Has anything ever surprised you on patrol?
You never know what you’ll see during a career in law enforcement
By Police1 Staff
A question posted on Quora asked, “As a longtime police officer, does anything ever surprise you?” Multiple current and former cops gave their opinion on the topic, below. Has anything surprised you during your time in law enforcement? Share your stories in the comments.
A MINOR INCONVENIENCE
I was surprised only yesterday by the selfishness and stupidity of some people. I was on duty in a panda car when we had a call come in for an RTC (Road Traffic Collision) just around the corner. We made our way there as quickly as possible, paramedics and LAS (London Ambulance Service) had arrived seconds before us. Sadly, a young man had lost his life, having crashed his motorbike at speed, his bike hitting one vehicle and his body hitting another vehicle coming in the opposite direction. The bike had pretty much exploded, bits everywhere.
The man was dead at scene. We quickly cleared crowds away (many were there simply taking pictures and video on their mobile phones, as though what had happened was some sort of gory tourist attraction). Got witness statements and details from those who came forward who had seen what happened and wanted to help. We then set about cordoning the area off.
I spent about five hours guarding that scene at my end to make sure that members of the public didn’t wander about in it, or simply walk through despite the obvious blue and white tape across the pavement that clearly said: "POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS." Because the young man had died at the scene, the area was being treated as a crime scene, evidence to gather, a case to build – the people involved in the collision and especially the relatives of the deceased deserve a fair and accurate view of what actually happened.
However, this didn’t stop people from crossing the police cordon and walking through as if nothing had happened, if you looked away or were otherwise engaged for a few seconds. Despite the scene they were walking through behind the cordon – imagine several police cars with doors open, many bright yellow evidence markers on the road, a big lump of metal that used to be a motorbike, two cars facing in opposite directions, clearly seriously damaged. Bits of motorbike everywhere, oil and petrol slewed across the road mostly covered in sand, a big blue tent with a body inside, two ambulances – you get the picture.
So the moment I spot them and challenge them before they get too far, tell them to turn around and start walking them back, explaining to them a man has lost his life here and they’re basically walking through what’s become a crime scene. That’s when the attitude starts, I had one young man – far too full of himself – start to tell me, “Don’t tell me what I don’t need to know, just tell me what I asked you” because he wanted to know how he could get to the station if not by walking through the scene of a death. How inconsiderate of the motorcyclist to die – this now meant the poor young man would have to take a two-minute detour.
Or the countless people that walk up to the cordon and ask if they can come through as they just need to get to the station/Tescos/some bar/etc. when the detour around the scene is staring them in the face. Different people reacted differently, some with anger at the minor inconvenience, as if this motorcyclist dying and the police cordoning off the pavement was some kind of personal conspiracy against them. Some with concern for what had happened. Some with thanks for helping them.
So, back to the original question “As a longtime police officer, does anything ever surprise you?” the answer on this occasion is “Yes, the capacity of some people to be so remarkably selfish when faced with something as insignificant as having to alter their route slightly because someone has died.”
— By Joel Uden, police officer
THE BEST WITNESS EVER
I had to take a statement from an elderly man who had been assaulted by another motorist (road rage). His passenger was his neighbor and obviously she was a key witness.
The problem was she was (I think this is the right term) selectively mute from a previous trauma. She could only speak to her neighbor and another couple of people she had built up trust with over many years — basically I had no chance of getting a word out of her. I asked if she would be video interviewed and perhaps answer questions in writing, but she shook her head.
Finally, I asked if she wanted to just write her own statement in her own words and she agreed to that. I furnished her with a list of topics so that she would have some sort of idea what areas to cover and left her to it. I had no idea what I would get back.
One hour later she presented me with a five-page statement that was one of the best, well-written and accurate statements I have ever seen in my life. It was better than I could have done. Her handwriting was beautiful and the detail amazing.
Turns out she is a genius on the Mensa scale, has perfect recall and was a personal friend to a well-known disabled astrophysicist.
I was gobsmacked.
The offender pleaded guilty before trial when they saw the quality of the evidence.
— By Ralph King, police officer
TALKING THEMSELVES INTO JAIL
What never ceases to amaze me is how many people "talk" themselves into jail for not just "taking a walk" or shutting up when told to by police. One particular incident comes to mind last Halloween when I was working plainclothes on Bourbon Street with other officers.
A couple was walking down Bourbon near Orleans Avenue, and the man, who had on white jeans (?) had an obvious, huge knife in one of his front pockets. It was one of the ones with the brass knuckles. The woman was walking slightly ahead of the man and we (tactically) ID’d ourselves and "walked him off" of Bourbon onto the side of the Royal Orleans Hotel. Pulled the knife out, ID’d the guy. Found out he was a fireman from Baton Rouge.
He explained that he had heard how dangerous New Orleans was lately, etc., etc., yeah, yeah. No, contrary to news reports, everybody does NOT walk around with their guns drawn here, backing away from everyone you run into. He said he was parked near St. Louis Cathedral (which is right nearby) and the knife was given to him by his late father so he really didn’t want it confiscated and/or destroyed. Were we giving him a break? Yes. A professional courtesy break. And, I would do it again. I was never the cop to care about some yahoo putting another "stats" checkmark on some sheet somewhere so he could get another stripe. I’ve mentioned this before. And before you even ask, he was black. Not that it should matter, but five hundred people will swear…well, you know.
About that time, his girlfriend breaks away from the amazement of Bourbon Street and realizes that her man is not right with her. She runs back to the corner and sees him and us. One officer is "stationed" in each direction while we are interviewing the subject for ambush protection and he is the first one she encounters. Of course, as mentioned, we’re all outwardly ID’d with chain badges and now, guns exposed over shirts, radios, cuffs, etc., because we’re in active mode. She starts screaming something about us not being the police. For crying out loud lady, it’s 2 pm on a bright sunny day with ten thousand people around in the French Quarter! The man yells at her, “Suzie! Stop it! It’s the knife. They’re letting me put it in the trunk. It’s cool!”
Not good enough. She goes on and on, with him and us trying to explain, etc., over and over. She says, “I’m calling 9–1–1” (to verify our status as cops). I said, “Look, I’m trying to give your man a break, but if you dial that number you’re both going to jail. Him for a concealed weapon and you for interfering;” (I wasn’t getting written up, possible criminal charges, etc., for trying to help a fellow first responder, sorry). She dialed. Her man: “Damn, Suzie!” Me: “Sir, place your hands behind your back, please”. Girl on phone with 9–1–1 operator, me on the radio with my supervisor asking for a signature on an arrest affidavit.
Could’ve been so much easier. SMH.
Edit: For those of you who have inquired, it is a misdemeanor to interfere with a police investigation in New Orleans. But my sergeant, when he arrived, ordered me not to charge her. However, as you can imagine, he wasn’t about to "look the other way" on something like this (as he shouldn’t – one of many reasons I never wanted to take the sergeant’s or better test). As for my caring about her calling to verify, I didn’t. Her perfect right. I was just letting her know that the outcome was going to be a WHOLE lot different after that call.
— By Scott Randolph, former law enforcement
Recently, I was approached by a very tough-looking man. Lots of prison and gang tats, shaved head and just hard looking. He made a beeline toward me, and I shifted gears. “Okay, I don’t know this man, but something tells me he isn’t going to shake my hand.” I prepared for the worst. Guess what: I was wrong. He shook my hand. LOL. Told me that after years of screwing up, he had celebrated his sixth year of sobriety, just gotten promoted, and was a father and husband. He just wanted to thank me. Not me, personally, but what I represented. I have to assume, somewhere along the line, law enforcement helped him, even if it was in a negative way.
He patted my arm and went on his way. The whole event probably took two or three minutes. I was totally flabbergasted. Later that day I told my wife, and she reminded me of the dangers of being too cynical. Not that she disapproved of me being aware of my surroundings, but just reminding me that sometimes I’m too cynical.
Yes, people can still surprise me!
— By Jeff Cordell, police detective
When you see me in public, on a call, in a situation, my game face will make you think, “No, nothing ever surprises me anymore.”
I taught the rookies: I don’t care what you see, I don’t care if a five-mile-wide alien spacecraft just descended over your town, pulled down a long ladder in the middle of your biggest shopping mall. I don’t care what it is…the public is watching you and expecting you to be in charge, in control, so ACT like it’s something you’ve seen before.
Move along, people, move along. Nothing to see here.
Dispatch, we have a ten one oh nine. Possible disembarkation.
But yes, every time, just when I thought I had seen it all, something else would happen that just flat out surprised me.
All the time.
— By Szandor Zoellner, former law enforcement