Sergeant Mike was a godsend to us illiterate peasants in uniform patrol when it came to traffic collisions and other arcane and confusing issues of law and disorder.
When he was a newish and simple slick-sleeve cop, he managed somehow to get assigned to the SFPD Traffic Enforcement Detail to ride motorcycles in parades, escort hob-nobbers back and forth, and learn the applied physics of traffic accident investigation. How he got such an assignment so early in his career was a topic of speculation that ranged from who he was sleeping with in Chief Tony’s office, to massive amounts of Jacksons changing hands, or more likely to slanderous rumors of his having incriminating photographic evidence of politicians at play.
Or it could be the oft discounted theory that he was simply VERY smart and good at that sort of thing.
He got sent to the premiere traffic school in the country at the time, Northwestern University in Illinois, with the understanding that he’d pass on this very expensive knowledge to the rest of the Solos (Harley riders).
Then he got promoted to having three gold chevrons on his arm and got assigned to where he became my street boss instead.
By now I’d had more than five years pounding the stained sidewalks of Mission Street, worked in the hellholes that passed as public housing, and gotten more than a little fed up with the lack of justice that the courts down on Bryant Street kept vomiting up.
The final straw was when on a “typical” domestic violence call that had my left arm shattered in seven places, and a subsequent court appearance while still in an itchy white plaster cast. I was blank face aghast when all charges against this mope were dismissed “in the interest of justice.”
My colleagues had to nearly drag me from Department 16 before the ADA was able to hear my semi-loud comments about his sexual proclivities using my childhood Chicago dialect.
Mike took me aside the next day.
“Dave, it happens. It will CONTINUE to happen, and there is nothing either one of us can do. The only solace you can take is that the old phrase “what goes around, comes around” is true. “Karma wins out, you just have to be patient. Now go enjoy Happy Hour at Zukas with your temporary disability bonus.”
He was correct of course about Karma: Two weeks after I got my arm cast sawed off and was painfully going through the motions at PT, I heard that the wife we tried to rescue that afternoon had stabbed her tormentor very dead with a broken wine bottle and was getting a psyche defense evaluation instead of jail time.
Fast forward and I had made grade myself and was working the ever-delightful midnight shift at Potrero Station. Leaving aside that I never had enough solid cops to even hope to honor the “Protect and Serve” mottos on our war weary patrol cars, I enjoyed it.
Part of my new turf was the expansive semi-abandoned Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. After a number of world wars, and a few clandestine Trident Missile launching tests (inside the city limits of San Francisco!), the US Navy and the Federal Government fobbed off these 1600 acres on my city for the bargain price of one dollar.
They “forgot” to mention several hundred decaying buildings, broken down water and sewage treatment plants, and piles upon piles of radiological and chemical waste poured directly onto the dirt, covered only by dull blue canvas tarps, which were charmingly anchored down by small yellow warning signs that said: “Danger Toxic!”
Nature abhors a vacuum my high school science teacher told me once. He was more than right.
With no (authorized) people legally allowed in this area, it of course instantaneously sucked in just about every transient, hobo, methamphetamine lab set up, midnight rave party, and my favorite bunch of opportunistic urban scavengers: The Metal Monsters.
Scrap prices for various grades and types of metal do a roller coaster dance all the time, so it was no surprise that when copper or brass valuations went up, almost all of the buildings in HP were on the verge of being pulled down by this crew of crowbar and cutting torch devotees.
There were more than a few times that the shiny red fire rigs of the SFFD got called out to extinguish fires started by these fast-cutting metal seeking termites.
They were organized, that much was obvious. They had spotters with binoculars, occasionally they would put up roadblocks to slow the cops and firetrucks down, and except for the sparks from gas powered cutting wheels and oxy-acetylene torch flames, they were invisible.
And we almost never caught them.
All in all, it was good clean fun, until they started shooting at the fire guys.
Apparently nothing pisses off a battalion chief in her fancy-dancy new red lighted station wagon, then having the windshield shot out while investigating a smoke complaint at Building 207A.
Got it Captain / Chief / Mayor; Escort the fire trucks and don’t let the guerrilla war in the shipyards escalate to where the press finds out and informs the public.
Subsequently my spotters spotted their spotters, who in turn became runners when my troops ran after them.
We started our own roadblocks because all five of the shipyard entrances that had chain link reinforced gates had those same gates hilariously stolen by the Monsters.
Nature abhors a vacuum, part deux.
With truck and van traffic being restricted by my versions of Berlin Germany’s Checkpoint Charlie, well financed and inventive crooks adapt.
A logoed “Acme Plumbing Supply Company” truck that goes in empty but comes out heavy low to the ground got stopped. I’d seen too many Road Runner cartoons to fall for that gag.
What we had not been counting on though was a water-based invasion, like Iwo Jima or Normandy.
The Monsters had a “fleet” of small nimble shallow draft row boats that they used to float under decrepit Navy piers and pry loose very valuable large bore pure copper WWII fire water conduit$.
Our counter measures involved more cops with large search lights, a favor called in when the SFFD Fireboat did a “training exercise” on the bay nearby, and the “accidental” dropping of lit highways flares between the loose boards of a few piers when suspicious noises were heard in the immediate vicinity.
Mitch: “Hey Lieutenant.”
Dave: “Hey there Mitch! How’s the K-9 cop business? How’s Khan the wonder-puppy?”
M: “Doing good, chewing up the scenery as always.”
D:” What brings you out into the ‘Po?”
M: “Did you hear about the guys who were stealing the copper wires from the streetlights and brand-new houses off Plymouth Way last night? They had black coveralls on, a bunch of drills and saws and had stolen a bunch of copper from the area. They were doing great it seemed until they opened up a big main street level vault and started pulling stuff out.”
D: “No, I hadn’t got to reading that report yet.”
M: “Yeah, apparently they got too ambitious.”
D: “Why do you say that?”
M: “They didn’t know the power was on in that vault.”
D:” What happened?”
M: “—ZAPPPPPP— Three went to the hospital from direct current burns, two more from the fireball. The District plainclothes guys figure with what they found in their van, they can link them to a bunch of the shipyard stuff, and even better they have solid clues as to them off loading metal to the recycling guys over on Innes Street.”
Sgt Mike was right.
A non-judicial solution!