I was working the day shift, cruising through a residential area when dispatch advised a 911 call was coming from a house in my vicinity. I volunteered to handle the call.
I parked a few houses down from the address, a normal procedure, so I didn't alert the suspect I'd arrived and make myself a juicy target. As I walked up to the house, I noticed a garden hose sprawled across the dried-up, weed-infested lawn, a broken tricycle on the walkway, and candy wrappers strewn about.
When I knocked on the door, a short, heavyset woman with a flustered expression cracked open the door and peeked out. Her short gray hair was only partially combed. Her face was grooved with wrinkles and void of makeup. Although it was late afternoon, she was still in her ankle-length robe and tattered green slippers.
I told her we had received a 911 call from the house and asked if anything was wrong. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't think so. Let me check with my granddaughter." I heard teenage girls giggling in one of the bedrooms down the hallway of the house.
Many 911 calls are pranks, kids having fun at the expense of the police department, wasting countless dollars in resources and time.
Worse still, after going to hundreds of these prank calls, officers wrongly, but understandably, let their guards slip a little. Once this happens, they open themselves up to being hurt or killed. The giggling signaled that this was one of those prank calls. I made my mind up right then that if this was a phony call by a bunch of teenage girls with nothing better to do, I was going to hand out a first-class scolding.
"Bring your granddaughter to the door," I demanded. In a few seconds she returned, without her granddaughter. "My granddaughter doesn't want to come to the door. She told me to tell you that everything is alright and for you to leave." That was the last thing I wanted to hear. There was no way she was going to dismiss me like that. The girl had a scolding coming, and I was just the person to do it.
Sensing that the grandmother was allowing the granddaughter to boss her around pushed a button for me. I have no patience for adults who shed their responsibilities and allow the children to run the show. However, choosing not to have children has left me unprepared to deal with conniving, rebellious teenagers, and somewhat unappreciative of how difficult it can be.
I looked the grandmother in the eye and said, "Go back and bring your granddaughter to the front door. Now!" She sighed, and with a sheepish look on her face disappeared back into the house. Several minutes passed, and she came back, "She told me to tell you she's in the bathroom." This lit my fuse. "Bring your granddaughter to the door now, or I'll arrest her for reporting a false emergency." I couldn't do that, of course, but my mouth was working faster than my brain.
The grandmother shut the door and her slow, heavy footsteps faded into the back of the house. More giggling came from down the hallway, soon followed by footsteps coming to the door. I figured they had laughed at the old woman and sent her back to me empty-handed, but I was wrong. The door creaked open a few inches. A girl's arm slithered out of the crack of the door and the arm extended out to the elbow. The slender fingers curled into a tight fist until the delicate knuckles turned white. I didn't know what to think, so I stepped back. I expected her to flip me the bird, but she didn't. Instead, she rolled her fist to the side, so I could see her thumb and index finger. That's when I saw the red lipstick drawn on her fingers, forming a mouth. Drawn over the upper lip with eyeliner were two eyes, complete with eyelashes. As it dawned on me that I was facing a hand puppet, a little voice behind the door said, "Everything is fine officer. You can go now." This was followed by an outburst of giggling.
I felt a little dizzy as I realized I was standing on the front porch thinking how best to negotiate with a hand puppet. I had no intention of going away until I had some face time with this disrespectful girl, and it became apparent that she had no intention of opening the door to let me lecture her. The more I demanded that she open the door, the more the puppet assured me everything was fine and that I should leave.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw neighbors standing in their driveways watching me talk to the hand puppet. I don't have a poker face. When I get embarrassed or angry, my face lights up like a red beacon. I tried to keep my back to the neighbors so they wouldn't see how embarrassed I was. I could feel the heat coming off my face.
The police academy training had prepared me for many different scenarios, but this was a chapter that wasn't in the manual; I was breaking new ground. At first I wanted to scold this girl for playing with the 911 system. Now I just wanted to get off the porch before another cop drove up and caught me matching wits with a hand puppet–and losing.
Desperate, I said, "You open this door right now, or I'll wait for you to leave your house and give you a ticket." I knew this was a bluff and unprofessional, but when arguing with a puppet, one needs to be creative. Hearing my thinly veiled threat, the puppet's smile faded and the door opened ever so slowly. A cute teenage girl with shoulder-length brown hair and a pixie nose poked her face out and calmly asked, "Now, officer, was that a nice thing to say?"
Batting her big brown eyes and giving me an impish grin, she waited for my response. She reminded me of my niece, Emily. As an uncle, I was woefully unprepared to deal with a teenage girl. I knew I was on thin ice with my empty threats. Now that the door was open, I could at least salvage my self-esteem by speaking to her face-to-face. However, the sooner I got off the porch, the better. I leaned toward her and said, "I'm going to let you off with a warning this time, but don't do it again." She smiled sweetly and said, "Oh, thank you so much, officer." I might have snorted. I don't remember. I just remember stomping off the porch, almost tripping over the garden hose as I cut across the dried-up lawn.
While sitting in the report writing room, winding down after the shift, I made the mistake of telling some of the guys about talking to the hand puppet. They thought it was hilarious, especially the dads with teenage daughters.
The next morning I walked into the briefing room and took my seat in the rear of the room as usual. I should have known something was up when I saw all of the officers sitting quietly, staring at the briefing Sergeant. Normally, they are so busy gossiping with each other, you have to shout out, "The briefing is starting." When the briefing sergeant saw me sit down in the back row, he closed his notebook, looked up, and said, "Before we get started, would anyone like to say good morning to Sergeant Howsden?" With that, fifteen officers turned around and raised their left fists into the air. Each fist was decked out with ruby red lips, tiny black paper hats and ties. In a chorus of high-pitched voices, they all said, "Good morning, Sergeant Howsden!" I just wished the chief hadn't picked that day to sit in on the briefing.