When I checked in, I discovered I was being loaned to a district in Kensington to participate in a prostitution sweep. It was far from my favorite thing to do on the midnight-to-eight shift.
I hadn't been a detective long, so I couldn't exactly ask for more meaningful assignments.
Maybe I was wrong about how relatively benign much of what we policed in vice really was. Almost all the people we picked up, not women, people, were in the profession to satisfy their drug habits. That often gave us the opportunity to pursue the people who sold them the drugs.
The people who sold them the drugs were typically at the bottom of the org chart. When we picked them up that sometimes gave us the opportunity to pursue someone higher up the chart. And so on.
As long as drugs were illegal, the profits to be made were irresistible to many. For that kind of return they would be willing to risk and perpetrate violence to succeed in their chosen line. Being killed was a risk of doing business and they accepted the likelihood they would not enjoy longevity.
Legalizing drugs would stop most of the violence, but drugs would still do terrible things to the addicts. A trick could find a twenty-year old hooker, but she would probably look like she was in her mid-thirties. If he settled for someone in her thirties, she would probably look older than his grandmother.
"You think too much, kid." That's what the guys I worked with always told me. But if we don't think about these things and try to find a better approach, we'll be arresting people one at a time until the end of civilization. It's like trying to fix an eroding hillside by tossing on a shovelful of dirt instead of finding a way to divert the water.
"You think too much, kid," one of the detectives said. "We're just here to sweep 'em up and bring 'em in. What happens after that is somebody else's headache."
So sweep them up we did. And we took notes against the unlikely possibility we would be required to testify. The vast majority would plead guilty and come back through the turnstile fairly quickly. Some would have the arrests tossed out in exchange for information.
"You looking for a date, honey?"
Was it even necessary to write that down? About the only alternative opening line was, "Hey honey, you looking for a date?"
"Well, I uh..."
I would explain in answer to the prosecutor's questions that I tried to act shy in order not to suggest any particular behavior on the part of the defendant lest I entrap her. My notes might say "accused" or even "perp" if I was in a snotty mood.
But when we got them into court, listening to them respond to the judge could make this part seem like a holiday celebration by comparison.
With the shift more than half over we sat in night court while a judge decided what to do with the people we arrested. We were available in case a defendant denied that anything at all had happened, that she was picked up inadvertently, though I never heard any of them use that word.
It was usually routine. It was usually boring. It was usually depressing.
There was one exchange that morning I don't think I'll ever forget.
"Miss Robbins, I see you've been arrested twenty-three times for prostitution," said the judge.
"I also see you have three open cases. I also see you have failed to appear thirteen times on the oldest case."
"I had trouble finding a babysitter, sir."
Thirteen times? Babysitting must pay better than prostitution if there was such a scarcity
"How much bail am I going to have to set to make sure you appear when this case is called?"
She had a public defender to assist her, but what could he say?
Could he tell the judge not to be so snippy just because she only shows up when she is arrested? Could he urge the judge to release her on her own recognizance, ROR, because she had children depending on her? That would certainly elicit a lecture about her responsibility to her children. But she'd probably had that lecture from many judges.
"I don't have any money, sir."
He already knew that. She wasn't being represented by the public defender because of his world-renowned skills in representing prostitutes.
The judge shook his head in frustration. What could he possibly do to try to fix this unfixable situation?
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do today, Miss Robbins: I'm going to let you go home to your children. They need a mother. You've got to stop doing this."
What she probably heard was, "Blah, blah, blah."
"Miss Robbins, if you miss your court date I'm going to lock you up. Your children will be taken away from you. Do you understand?"
"ROR," he said. "When you're released, you go home to those children."
"Thank you, sir."
I don't know about anybody else, but what she said next stunned me.
"Have a blessed day."
She's deeply religious? She sees this as all being part of some plan set out by the Almighty?
God wanted to decimate her life with drugs? To support this He sent her strangers to engage in dangerous sex for money with her?
Being arrested is a small problem compared to the other things that could happen to her. She has damaged the lives of her family around her. She has put her children in danger repeatedly.
She may not even know who the fathers are. Maybe they were men who paid her one time and left her to try to support their child on her own when she couldn't even support herself.
And she sees all of this so clearly as a divinely-crafted plan that she wishes the judge who released her to continue to ply her trade to, "Have a blessed day?"
That moment marked the nadir of my optimism about the continuance of the human race. All I wanted to do was finish my shift and get home to see my wife and daughter.
After the judge disposed of the last of our arrestees, we headed back to the station to fill out our paperwork and complete our notes.
"Hey, Smith." It was the desk sergeant.
I had to be Smith since he knew everybody else by sight.
"Your lieutenant wants you to give him a call."
"Thanks." It wasn't his fault. If my lieutenant wanted me to call this close to the end of my shift, it was not to tell me, "Have a blessed day."
"Jonathan, we have a lot of guys out sick and a lot of things scheduled for today. I need you to come in and work another shift."
"Okay, Lieutenant." There were other words I would have preferred to say, but I can be practical now and then.
I called Barbara to tell her I wouldn't be home as expected. She used some of the other words I would have preferred and, somehow, I really couldn't follow her argument, working a second shift became my fault.
I reported a little late, but it wasn't a problem. Nobody expected you to finish a shift at eight and start the next one at eight in another district.
I came in toward the end of the meeting as the last of the instructions were being given.
"So, as a result of the shortage of detectives today, I've asked the five of you to help us with these simultaneous raids. Change back into your street clothes. They may make you as cops, but it would be really stupid if they did because you were wearing uniforms.
"Each of you will go with one of the five teams. Make sure you don't go to an area where you're well known. We don't want that kind of advertisement either.
"Smith, you're on Weston's team."
The plan was I would drive up slowly to a designated street corner where drugs were being sold, Narcotics had drawn up the targets, and when somebody came over to my vehicle to discuss business, the other vehicle would whip around the corner and we would grab everybody up.
We would take them to the station and go out for additional raids.
It was a stupid plan, but nobody ever asked me.
We would be working in a depressed black neighborhood. Was I the only one who questioned the concept that two vehicles with white guys, some of them old white guys, driving around to drug corners would be too commonplace to be noticed?
Making me the driver wasn't unreasonable. At twenty-four, with a decent, late-model car, I could be taken for a college kid from the suburbs looking to score. But who was my passenger, my Dad?
As I approached our first corner, "Dad" said, "Damn. That's Wayne Rabbit Wilson."
He didn't look like a Mafioso. He had only a one-word middle nickname, he was black and Wilson is not an Italian name.
"Who is he?" I asked.
"High school track star. He won the all-city one hundred and two twenty."
"He doesn't look that fast." Yes, he did. He was six foot two and lithe.
"You better get him before he takes off. You'll never catch him."
I slowed to a stop near the corner. Rabbit looked skittish. Maybe Dad made him nervous.
"You're in the wrong place if you and pops are looking for dates," Rabbit said.
"I dated last night. We're just —"
Weston whipped his Crown Vic around the corner on an angle to mine to block Rabbit from running in the opposite direction of our car.
"You're under arrest," I said, "by the team of Smith and Weston."
Rabbit vaulted the hood of Weston's vehicle and took off up the street.
"You could have mentioned he ran hurdles," I said.
I got out of my vehicle and vaulted the hood.
"Don't bother; you'll never catch him," my passenger called after me.
I'd watched the Olympics, but Rabbit was the fastest I'd ever seen in person. He sped with easy, loping strides.
There was nothing easy about my stride. Leaning forward slightly I put every bit of power I could marshal into each stride. He had twenty-five to thirty yards on me.
I understood the concept of don't bother and had practiced it. I did not grasp the concept of you can't do that. I usually took it as a personal challenge.
Rabbit darted left at the end of the block. As he turned right at the next street he saw me around fifteen yards behind him. He had a look of astonishment on his face which changed to a look of determination that said no short, white boy is going to catch me.
He turned left again at the end of the block and turned right at the next driveway which he followed for two blocks. We had passed two twenty and were pretty near half a mile. He had two yards on me.
My legs were starting to ache and my chest was on fire. I considered anything longer than two hundred twenty yards to be a long-distance race.
He turned right at the end of the drive way. I was in agony, but I was determined.
Nobody runs this distance at a sprint. It's too long. The body can't take it. I learned that one day in gym class when I tried my first quarter mile. I whipped around the first two twenty in twenty point five seconds. I ran almost as fast for the next hundred ten yards.
Nobody was within one hundred yards of me. Then somebody apparently attached concrete blocks to my legs. All the runners I had left in the dust passed me as I struggled to get to the finish in something slightly faster than a walk.
I closed to within a yard, reached out and grabbed his shirt. His feet went flying out from under him. I collapsed on his chest.
"You're under arrest." That's what I thought. What I did was retch and barf.
"You threw up on my shirt," he said, offended.