What major factor in our society do you think contributes to crime in the United States?
In a previous story under the title of Rookie Cop, I wrote about a former F.B.I. agent who was my professor at LSU where I studied Law Enforcement. He presented the most difficult question any cop will ever face. “Why do you want to be a police officer?”
His answer was branded into my feeble little brain.
“Some one did something to someone else and it is not right and someone needs to do something about it right now.”
As I wrote this part of the story, I described a purse snatching I would later investigate. I find this case to be the most applicable example in my career. I only scratched the surface in the earlier reference. In this story, I hope to dive deeper into the ugly depths of what made this hateful human become the career criminal he was.
I bounced around SPD so much during my career, I cannot keep up with all my moves. At the time of this case, I was on dayshift criminal investigations and assigned the call. My partner was Gary Alderman, a great investigator. We clicked on many levels. We hired on to SPD at the same time, rode Cedar Grove as rookie cops, became detectives, and worked many serious cases together. We complimented each other and had great mutual respect for one another.
It was a hot summer morning at the crime scene in central Shreveport It was just before noon and the temperature was almost 100 degrees. I hated wearing dress ties especially in the field working a crime scene in the hot months. I loosened my tie and unbuttoned the top button of my white oxford dress shirt as Gary drove from the station down Southern Avenue.
I worked the radio and learned Fire Rescue units were on the scene treating the victim. We rolled up near the main entrance to a pharmacy within the mall. A large crowd was gathered around the lady being loaded on a stretcher. As she was jostled around, she moaned and wept. She was in tremendous pain which caused my heart to sink. I waded through the line of people to find the patrol officer in charge of the case. Gary and I quickly learned the facts. He was senior officer, laid back and well-liked by most in the department. He was easy to work with and gave us the overview of the crime. The victim was in her late 80’s and parked her car in the handicapped space outside the door leading to the drug store. She was intending to go inside for her prescriptions when she was viciously attacked. Several witnesses saw the entire crime. The victim was between her car and the front door in the driving lane that skirts around the mall. A young male ran toward her. It happened so fast none of the witnesses could shout warnings to her. He grabbed the strap of her inexpensive vinyl purse draped over her shoulder and snatched it in a full run. He never slowed as he passed her. In less than two seconds, she was spun around by the strap before it broke loose. As she spun, she lost her footing and slammed on to the hot, black asphalt. The impact shattered her hip. She cried out in pain. Several citizens rushed to her side to minister to her until rescue units relieved them. The direct contact to the hot pavement burned her skin. Her caregivers removed their shirts to place between the pavement and her skin.
Other witnesses saw she was being cared for and immediately looked for the suspect. By now he was sprinting south across the parking lot. He knew the area well. He ran as fast as he could toward a drainage ditch on the south perimeter of the mall property. The ditch ran underneath Southern Avenue and continued beneath the K.C.S. railroad tracks west of Southern. A tunnel was there to help make his escape. It would take him to the Forest Park Cemetery, a great place for concealment. In seconds, heroes were instantly created! Several men gave chase, some in vehicles, others on foot.
As the alleged perp was about to jump into the concrete ditch, he was tackled. The citizens overpowered him and hog tied him with their belts. These heroes were of a cross section of professions. One was a banker; others were blue collar workers. If I knew where they were today, I would buy them lunch. I do not recall their names but I will always greatly respect them.
Patrol officers responded quickly and took custody of the dirt bag purse snatcher. I watched him through the back window of the unit as it drove by in route to the city jail. When we finished at the scene, Gary and I went to the hospital where the victim was being treated. In the car as we talked, I felt my anger growing inside. Gary was laid back and I envied this trait very much. It seemed very little got under his skin. On the other hand, I was an open book. He quietly listened as I expressed my anger until we arrived at the Schumpert Hospital emergency room entrance. We spoke to the attending nurses taking good care of this sweet grandmother. Her daughter was in route. Gary and I waited to meet with her. We knew she would be upset when she arrived and not yet able to see her mother. I knew if it were my mother, I would desperately want to know everything that happened. I always did my best to put myself in the shoes of victims and their families. I treated them with respect regardless of race, age or profession.
When the automatic doors parted, a woman walked through. We had no doubt she was the victim’s daughter. She had eye makeup streaks down her cheeks, the look of shock in her bloodshot eyes, and a fast deliberate gait directly to the two cops in cheap clothing with guns and gold badges. We took her to a private waiting room before we spoke. Gary asked the charge nurse to tell the daughter the extent of her mother’s injuries. The nurse sat next to her taking both her hands like they were sisters. The woman to woman bond was instantaneous even though they were complete strangers. The nurse stayed with her as we informed her of the details of her mother’s attack. We explained how several good people without hesitation went to her aid. Other men chased the punk and tackled him. She told us her mother never carried more than $35 in her purse. She added if he had asked, she would have given it to him. I saw her hurt and frustration as she tried to rationalize this horrible ordeal. All we could offer was our deepest regards and the meaningless promise to see the suspect face the full extent of the law in court. My words felt hollow as I offered them and handed her my business card. Gary and I left this distraught woman with the nurse, both of who were crying now.
Gary and I checked our firearms into the gun locker and headed upstairs to the city jail. We had our notepads and a small recorder. We asked a jailer to bring the suspect to the interview room located directly across from the jail booking desk. There was a large window made of safety glass that allowed the jailers to keep an eye on prisoners being interviewed. I must confess. I had thoughts that if the window was not there, I may have acted unprofessionally in this case. The hate seed had been planted in my heart. It was taking root and growing by the minute. When he was brought in, his leg shackles and hand cuffs rattled as he shuffled into the room and sat across from me. He was in his early twenties, lean and angry looking. He was clearly hostile about being in jail. His anger fueled the fire I was trying my best to control. He had no right to be angry about being in jail. His arrogance pissed me off. I wanted to choke him to his knees. I made myself check these wrongful thoughts because I had taken a solemn oath to uphold the law and not become the judge, jury and executioner. I had never violated my oath and this was not going to be the case that made me cross that line. The next thought struck me hard. I silently asked myself, “How on earth could a human being viciously attack an innocent elderly lady without showing any expression of remorse?” I was deeply concerned by his expressions and body language. Gary and I did not need a confession. We had great witnesses who had made a citizen arrest. This was an airtight case with no chance of this guy getting off. He would spend many years in prison doing hard labor. Many cops would have read him his rights, informed him of the official charges and locked him up back in jail. They would not waste their time talking to such a low life but Gary and I wanted to talk to him. We wanted to see deep inside his mind and heart. We wanted to know what made him tick. Gary and I learned the more we communicated with people like him, we would learn and hopefully understand their mindsets. Getting someone to confess was important to us even with a slam-dunk case such as this. We still wanted him to admit the wrong and make a full confession.
I can close my eyes and still see the smirk on his face, the way the extra large, coveralls sagged on his slim body, the way he cocked his head and the hate in his eyes for us. He was angry at himself for being caught, not for the wrong he had done. Gary read him his rights and he scribbled his name on the card. Gary took the lead and began to hold a standard conversation.
“You are under arrest for purse snatching and second degree battery. You knocked that lady down so hard it shattered her hip. She is elderly and may never walk again. Her bones are weak and brittle. Her heart may not be strong enough for her to withstand surgery. Does that mean anything to you?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
I was watching his face as Gary talked. When he spoke, he expressed no sympathy or shame. He was only interested in eating. He ducked Gary’s line of questions and asked when we would feed him lunch. I looked at his long fingernails and noticed the jet black layers of dirt embedded beneath them. He had not bathed in many days nor brushed his yellow teeth. He took no pride in himself and no respect for another person.
Before America became smoke-a-phobic, I smoked and so did Gary. We always had smokes in our upper dress shirt pockets with leaking Zippo cigarette lighters. I saw his eyes shift to my red and white pack of Marlboroughs. I pulled out my pack and fired up one. I inhaled deeply and blew the smoke to the ceiling in an exaggerated, refreshing fashion. I concealed the tickle deep inside my throat and lungs that caused me to want to cough. I kept my eyes on him as I slid the pack and lighter across the table without a word. He fired up one without a thank your or even a head nod which did not surprise me. I wondered about his childhood. As a flawed man, a sinner and a Christian, I know how screwed up I am but I know God does not make mistakes. He blesses us with babies in this world that come here without sin or flaws. They/we are like clean sponges so to speak. If parents submerge these sponges into pure clean water and squeeze it out on society, we have done good. Unfortunately, some babies are shoved into nasty water like sewage. When it comes out later in life, it is very bad. I knew without a doubt which liquid this man was filled with in his formative years. To better understand the secrets locked in a mind like his, I wanted to open the lock and become a better interviewer. I wanted to be good at obtaining confessions. Instead of tossing this thug back in his cell and going to lunch with Gary, I wanted him to open up and tell me everything I could think to ask. The hate and anger I felt earlier diminished. I had a real purpose as I took over the interview.
I stood and went to the head jailer. I asked him to fix our prisoner a lunch plate and bring it to the interview room. He quickly refused citing jail house rules that prohibit such a thing. I told him either he would fix the plate or I would. We had never had a disagreement before and he realized my request was not such a big deal after all. When he returned with a plastic school lunch tray, I thanked him and took it to the suspect. I placed it in front of him and walked back to the booking desk. Gary got up from the interview room and joined me. We wanted him to eat in peace and he did. That small act of kindness seemed to work much better than the Good Cop-Bad Cop crap that only lives in the simple minds of Hollywood movie scene writers.
What I learned when we went back to talk with him opened my mind and enabled me to become successful in the art of gaining confessions. I knew he was uneducated but that did not mean he was not intelligent. Many cops never learn the difference. I know lots of stupid people with Master’s degrees. I knew I needed to talk to him with as much sincere respect as I could muster and that was a personal challenge. I began with talking about his family and learned the following. The light came on in my simple mind.
He lived in Cedar Grove off Line Avenue in a low end rent house section I knew well. He never had a relationship with his father. He did not know who his father was. He was raised by his single mother with no other relatives or assistance. She was second generation of uneducated, unwed and unskilled. She never finished school nor acquired skills or held a job. She lived strictly off government assistance. She saw her son as a pay raise so to speak. She was only 15 years older than her son. Once he began to open up, we just sat there and listened attentively. It took very little prodding to hear about his mother’s drug addiction. She had always smoked grass and did coke. When rock cocaine hit the streets, she was quickly addicted. Drug dealers worked the street corner two houses from where they lived. He gave graphic descriptions of events without playing the victim. It was a common occurrence for his mother to go to the corner and beg for rocks. Most of the time they slapped her around and sent her packing. Sometimes one would agree to give her a rock if she would have sex with him. She would lead the man into the front room and have sex on the couch next to her son while he watched cartoons on television. At age three, he saw his mother have regular sex with strangers in front of him. One dealer almost always brought his buddies with him and they gang banged her all morning. He shared many horrible experiences from his childhood without any emotion. He was numb to human feelings.
When we finished, I had my sad answer. “How on earth could a human being ever knock down an elderly lady and hurt her without shame or feelings?” Now I better understood. I used this understanding to my advantage in the following years. I cannot say it always worked or that some of the partners I teamed with liked my approach. Several times my new partners became upset and left after they failed at the Good Cop crap. I started my approach with respect and understanding. Sometimes the cons tired to play me but I soon set things right. I was not a bleeding heart liberal but I found a way to get confessions when others failed. Many times when the confession was vital to a case and the primary detectives tried and failed, they turned to me for help. I usually got the confession in the end. In this case, there was part of me that truly hated this young man and another part of me that felt sorry he came into the world illegitimate, unwanted, unloved, and so on. Although I was raised in an awful childhood, I am grateful for the blessings I have because it could have been much worse. I took my dysfunctional childhood experiences and used them to better understand the criminals I encountered. I almost felt sorry for the detectives raised in loving homes with a mother and father. These guys were not able to relate to messed up criminals like I could.
When I started this story I asked you a question. “What major factor in society do you think contributes to crime in the United States?”
I feel one of the major reasons crime has increased to this level is a result of L.B.J.’s 1964 War On Poverty. I recommend that you read the history on this war and today’s results.