As a police officer, what's the most stupid thing you've ever done? Let me rephrase the question. What is the most stupid thing you will admit to having done? We're assuming, of course, it didn't get into the newspapers. If it made the papers, you don't have to admit it because your friends are still talking about it and will be as long as they live.
About 40 years ago, an officer with the Knoxville Police Department was driving around one night lighting firecrackers with a cigarette and tossing them out the window of his cruiser, probably in the direction of unsuspecting dogs and cats. In a careless moment, he lit a firecracker, tossed the cigarette out the window and put the pyrotechnic device between his lips. Somebody -- his partner, a nurse or doctor at the hospital where he had his lip stitched, or maybe even his wife -- passed the story to a reporter and the officer became a legend in his own time. His career certainly ended long ago but the story lives on.
It would be hard for me to pick a single most stupid event because there were so many in my career. But if I had to make a choice, it would probably be the one that prominently featured a PR24 baton, a police adapted karate weapon with a handle on the side. I think they have been largely replaced these days by lighter, collapsible devices. But when I was a street cop, the "the Prosecutor," as it was called, was state-of-the-art.
On the night this particular blunder occurred, I had only recently gone through a training course with the fancy baton, which old timers still called a "night stick" or a "billy club," despite warnings from training officers that such terms conjured up the wrong idea in the minds of judges and jurors. Most cops, however, were still apt to point out that a baton did just as much damage as a stick or a club.
There were two individuals on my beat who had taken it upon themselves to torment two elderly ladies living next door, for whatever reason idiots and degenerates decide such things. I and other officers had made numerous trips there but had been unable to catch either of the suspects in the act of throwing beer cans or cursing their victims. And the victims were afraid to sign a warrant. That particular night, one of the men lingered outside too long and was still in sight when I arrived.
Holding a beer can in one hand, he cast a sneer in my direction and started walking towards the back porch. I decided that the open and visible beer can in conjunction with previous activities there, gave me a sufficient reason to investigate whether the alleged suspect was in a drunken state. Unfortunately, there was a chain-link fence between us, approximately four feet in height.
"Hold it right there," I yelled. The suspect, of course, ignored me. I determined that there was time for me to vault the fence and cut him off before he got inside. In the heat of the moment I had forgotten two important things: I am a relatively clumsy person who did not excel nor even participate in track events as a youngster and I'm only five and half feet tall, which made the fence a considerably difficult obstacle, especially while carrying 15 or so pounds of weaponry, gear, keys and leather.
Still, I would have made it if the handle of my PR24 baton hadn't caught in the fence, just as my legs and butt went airborne. Instead of clearing the fence in an athletic burst, the unyielding fence brought me to a complete stop, held me suspended in the air for a very sickening moment, then slammed me into the grass hard enough to knock the wind from me.
It seemed like a long time as I lay there, knowing that neighbors in all the surrounding yards were watching, as well as the complainants and the at least one smiling suspect. I might have stayed there longer to recover my breath had I not been seized with the adrenaline rush that is usually fueled by anger and humiliation.
Yes, I did arrest the original suspect and his friend before the incident was closed and eventually got convictions on both -- assisted by two officers who arrived on the scene as I made my way through the suspect's gate. Neither of the officers asked me why the back of my navy blue uniform I was covered with grass stain and twigs. I guess the expression and deep red glow on my face were explanation enough.
David Hunter's column, "The Beat Goes On," appears exclusively on the Internet at PoliceOne.com. For information on purchasing Hunter's latest novels, "A Whiff of Garlic," and "The Dancing Savior," or where to obtain Hunter's other works visit his Web page: hometown.aol.com/tnbard/index.html. You can contact David Hunter directly by writing him at P.O. Box 1124, Powell, Tenn. 37849. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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