Twin Ohio officers make criminals look twice
"The Shoulders brothers are a dying breed of policeman. They come to work every day and have a blast doing their jobs. They also do an awful lot of good for a whole lot of people."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND — The panhandler wandering the food court at the Tower City mall was loud and aggressive. Cleveland police officer Terry Shoulders offered two options: Get lost or go to jail. The beggar hiked down Euclid Avenue toward East Fourth Street, where he began intimidating an old man.
Suddenly the same cop, now out of uniform, was back in his face. How did he do that?
"Hey, man," said the panhandler. "You just threw me out of Tower City. What the ... ?"
The panhandler wasn't seeing things. This was Terry Shoulders' identical twin brother, Tom. The scenario has played out a dozen times with the Shoulders brothers over the years.
It's like The Patty Duke Show with crack, bad language and violence.
Being identical twin undercover vice cops adds a novel twist to the dangerous situations Tom and Terry Shoulders encounter.
"I have twice as many friends and twice as many enemies," said Tom. "I just don't know who half of them are."
The twins meet more enemies than friends on the streets they patrol.
They have been on the force for 27 years. They look for the people you never want to meet: drug dealers, crack addicts, prostitutes, armed robbers, burglars, bums and gangbangers.
They love their work and the unpredictability that keeps the job from becoming routine.
Like the radio call they got five days before Christmas. "Fifty out-of-control Santas in Steelyard Commons."
"We gotta take this," the brothers said. They weren't on duty, but how often do you see 50 unruly Santas?
The report was exaggerated. It was 50 union members, some dressed as Santa Claus, protesting Wal-Mart. And they weren't unruly. After a chat with Tom, the protesters promised to leave in five minutes.
Their parents came from Franklin County, Ky. After returning from the Korean War, their father, Donald, moved the family to Cleveland and became a police officer in 1958. He retired in 1988.
Their sister, Sue Torres, also is a Cleveland cop, and brother Dennis is a patrolman in New Lebanon, Ohio.
After graduating from West Tech High School in 1977, the brothers joined a para-police program that handled misdemeanors such as barking dogs and parking tickets.
According to the twins, they were glorified meter maids, except that they made felony arrests for burglary and car theft while handing out parking tickets.
They joined the force in 1981. Terry spent four years in uniform in the 2nd District. He became a vice cop in 1986, was promoted to sergeant in 1998 and is now in the 3rd District.
Tom spent five years in uniform, then perched on tall buildings in downtown Cleveland looking for car thieves and auto break-ins.
From 1989 to 2000, he was in narcotics and made sergeant. He has been in the 2nd District vice unit ever since.
Both are scrappy. They're only 5 feet 6, so suspects tend to swing at them. At 48 years old, they don't heal as quickly as they did 20 years ago. They have story after story of broken noses and fingers they've given and gotten; they've been punched, kicked and shot at.
Tom was scuffling with a suspect when a metal bar from a fence pierced his knee. He forced the suspect at gunpoint to carry him back to his police car.
"There are two kinds of a- - - - - - -," said Terry. "Situational and terminal. Most people fall into the situational category. We deal with the terminal ones every day."
Terry is on restricted duty because he tore a rotator cuff in his left shoulder trying to follow a drug dealer over a fence in Slavic Village.
Both brothers swear. A lot. That's how Terry made news last summer when he warned the owner of Spy Bar in the Warehouse District after a nearby shooting.
The owner taped Terry's strongly worded suggestion about closing earlier than usual and not hosting college ID nights. Terry described the bar patrons as "rats" and "pigeons."
"Somebody actually had to review the tape to count how many times I said f- - -.' My nickname is now Sgt. Pottymouth," said Terry, who faces departmental charges over the incident.
Spy Bar attorney Subodh Chandra said there are no hard feelings.
"The owners think Shoulders is a fine officer who needs to know when his authority begins and ends," he said.
Whatever their methods, the brothers get results. In October, Tom and his men were on a Lorain Avenue prostitution detail when they saw two guys don ski masks and enter Ohio City Pizzeria.
Once the pair robbed and left the store, the cops moved in. Tom followed one fleeing suspect with his car. When the 17-year-old pulled a gun, Tom hit him with his vehicle.
The suspect was taken to MetroHealth Medical Center and was released to police that night. He has filed a complaint against Tom.
Hard-nosed officers are warriors against crime
While the twins aren't always popular with those they police, they have friends in the department.
"The Shoulders brothers are a dying breed of policeman," said Lt. Michael Baumiller, head of the Sex Crimes unit.
"They come to work every day and have a blast doing their jobs. They also do an awful lot of good for a whole lot of people."
Bob Shores is neighborhood safety coordinator of the Ohio City Near West Development Corp.
"They are absolute warriors against crime and modest individuals. They don't blow their own horn," he said.
The Shoulders brothers also are popular at City Hall.
"Television has Law & Order,' " said City Councilman Joe Cimperman.
"Cleveland has Shoulders and Shoulders. There is no one like them. They put their lives on the line every day. They are passionate about their jobs. They never stop."
Despite their popularity, even fellow police mistake them for one another.
"Once I was in the Zone Car Lounge with my wife when a friend of Terry's comes by and tells me he's having a birthday party for his wife in the party room," said Tom.
"My wife and I go in, and after a little bit, this guy's wife comes up to me all upset and asks how dare I bring a woman other than my wife to her birthday party. I had to explain I wasn't Terry. I had to show her my driver's license before she believed me."
The brothers oversee units that average 40 arrests a month, not counting misdemeanors such as liquor violations and curfew arrests.
They also assist suburban police when crime crosses city limits.
"We take a proactive approach to crime," said Tom.
He and Terry are scheduled to take their lieutenant's test today, but neither wants to leave his current job.
Officers fighting never-ending battle
On patrol, the brothers are the cats, and the mice are everywhere.
"You chase people from one corner to another," said Tom, while cruising Lorain Avenue just west of West 25th Street, near where he grew up.
"Having a visible presence is a big part of what we do. Prevention. We let dealers know we're watching. They keep adapting to our methods, and we have to keep coming up with new ways to keep them on their toes. Like the Trojan Horse."
In the summer of 2005, Tom was having trouble catching crack dealers in the housing projects. Lookouts hollered when they saw police riding through the neighborhood. So Tom rented an ice cream truck and filled the back with vice cops.
The truck, happy music blasting from the speaker, allowed them to get close enough to drug dealers to pull them in through the customer window.
Patio diners at a café on West 25th were stunned to see an ice cream truck screech around a corner and run a red light before cops poured out of the back, handcuffing a fleeing drug dealer.
"Using that truck cost me $65 in ice cream my guys ate while we were driving around," Tom said.
The strategy was short-lived. The man who owned the ice cream truck company complained that kids were running away from his trucks instead of toward them.
A couple of cops changing lives
The Shoulders brothers still have fun on the job, despite bumps in the road, such as being laid off for four months in 1984, Tom's colon cancer in 2000, and Terry's injuries and hypertension. Both have been married to their first wives for more than 25 years and each has three grown daughters. Terry has four grandchildren.
The brothers spend time together off the job working on each other's home-improvement projects. They ride Harleys and drive pickups.
"We're just a couple of hillbillies," said Tom.
When asked what motivates them, Terry points to a letter in a scrapbook stuffed with newspaper clippings. The letter arrived right after he had been in The Plain Dealer last July for using bad language with the Spy Bar owner.
Dear Sgt. Shoulders
After reading the article in the paper about you, do you ever find yourself wondering if your efforts are really worth it? I wanted to tell you they are.
On May 25, 2002, you arrested me. ... At the time I had been an everyday-using heroin addict/alcoholic for 5 years. You "lectured" me. I took everything you said to heart and have been clean and sober since May 25 of 2002.
For the last five years I have been an active member of A.A., have a very good job and got married in December of 2004 to a man I met in A.A. ... I have a beautiful 10-month-old daughter ...I often wonder where I would be if you didn't "lecture" me that evening.
You make a difference out there and I'm glad this city has men like you in it. Thank you so very much for that day ... me and my whole family will be forever grateful.
Terry said he doesn't remember arresting the woman.
"I'm sure I read her the riot act," he said.
Copyright 2008 Cleveland Plain Dealer
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