One of my partners, Sean, was notified to appear today as the subject of a recent civilian complaint. He is the most soft-spoken of the members of my team, the most popular, and also the senior man, so it came as a surprise to learn that he was “no good.”
When I started as a cop, it was commonly held among the police officers I met that if one was an active police officer, one could expect about one civilian complaint a year. Right on schedule, about a year after the academy, I got my first complaint. I was in traffic court. A cop from the neighboring precinct whom I knew from the police academy approached me. He told me he thought the motorist who was contesting one of his tickets was carrying a gun. He asked me to help him stop and frisk the man. We found the man in the waiting room. He did have a bulge on his right side at the waist, under his shirt. We confronted the man and asked him to put his hands on the wall. He complied, and we discovered that he was carrying a very large pager. He was understandably angry at having been waylaid. He vented this anger by calling us every name he could think of. In the barrage of insults, I was unable to apologize for having stopped him mistakenly. Months later I received notice to appear at the Civilian Complaint Review Board. I was informed that he had alleged that we had stopped him for no reason and then smashed his face into a wall. The board ruled that the complaint was unsubstantiated. It could neither be proved nor disproved. That remains my only civilian complaint, but it is on my record and always will be.
It seems as if the belief that one complaint a year is the price of police work has gone out the window. If I had one complaint for each of my eight years, the newspapers would call me a persistent offender.
While working buy and bust, my partner Joe and I, minus the indisposed Sean, witnessed an odd little scene. There was a cluster of men struggling with each other next to a cluster of taxi cabs all facing different directions. We identified ourselves, and the cluster of men unfolded to become three cab drivers holding a very agitated young man. One cabbie had a bloody nose. One was crying his eyes out, and the third and largest one had the young man in a full nelson. All at the same time the drivers tried to tell us what happened. As this was going on, other cabs would pull up and the drivers would leave off shouting at each other, me, and the young man to greet the cabs and presumably tell them everything was under control. What we eventually were able to piece together was that the young man had attempted to stick up the first cab. He had no gun, but when the driver proved reluctant to hand over the cash, the young man sprayed him with Mace. This was witnessed by the second cabbie, who stopped his car in traffic and valiantly tried to apprehend the robber. The young man, quite spry, punched this cabbie in the nose. A third cabbie stopped, and among them they overwhelmed the young man.
The cabbie with the bloody nose kept yelling, “He is killing me!” and pointing to the young man. I believe he was just confusing tense and the severity of his injury. I told the full-nelson cabbie to release his prisoner and pushed the young man over the trunk of one of the cabs. I got my handcuffs on one of his wrists. At this point the man began howling that I was violating his civil rights. As I tried to get the other wrist into the cuffs, he pushed himself off the car and took a swipe at me with his free hand. Joe helped me put him properly in cuffs, and we pushed him back down on the hood of the car to search him. He began screeching that we were doing this only because he was Hispanic. At which point I took a good look at his face. The thing was, he didn’t look Hispanic to me.
My second civilian complaint is long overdue.