paper and writes a number down; the PIN she needs for her refund check. Partner concludes the visit by offering advice on dealing with frustration (leave it alone for a while until you cool off) citing his own personal experience with fixing his own plumbing. A very frustrating experience, Partner says. I briefly envision Partner lying in a tight crawl space under his house, threatening a leaky pipe with a three pound ball peen hammer. I successfully stifle a laugh.
I try to congratulate Solleks and Partner as we are walking out, but I'm interrupted by a loud argument from an adjacent apartment. An unseen woman screams at someone else. The reply is lost, and she screams again, “Shut the fuck up!” Flory Gardens is depressing, but I'm told that it's much better than it used to be.
We get back on the street and are flagged down by a middle aged man who points down the street. “Those kids are throwing rocks at cars, officer! There he goes, the kid in the red shirt.” I see a brief flash of red that vanishes between two houses. Solleks hits the gas and we hustle down the block, where Solleks and Partner spot a boy in a red sweatshirt walking down an alley. Solleks makes a hard left and we speed down the alley, pulling up next to the boy who is holding a nice, round snowball. Partner rolls down the window and braces the little miscreant in his best no-nonsense voice.
“Alright you, drop the snowball.” Partner commands. The boy complies and Partner follows up with a few more rhetorical questions. The boy is not particularly intimidated. He wasn't doing anything. He didn't throw any snowballs at cars. He didn't hit any cars with any of those snowballs he didn't throw either. Partner elicits an address, which mysteriously changes once the young man is ensconced in the back seat with Yours Truly. The young man is twelve years old, his mom isn't home and he doesn't know how to get hold of her. His sister is supposed to be watching him, but she left for parts unknown. We take the young fellow home and Solleks tries knocking at the door, to no avail. Partner delivers a stern lecture about snowballs and cars with the threat of a return visit should the misbehavior occur again. Solleks suggests that it's time to get some homework done.
We drive over to the site of the burglary, but there's no one home. We'll have to come back later on, Solleks says. Not that it will do much good. The thieves stole four hot water heaters and two furnaces out of a basement, and they are long gone. Solleks says that they are likely crack addicts and will turn the appliances in for scrap. It's unlikely there's much evidence around, which is disheartening.
A few minutes after we leave, Solleks spots what he believes to be a stolen car. We make a u-turn and give pursuit, finding the car parked on a side street with two men standing and talking next to it. Tall Man is laughing and gesturing while Short Man has some money in his hand. When we pull up Solleks and Partner pile out, leaving me in the car. I can see why. Tall Man is high and can't give a straight answer to anything, but instead offers constant commentary on everything. He sees me in the back seat and decides this is an episode of Cops. Solleks fails to dispel this delusion. Short Man is sullen. The two are handcuffed and Partner lets me out of the back. When Partner remarks that Tall Man looks familiar to him, Tall Man retorts that “Not all black people look alike.” It strikes me that he isn't offended so much as he's happy to play the race card and get an argument started with Partner. Partner remains unruffled. Four adults sit on a nearby porch watching us, completely stone faced. They stare at us with less recognition than Excellent Rachmaninoff gives a television sit-com. We are the commercial for Geico insurance; a meaningless interruption to an equally meaningless day. The registration comes back clean and there are no warrants for either man, so we are on our way again. Tall Man has a record that includes two prison sentences and a host of misdemeanors. Short Man has no criminal record, which Partner finds unusual.
We get another hot call about a domestic. It seems that there is a brother and sister fight, and Sister says that Brother pulled a gun. Sister has called nine one one. Partner explains what's going on, adding that Brother probably doesn’t have a gun, but you never know. Solleks throws the hammer down and I get to watch everyone get out of the way again. Fun! We are the second unit on the scene and we learn that Brother took off driving a white Impala. We go looking for the Impala. Solleks spots a white car six or eight blocks away from us and throws the hammer down, but there are two women driving. We continue to search and find a white Impala, which obediently pulls over for us. Solleks and Partner exit, Solleks getting the driver to step out of the car while Partner watches from a distance. I note that Partner's hand is next to his pistol, and so stand back out of the way. It turns out that this isn't Brother, but we have found a lawbreaker anyway. When Solleks asks if there is anything in the driver's pockets he should know about, he gets a confession. The driver has two tiny plastic bags of marijuana.
“Yep, Officer, jus' as soon as I see them lights come on I knows you had me.” The driver is not upset about being busted or going to jail; he's upset about losing his money. It seems that a while back if you were arrested the first hundred dollars of your money was confiscated by the County to pay for your room and board at the County lock up. This policy was successfully challenged in court (innocent until proven guilty) and is no long in force. Solleks reassures the lawbreaker that it won't cost him any money to go to jail, and the prisoner becomes cooperative. I'm amazed. In his mind, going to jail for the night is no big deal. It's just one of those things that happens to everyone. Or something. The prisoner is handcuffed and helped into the back seat. Solleks rides in back and I get to ride in the front with Partner. The front is a lot more comfortable than the back.
On the way to jail the prisoner makes a phone call explaining his recent bad luck to someone. Judging from his reaction the prisoner doesn't get the response he was hoping for, possibly something along the lines of sympathy, bail and rescue from the clutches of the law. Shaniqua Theater begins to develop, but by that time we're at the jail and Solleks tells him to hang up the phone. I learn about the booking procedure and the paperwork involved in processing a prisoner, which is lengthy. Actually, this is an understatement. The paperwork was developed by a team of bureaucrats whose purpose in life is to obstruct real work by those who are tasked with performing it. Clearly these paper shuffling developers are happy filling out forms and so, being good little communists, they want to spread the joy far and wide. Solleks fills out forms on line while Partner handles the evidence. Evidence must be labeled and packaged correctly according to an inch thick book of regulations. It is then placed inside a locker in the downstairs evidence room according to the type, size and disposition of the evidence, as computed by a mystical formula devised by the very same gremlins that are making Solleks life intolerable in the offices upstairs. The downstairs evidence room is the size of a large walk in closet and stinks to high heaven of pot. I learn that our prisoner will be processed and cut lose, probably staying in jail for two hours or so. He'll have to find his own way home. We go back to our car and are about to leave when Solleks sees a vice cop he knows and stops to talk. When he returns he informs me that there are going to be several raids tonight, and we might luck out and get to watch a raid in progress. Prophetic words, as it turns out.
As soon as we're back on the street we get another call. Another unit is going to serve a felony arrest warrant on an escaped prisoner and wants to know if we'd like to help. “Would we?” I ask Solleks, who affirms that, in fact, we would. We're after a man who has two felony arrest warrants, one for felony escape and another for felony assault. This could get interesting. We are the second unit on the scene, and we arrive quietly and park down the street against traffic with our lights off. I'm a little worried about being hit by a car, but I discover that it's amazing how much leeway other drivers will allow a police car. The officer serving the warrant, whom we'll call Al, knows the criminal by sight and thinks he's inside the house on the corner. This is a two story home in a lower middle class section of town. The lights and TV are on, the drapes are closed. Solleks and I stand across the street and watch while the officer knocks at the door. A large dog sounds the call to battle stations. Shortly after the authoritative knock the drapes next to the door move aside briefly, allowing one of the inhabitants to make eye contract with the officer on the front porch.
The criminal, Gerry the Genius, follows his infallible instincts and retreats quickly from the window. Shortly thereafter the dog stops barking. No one comes to the door. Al continues to knock loudly, demanding that Gerry come outside and repeatedly assuring everyone within earshot that he isn't leaving without Gerry. No answer. Al says that the dog is the biggest, nastiest thing on four legs that he's ever seen. Moreover, Gerry the Genius has company inside; Trixie Trailertrash and her two little kids are in there with him. Solleks opines that if it weren't for the dog, they'd probably just kick the door open and lay hands (and eventually handcuffs) on Gerry and that would be that. However, there are complications. The solution is to get a Sargent involved and let the Sargent make the call as to how to proceed. The Sargent in question is young; younger than Solleks and Partner. He's something of a string-bean, but I'm told he's a good man. The Sargent tries to get Gerry to come out, but clearly no one is home. The Sargent isn't buying the empty house theory and asks Al if he's sure that's the original Gerry the Genius in there and not a cheap substitute. Because if it is Gerry the Genius, he's coming out in handcuffs; but if there's a mistake there will be hell to pay – we're talking major liability here. Al states emphatically that, yes, that is the original Gerry the Genius who escaped and now is wanted back. Fine. The Sargent has another try at the door, then gives up in disgust. Send in the SWAT team.
Traffic is blocked off and more squad cars arrive. The Fire Department sends an ambulance in case anyone springs a leak. The Lucas County Dog Warden sends a deputy in an official dog truck, because there is a dog inside. By this time the neighbors have tipped to the fact that something might be up and are standing on their respective front lawns, enjoying the show. The Toledo SWAT team arrives in the SWAT truck, which is a converted ambulance. Two SWAT team members come out and survey the situation, trying to decide how best to proceed. They amble over and confer with Al and a few other officers while the rest of the SWAT team piles out of the truck and takes up a position right across the street from the house, using a police car as potential cover. About this time the EMS truck decides to move and park on the side of the street just down from the SWAT truck, thus allowing the stacked up traffic into what might become a DMZ. One of the SWAT team makes a disparaging remark about the general public and steps in front of the line of cars, holding up his hands in a 'stop right there' gesture. He smiles in what is meant to be a friendly manner while his sub-machine gun swings on a harness across his chest. Traffic comes to an abrupt halt and Solleks moves our Dodge to block the street.
It is decided that Gerry the Genius will be given one last chance to surrender. The Sargent gets on a public address system and broadcasts a message for Gerry to come out. There is no answer from the house; not even the dog. Meanwhile I get to meet a few of the men. I'm amazed. I was expecting a group of twenty-something steroid abusers with shaved heads, amped up on adrenalin, anxious to throw some grenades into the house before kicking in the door and laying waste to everything in sight. Not so. A few appear to be as old as I am, a fact easily attributed to clean living and a lifetime of healthy eating habits. Certainly all the SWAT team members are in good physical shape, but none of them sport the overdeveloped physique of the serious bodybuilder. Instead, they appear to have the build of a multidisciplinary athlete. Not all are large men, except one man who is larger than the doorway he's about to break down. He and Solleks are old friends and Solleks introduces me. Keith (not his real name) turns out to be a quiet, thoughtful man of about forty years. I get the impression he'd really rather be doing something else, but since Gerry the Genius won't come out, it follows the police must go and collect him. Keith adds that the dog will be dispatched on the way in, which he doesn't look happy about either. I ascertain that there is a woman and her two children inside, and offer that I feel bad for the kids. That strikes a chord with several officers who agree, and Keith states that he doesn't think much of Gerry the Genius. “He's a real coward.” Keith says. I learn that in many cases, the criminal will send everyone else in the house outside before the confrontation with the police SWAT team gets underway.
In spite of repeated demands, Gerry the Genius refuses to answer or come outside. SWAT will force an entry and arrest Gerry. They plan on shooting the dog on their way in. Solleks and I are assigned to the rear of the house, hopefully out of the line of fire should anything go wrong. The raid itself goes off without a hitch. About a minute after SWAT enters the house, Gerry the Genius is hauled out in handcuffs, kicking and screaming along the way. Gerry is a white male in his mid-twenties, about six feet two inches tall, around 175 pounds and muscular with several poor quality tattoos. He is naked except for his shorts. Even in handcuffs Gerry requires some severe management. He wrestles and struggles against the SWAT members escorting him to the waiting police wagon. The love of his life, Trixie Trailertrash, is escorted along behind him screaming hillbilly hell at everyone within a six block area. According to Trixie, some one or more of the (creative expletive deleted) officers present has made the biggest mistake of their (creative expletive deleted) lives by having the audacity to arrest Trixie for obstructing justice, putting handcuffs on her and stuffing her into a filthy, microbe infested police wagon – and mercifully, some officer shut the door to the wagon. Note that I have taken some poetic license with Trixie's diatribe; there were far more profane expletives than I mentioned.
Solleks opens the communication door to the wagon, allowing a few words from Gerry and a short tirade from Trixie before he quietly asks a very pertinent question: Do you have anyone to take your children? If the kids can't be placed with a family member or a friend, then they'll go into children's services. Gerry and Trixie stop their yammering tirade in a New York minute and Trixie provides phone numbers for her older sister and her mother. Solleks proceeds to call Aunt Responsible and explains that Gerry and Trixie are under arrest and that they'll be spending the night in jail, so someone is needed for the kids. The conversation is brief. Possibly this is not the very first time something like this has happened.
Solleks and I go inside the house. There are two kids in the small family room. The girl is around seven, the boy about five. Both are being entertained by police in SWAT uniforms; neither child seems to be traumatized. A plasma TV is mounted on the wall and the kids alternate between television and friendly police. After about ten minutes Aunt Responsible arrives with two more kids in pajamas. One little boy is gregarious and would much rather play with the police than watch TV. He's barefoot and one policeman carries him over the broken glass from the front door in the living room. Five minutes more and Grandma arrives. She's in her sixties, small, fairly complected and slightly bent over with age. The kids are glad to see her. Neither woman castigates the police nor looks too long at them. I think these women know the real nature of Gerry and Trixie and this late night crises is not a big surprise to either of them. The little boy begins to cry as the group leaves the house. The police feel bad and try to cheer him up, but there isn't much they can do. He's five years old, he's tired and his world has just blown up. That's enough to make anyone cry.
Before Gerry the Genius got undressed and pretended to be asleep he had the forethought to lock the family dog in one of the bedrooms where it survived nicely. Marking the time since Al first knocked on the front door and locked eyes with Gerry the Genius until the moment SWAT kicked in the front door gave Gerry one and one half hours to surrender. Any time he wanted, Gerry could have announced that he was calling the whole circus off and just gone off to jail, which is where he ended up. Instead, it took ten regular police officers, an eight member SWAT team, one EMS truck and one Lucas County Dog Warden truck to extract this silly son of a bitch from his homemade pill box. For her part, Trixie Trailertrash could have gotten her kids dressed, put the dog on a leash and walked over to spend an hour or so with her sister, who only lives a few blocks away. She didn't.
I think Keith is right. Gerry's a coward and a criminal, and we're well rid of him. Trixie Trailertrash can spend a few nights in jail and contemplate just exactly what it was she did to get there. For my part, I feel sorry for the kids and I know that a lot of the police feel the same way. The kids are getting a raw deal and there isn't a whole lot that can be done to help them.
The prisoners are being taken to the Scott Park station, so we get back into the Charger and head over there. All the standing around outside has made me stiff and I have trouble getting into the back seat. Solleks tries to leave without me, but it's no good; Partner is watching him. It's 10:00 PM when we get back to the station and I suddenly realize I'm tired out. I call it a night one hour early. I originally intended to ride along the entire shift, but the back seat is shrinking and it's just a little more difficult getting in and out now than it was at the beginning of the shift.
Suffice to say that I had a great time riding with Solleks and Partner, and I'd like to try it again during the summer. Both men did an absolutely stellar job, and they deserve a merit raise. I was impressed by the SWAT team. The team refrained from any overt use of force as evidenced by the well being of Gerry the Genius and Trixie Trailertrash, neither of whom had a bruise on them after they were arrested.
My thanks to Solleks, Partner and the Toledo Police for an excellent, enlightening evening.