I asked Schneider what happens out here at 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning. He said, “People get arrested.” And a common thing to get arrested for nowadays is methamphetamine. Since crystal meth can keep people awake for two or three nights in a row, not to mention agitated and paranoid, it’s not uncommon for meth users to cross paths with the cops. He said he hardly ever sees other drugs, rarely cocaine or crack, infrequently heroin. Cops don’t bother with small amounts of marijuana, but if they find it on you while frisking you, and they find nothing else and kick you loose, they make you dump it out on the street — probably more painful to a dedicated pothead than a ticket or even an arrest.
I was wondering if there was a pie chart (I love pie charts!) somewhere that estimated what percentage of people were awake through the night because of controlled-substance consumption, plain old insomnia, jobs, night terrors, other. I think it was in the “other” category that I used to live my nocturnal life.
We cruised around Chula. Schneider has a more or less regular area to cover, which he can leave in an instant if he gets a call. He follows his nose, and his instincts, around. He glanced down a side street and saw a car stopped, lights off, in the road. Why? Drug deal, a hooker? He checked it out and it was a woman he’d busted before, but this time there was no bad business going on. A little later he noticed an old Cadillac pulling in to a convenience store. Two males, one white, one African-American. He waited for them to come out, then followed them to a light, where they failed to come to a full stop before taking a right. He pulled them over. They said they’d driven the several miles from San Diego to Chula to this convenience store to get a Popsicle. Officer Schneider said, “They don’t have any 7-Elevens in San Diego?” He invited the driver, the black man, to step out and asked if he could search him. He consented. There was a local TV clown where I grew up who would pull a huge number of things, including dozens of bananas, from his trick suit. That was his whole act. I thought this guy was auditioning for the part. Schneider held the man’s laced-together fingers behind the man’s back with his right hand and went through the man’s pockets with his left. Onto the trunk of the car went one white lace-topped woman’s sock, a soda can, three or four packs of cigarettes in various stages of depletion and a couple of brands, a pin for a bicycle pump, two or three disposable cigarette lighters, a few pencils, a woman’s long nylon stocking, a candy bar, napkins, change, an empty glassine bag not much bigger than a postage stamp (who makes sandwiches this small?) with slight white powder residue — not enough. Schneider told me later he thought the guy was clean as he searched him: most often, particularly if the officer is getting close, the person being searched squeezes the cop’s hand holding his fingers behind his back. It’s as if squeezing this hand will stop the officer’s other hand from finding the dope or weapon. It’s a kind of involuntary body language, a “tell,” a tactile sign. The cops call the watch pocket of jeans “the bingo pocket” — always a good chance you’ll find a few rocks in there. This guy didn’t squeeze his hand. Officer Schneider had told the white guy to take a seat on the curb. Schneider kind of halfheartedly searched him and then the car. He found a small bag of pot underneath the passenger seat. Schneider had seen the guy ditch it there when he pulled them over. As aforementioned, he dumped the pot on the street. The white guy was just finishing up an ice cream cone. He looked a little sad. Officer Schneider seemed to take no joy in this.
At another stop later, a backup cruiser arrived with two officers in it. In Chula, officers ride alone, but backup units arrive with great alacrity. It took me a few minutes to recognize one of the officers: Steve Fobes, an agent in the Family Protection Unit at the Chula Vista Police Department. I didn’t recognize him right away because he was in uniform and when I hung around with him a bit last year, he always wore plain clothes. He was riding as a “ghost”: an experienced cop who rides along with a new cop. It’s one of the last phases of police training. He doesn’t advise or even speak a word to the young cop he’s going around with — he’s a silent, ghost observer. He then evaluates the young cop’s job. Fobes could talk to me, though, and we did a little. It was almost exactly 3:00 a.m. He mentioned that he’d arrested a guy he was looking for intensely a year ago, a particularly nasty pedophile. He told me then and I quoted him then: “It’s only a matter of time until we get him.” So it should be said here in print: he and his colleagues made good that promise.
We talked on the corner of Broadway and C Street, a clean, well-lighted place. Streetlights are fairly recent — if you don’t count bonfires at crossroads in ancient Athens. It wasn’t until late in the 17th Century, in Paris, that a priest with an eye for a franc obtained a monopoly on lighted watch posts. They were 300 paces apart. You could hire a guard with a lantern to escort you from one to another. The abbé did pretty well for himself, taking a cue from God when He said, “Let there be light.”
About 3:15 a “Code-3 cover” came over the radio and soon we were pushing 125 mph on 5 South. It’s a call that comes maybe once a week and it means “I need help now.” We were the second or third unit there, and Schneider jumped out to help with the arrest. A guy was getting cuffed. It was on the edge of an empty lot next to warehouses. There was light everywhere — from the buildings, streetlights, parking-lot lights, and soon, from a half-dozen cop cars. Yep, people get arrested at 3:00 a.m. You’d be amazed at how little time it takes a whole lot of cops to get to a scene after this kind of call. Schneider was pumped by the ride and the brief struggle. The guy was a parole violator, I believe. There must be many adrenaline-pumping moments in any given day for a cop. Night-shift workers in general have more sleep problems than day-shift workers. Officer Schneider said he had sleep difficulties — insomnia — frequently. Night-shift workers also have more gastrointestinal problems than day-shift workers. They tend to eat poorly. I didn’t ask Officer Schneider if he had stomach problems or ate too much junk food, but if one already has the common night-shift problems and then one’s job also has the potential to get one shot at, a cop on the swing shift might have a tough time of it.