All things considered, I should have gotten involved in the usual Thur$day afternoon poker game in the back room at Zukas, and then left before the last hand was dealt.
Every cop in the San Francisco Police Department had to go through a driving school at the Police Academy, as well as yearly tune-ups.
The E.V.O.C. syllabus (Emergency Vehicle Operating Course), otherwise known as Crash and Bang Day, involved a minimum of classroom nonsense, and a LOT of spinning training cars on the oily skid pad or around the very fun pursuit course.
Our Official Pursuit Policy was to “follow vehicle operating offenders safely while maintaining visual contact” and “continuously notifying Dispatch of locations involved.”
The real way we did things was to out-drive the cronks and wait for them to wreck.
Occasionally this involved “touching” the bad guy’s bumper or rear quarter panel area with the aptly named “push bars” on the front of your car.
Or so I was told….
The Skid Pad was like being really drunk while playing ice hockey at the same time. The Pad was a 200 by 200 sandbagged off square and had gallons of motor oil dumped all over it. It was difficult to stand on, let alone drive in the pretzel shaped lanes at 25 MPH or higher.
The instructors sat in your car, shouting “Correct! Correct!! Correct !!!” or “Oversteer-Understeer.” Occasionally there were references to your individual parenthood or diminished intellectual capacity.
Next was driving on a large high-speed track trying to catch a no-doubt NASCAR rated senior instructor. No one ever caught her, while you’re getting lapped resulted in doing 100 pushups while wrist deep in oil on the Skid Pad.
Fast forward to years later in the Potrero District of San Francisco, where I was working as a Squad Sergeant in the always fun Housing Projects.
I was returning to the Connecticut Street Projects from yet another useless meeting when one of my team put out a “10-25 Code Three” call. This is a red light and siren, balls-to-the-wall, major emergency back-up call for help.
All across the District I heard car engines revving up, with multiple garbled radio calls from Charlie Company coppers trying to find out what was happening and who was in that much trouble.
I got on the channel and told everyone to just head that a-way and worry about protocol later.
(I had recognized the C-Three voice, knew that Paul was doing a buy-bust at 23rd at Connecticut Street and said: “Everybody just shut up and GO. It’s at Two Three at Con”.)
I should have been paying more attention to my own very over the speed limit driving, I guess.
Industrial Street is a heavily semi-truck used road with a very disintegrated surface. Going down it at the posted 25 MPH was unpleasant, while at 60+ it was like driving on railroad tracks. With my radio mic in one hand, and 70% of my attention on the crisis, I belatedly saw a diesel-tractor-truck-rig suddenly pull out from the curb, effectively blocking over half of the road.
“Displacement” is the technical term used when braking is not an option, where you steer AROUND an obstacle rather than impacting it like an axe into a log.
Drop the microphone, put both hands back on the steering wheel, swerve left into hopefully not head-on traffic, but don’t touch the brakes or gas.
Drive AROUND the massive Peterbilt, avoid the now on-coming Postal Service van, then experience a semi-controlled skid into some construction cones that were set up around a huge hole in the ground.
Oh, and equally important; check to see if my coffee had spilled out of its cup holder.
Paul put out an all-secure broadcast moments later.
That was Number One.
After the dust settled, (literally), and my blood pressure normalized, I finished my coffee while motoring to a favorite intersection of mine to rack up some easy stop sign citations
Lead by example.
I got a couple of “rolling-stop” tickets, when a large white sedan blew thru my trap at about 50, without even the pretense of stopping.
I lit up immediately and blipped my siren while trying to see his partially readable rear plate. A block later, as I was wondering if I had a runner on my hands, the old Chevy pulled to the curb, with the wheels now suddenly suspiciously turned outwards towards the road.
My beat cop instincts, and police karma had me uncharacteristically make my walk-up approach from the passenger side of the still running car.
The top of the rear plate was bent down at a 45-degree angle, and I read the information into my PIC radio mic as I got to the right-side rear window. Thru the tinted window, it looked like the driver was trying to see where I was via his driver’s side exterior mirror.
Without consciously thinking, I had unsnapped the gun holster safety strap, and put my .357 into my right hand.
Gun out and by my leg, I “popped” around to peer thru the open right side passenger window.
I saw a long-haired “biker type” peering over his left shoulder with his tattooed left hand on the steering wheel. What suddenly interested me more was the large caliber long barreled wheel gun he had in his right fist. It was pointed exactly at where I would normally be standing during a traffic stop.
The chrome plated .44 was very pretty to look at, especially when it was pointed away from my face.
I pointed my S&W right at the driver’s head and told him loudly to not move and to drop his hand cannon.
With an arrogance no doubt gathered from long experience in violent exchanges with his Hells Angels peers and law enforcement types like me, he slowly began turning only his head to stare straight at me. The rest of him remained frozen
If his gun hand had moved, we both knew that I’d kill him.
Disarmingly quickly, he broke into a big, gapped tooth smile, while flooring the car forward at the same time.
He knew with his gun pointed at the sky that I wouldn’t shoot him, but just to be safe, he slid very low on his seat as his V-8 engine rocketed the car away from me.
Just then of course, the Felony Alert tone came over the car radio announcing that I had just stopped a stolen car wanted in a shooting in South City.
I struggled to put my gun away, put on my shoulder belt, talk on the radio, and close the car windows, while driving one-handed.
He got clean away.
That was Number Two.
My adrenalin supply for today had been used up, so I headed back to the station to fill out the after-chase paperwork.
As I drove into the very wide driveway entrance to my station, one of the new trainee swing-shift cops abruptly backed his patrol car into my driver’s door, producing a very audible CRUNCH.
This was Number Three.
When the rookie saw the sergeant stripes, my very grey hair, and the look on my face as I levered myself out of my now wrecked car, he looked even more unhappy than I did.
He went back to remedial EVOC training the next day, while I wisely decided to not play high stakes poker for a while.