The Rug Rat was choked, kicked, beaten, and robbed many times over, and finally stabbed in the back, but it was all part of his job as a police decoy.
After four or five years of foot-beat-on-the-job-training that I got in the Mission District circa 1985, I “graduated “to plain clothes work.
I wasn’t going to immediately be a Dirty Harry type inspector with a sneer and a huge 8-inch .44 magnum wheel gun, but I was on my way.
Yes, Inspector Callahan had a gold star, while mine was still silver, but every journey starts with a single trip and fall. The first assignment I drew once I got outfitted with baggy jeans and a tattered Army coat almost got me shot, and it did send a very tough friend of mine to the ER after he was almost killed doing his job.
There was a wave of predatory street level crimes that had strong-arm thieves attacking senior citizens and other vulnerable people almost daily in certain low-income neighborhoods all across San Francisco.
Just being criminals didn’t mean they couldn’t figure out a clever wrinkle to stimy the Blue Suits. By using the Muni Bus system, these guys would flood a certain area, beat, knock, and drag their victims to the ground, and then disappear to the other side of the city before the overworked District cops could react.
Enter the Police Decoy teams.
The briefing for this assignment had me and selected senior cops checking their health plans and paying for more disability insurance. Like the Kamikaze pilots of the Pacific War, some of us were in training to be the victims of violent crime.
One such person was The Rug Rat.
The chosen “victims” such as Bill, would imitate disabled senior citizens, and wander, limp, and stagger down the streets while under the attentive and hopefully protective umbrella of slightly saner cops like me.
By now some bright light down at the Hall had done a surprisingly decent whiteboard analysis of the crime patterns and locations. We knew that the frequency of these attacks happened in the same time frames as Social Security and Medicare payments, and usually within a three-block running sprint of major bus stops. Map circles were drawn, tape arrows were constructed, and I went out to get some canned Dinty Moore Beef Stew.
With a departmentally approved short haircut, and my (almost required) mustache, I looked too much like a cop. I had a “close cover” street level assignment, as opposed to freezing on a roof top with binoculars or sitting in a beat-up plumber’s van drinking cold coffee while trying to stay awake.
One glance would give me up. So, the trick was to make people NOT want to look at me when I was lying in a dirty doorway imitating a wino.
I thought if I poured the beef stew all over my coat, I’d be disgusting looking enough that I’d not get a second glance. To make sure, I poured apple juice on the concrete near where my belt buckle would be, if I was wearing a belt instead of some gnarly looking twine.
The trade-craft bull sessions before we all went out were very instructive. The “victims” were all carrying marked money, and fake credit cards. This was the “cheese” in our traps. The close cover guys like me were the inner ring of security, while there were people watching us while we watched the bait-cops. We were the “Rugs” that covered the Rat.
“Watch from the corners of your eyes” was good advice.
The timing for most of assignments was of course at night, in already very dark smelly alleys and garbage littered urban centric drug ghettos. Naturally, I wore cheap sunglasses.
My intention was to feign an alcohol induced stupor and watch the cheese carriers while they were being stalked by these thugs. At one point I think I was actually accepted and authentic looking, because a real drunk tried to pull off one of my shoes because he had lost his own footwear and wanted mine.
Being a true method actor, I waited until his intentions were clear, and then I kicked him sharply in the face. He didn’t even notice and wandered off into the dark. I was told later that my cover officers on the roof above me almost fell over hysterically laughing at this encounter.
So much for the Apple Juice defense.
We did this very real street theatre so often that we sometimes forgot our limitations once back in polite society.
I was driving home one night after “sleeping” in a doorway in the Haight-Ashbury and stopped off at my local corner store to get a snack and a bottle or seven of beer. I’d been coming to this place for over four years by then, but when I walked up to the counter tonight, I saw the owner lady back away from me, while her teenage son reached under the counter where I knew their shotgun was hiding.
Freezing my hand that had reached under my disgustingly vomitized coat to get my wallet, I could almost feel the muzzle of the sawed-off 12 gauge pointing up at my face, and my cop hearing swore to me that there was a clicking sound when the safety was disengaged.
“Mrs. Singh, how are you tonight? I’m sorry I scared you, but I was going to a costume party. I’m Dave, the cop that lives around the corner.”
“Hi there Markesh, how’s school at Mission High nowadays? Still hanging out at Dolores Park playing tunes are you?”
The widow Singh put on her glasses, leaned forward a tad, and with relief, smiled broadly back at me.
“Greetings Sergeant, I didn’t recognize you looking like this before.”
“Markesh, please help Mr Dave with his purchase.”
I didn’t un-freeze until I heard the slight thud of a .00 buckshot loaded shotgun ease back into its cradle, and both of sonny boys’ hands were visible.
Shortly after that evening, Bill was slouched up against a mailbox, waiting to be robbed, when a lowest-level skank walked up, and without preamble stuck a 4-inch Phillips Head screwdriver into the Rats back. The Rug guys collared the thug “with extreme prejudice,” and Bill went to the ER in the back of a plain jane undercover car at a highly unauthorized speed. Bill lived because the spike went through his thick leather belt before entering his right kidney.
However, after 256 successful robbery arrests, the Rug Rat era was over that night.
Former USMC Sergeant William (Bill) Langlois was a member of the SFPD EOD (bomb) squad prior to his becoming a Rat. He is to-date the department’s most decorated police officer. He earned: A Gold Medal of Valor, 6 Silver Medals, and 2 Bronze stars for heroism and distinguished service. He was the 1987 National Veterans of Foreign Wars Awardee for National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Bill was also commended by then Mayor Diane Feinstein.
He was most proud, however, of the letter of praise he received from President Ronald Reagan.