This has gotta stop

What in Sam Hill has happened to American law enforcement?

I had to ask myself this question just a few days ago as I cruised by a designer coffee shop and observed a half-dozen police vehicles in the immediate vicinity.

Had a prison inmate escaped and taken all the baristas hostage?

Sadly, no. The situation was much, much worse. Apparently several officers had stopped for coffee.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sworn peace officers pausing for a cup of coffee. In fact, enthusiastic consumption of coffee is commendable. The best police departments are caffeinated police departments.

No, the problem was in the kind of coffee the officers were consuming – designer coffee.

Real cops don’t drink lattes.

Real cops snack on carpet tacks washed down with three-day-old coffee from a dirty cup.

Real cop coffee is best brewed in an unwashed squad room percolator and reheated a dozen times. The good stuff is brewed with three times the amount of ground coffee recommended by the coffee-maker manufacturer and should be measured by the fistful rather than the tablespoon.

Steamed milk, whipped cream and (shudder!) sprinkles have no place in this coffee.

Sugar may be used sparingly if it were purchased from an Army surplus store sometime in the mid-1990s or has been allowed to sit in a forgotten bowl until it resembles quartz crystal and has to be freed with a chisel.

I recall a particularly memorable cup of coffee I consumed nearly three decades ago when I joined some county sheriff’s detectives for a cup of their famous brew one rainy November morning. The sheriff’s investigations division at that time was located in the old 1907 county jail in downtown Fairfield and the coffee was prepared by inmates in the jail kitchen.

We had barely begun to enjoy the sturdy beverage when a panicked-looking correctional officer ran up the stairs to warn us that one of the inmates had somehow mistaken the coffee urn for a urinal.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about this whole unsavory experience was that none of us could taste the difference between that morning’s coffee and the coffee to be found at any Solano County law enforcement agency on any given morning.


Today’s lawmen also should remember that a grimy cardboard cup of genuine squad room coffee can be a very effective defensive weapon when the chips are down.

Your sidearm’s jammed and your baton is tangled with the seat belt, but you’ve still got a cup of three-day-old coffee festering on the console of your patrol car. Wave that puppy around a few times and even hardcore felons will quickly surrender.

Hook ’em and book ’em, amigos…

Originally published July 30, 2006

Some suggestions for the LAPD…

I was gratified to discover that the embattled Los Angeles Police Department has decided to seek advice from an independent review panel about how to deal with its seemingly endless series of legal, moral and ethical problems.

Despite the fact that the LAPD has for decades touted itself as one of the best-organized, best-trained and most modern law enforcement agencies in the world, the sprawling department continues to be haunted by periodic charges of brutality, corruption and acts which clearly fall under California’s little known felony stupidity law.

According to a recent Associated Press report, the Los Angeles Police Commission has approved a special panel composed of attorneys, management consultants and criminal justice professionals to determine exactly why the city’s finest keep getting into trouble and to make recommendations about how best to correct the situation.

Guidelines from the Rampart Independent Review Panel are expected sometime in the fall.

This is quite obviously a commendable effort on the part of the Police Commission, but it looks like it’s going to take months for the panel to review the LAPD’s latest excesses and make some helpful recommendations for the future.

What can we do in the interim besides carefully avoiding the Los Angeles city limits?

There are, I believe, some fundamental, stop-gap methods that Los Angeles police officers can take to at least temporarily restore their department’s credibility (and keep them out of the hands of a grand jury).

These recommendations may seem absurdly simple to a lumberjack or professional hod carrier, but you have to remember that we’re talking about the Los Angeles Police Department.

Let’s start with some basics:

Never, ever shoot an unarmed, handcuffed suspect while he’s lying on the ground.

Never try to stroll out of the Evidence Room with a big sack of cocaine over your shoulder. This also goes for a big old sack of heroin, methamphetamines, valium, morphine, quaaludes, LSD, DMT, PCP or contraband cigars.

If you absolutely can’t resist walking off with a few free samples, don’t sign for the borrowed evidence with another officer’s name. This is a serious social gaffe within the law enforcement community and can result in significant irritation among your unsuspecting fellow officers.

(“Whaddya mean I checked out 16 bricks of heroin Sunday afternoon? I was in Barstow, Sarge, honest.”)

It’s also, like, forgery…

Whenever possible, avoid engaging in public, running gun battles with members of other law enforcement agencies no matter how angry they may have made you. Before you reach for your piece, take a moment to close your eyes and slowly count to 10. You’ll be glad you did.

(You may want to duck behind a Dumpster or something before you start counting, particularly if members of the other law enforcement agency are already shooting back at you…)

Admittedly, this advice may not be as comprehensive as what one would expect from an independent review panel, but we’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Originally published April 23, 2000