We have to enforce the laws and tell people not to do things they think they have a right to do. Turn down that radio, sign this ticket, stop beating your wife, leave that other guy’s property alone, don't drink and drive, stop taking drugs.
  • We have to enforce the laws and tell people not to do things they think they have a right to do. Turn down that radio, sign this ticket, stop beating your wife, leave that other guy’s property alone, don't drink and drive, stop taking drugs.
  • Image by David Diaz
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Cops love to talk about their work. They can’t get enough war stories, either their own or those they hear from other cops. Their shop talk is frequently impulsive, sad, and heartwarming; it is also earthy and often reeks of the here-and-now. There is little time for police-approved restraining methods when a guy is trying to stab you in an alley fight. The stories cops tell one another are full of descriptions, emotions, survival techniques, and bravado that few civilians understand or even agree with.

A good majority of the time, cop talk is downright funny. As most standup comics can tell you, people and their problems can be damned entertaining.

Cops love to talk, but only to a select audience. Spouses, friends, and beer buddies may get a kick out of their crime-busting stories, but as a rule, the public gets apprehensive after too many tales about violence and street scum. Most cops, therefore, spend most of their time talking to the only logical audience: other cops.

Police work is deadly, demanding, demeaning, and dull. The expression “hours and hours of boredom, followed by minutes of sheer terror” was coined for police officers. Few jobs expose a normal human being to so many sides of life. What other job gives you nightmares? Where else can you write a parking ticket on one block and be forced to kill an armed robber coming out of a market a hundred yards away?

The vocabulary of police work is almost like a foreign language: cops talk in terms of penal codes, radio codes, and street slang. Every cop in this city knows what his or her colleague means when he or she starts out a story with, “I stopped this real dirtbag the other night...”

Citizens who go on ride-alongs are amazed to hear the constant crackle and chatter of the radio. They often wonder aloud, “How do you keep track of everyone in this area, listen for your own call sign, and still operate the car?” The answer is, “You get used to it.”

And so it is for the members of the San Diego Police Department. They get used to it. Speaking off the record, dozens of San Diego police officers recount what it is like to do the job.

  • Sometimes little kids come up to you and point at your gun and ask if you ’re going to shoot them.

  • I forget how the call came out, but it was some kind of neighborhood disturbance out in Tierrasanta. I get there to find a whole group of people backing away from something in the street. As I get closer, I see this skunk running in circles, spraying everything in sight. It’s got this plastic Yoplait yogurt cup stuck on its head, and it can’t see a thing. This animal is really getting mad, and by now, the whole neighborhood reeks of skunk juice.

One of the cops is watching this incredible scene and waiting. When he figures the skunk has finally run out of spray, he calmly leans over and plucks the yogurt cup off its head. The skunk looks up at him for a few seconds and then runs off. I laughed all the way to my next call.

  • Quiet residential neighborhoods always have the most multiple homicides.

  • I broke my back chasing a guy across a railroad bridge. I fell off the bridge and landed across the railroad ties. My adrenalin was pumping so hard. I didn't even feel it. I got up and continued to chase the guy. I finally caught him, and then I felt the pain. I couldn’t even handcuff him, it hurt so bad. I just sat on him until my cover units arrived. I was in the hospital for months

  • People kill themselves in the strangest ways. One guy drove his car off a cliff and shot himself on the way down. That must take some amount of nerve to be able to kill yourself on the way to killing yourself.

  • You can be on patrol in a deserted neighborhood at 3:00 in the morning and see some guy walking all by himself. When you pull up next to him and say, “Hey buddy, I want to talk to you,” he’ll invariably turn around, look at you, and say, “Who, me?"

  • I was working a prisoner transport unit one night downtown. Some other officers stopped a drunk in the street, and I came by to take him to the detox center. His shirt had some blood on it, and he said he had been fighting with another transient. I didn't think much about it since those guys were always mixing It up. I dropped him off at detox and finished my shift. The next morning, the homicide detectives called me at home to ask about the guy. He had stabbed another man to death only minutes before the first unit stopped him for public drunkenness.

  • A training officer I had once told me the best way to tell if someone is lying is that their lips move when they talk.

  • We made this bust in Southeast San Diego. The guy who called us said he was tired of the drug dealers in the neighborhood and even the little kids on tricycles were playing ‘ Let s do a drug deal.” Can you believe it? He said they even knew the right terminology and were asking each other, "How much for a bindle?" and things like that. We took out six people for selling heroin and crack cocaine in an apartment ten feet from where the kids were playing.

  • Whenever you are talking to a group, like some gang members or some surfers or some bicyclists or whoever, they always say, “Why are you picking on us all of the time?”

They don’t seem to understand that we aren’t. We talk to everyone, all day long. Christ, even little kids on skateboards in the street think we have nothing better to do than “pick on them.”

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