Podcast: Burned Fingers

Do you remember the first time you played with fire? I mean, literally played with fire. Chances are it involved matches or your parents lighter? Because as kids, those were the likely, most accessible firestarters. And for us middle-aged or older, one or both of our parents probably smoked back in the day. There were always matches or lighters kids could pilfer or lift from dad’s pants pocket or mom’s purse. Remember that very first sensation of extreme heat on your fingertips, whoa, son of a bitch, that got your attention. And unless you were a complete imbecile as a kid, you didn’t go back for a repeat performance. Nowadays, kids can show off in other ways, like ramming their skateboard into a brick wall.

It all leads me to a little story I’ve seen cloned several times over the years. I’ll call it Cops for Dummies/How to Get Burned Part One (of many). In this latest installment, a Georgia officer, let’s call him Bernie for fun, decides to be a really nice guy and he gives a lift to a ‘suspicious man’ walking along in interstate and offers him a ride to the nearest gas station to get him to a ‘safe place and out of harm’s way.’ Which he does. Here, though, is where it all turns to shit. Once in the gas station parking lot, the officer learns the man has an active warrant for his arrest. And, as the arrest process begins, guess who is suddenly very actively and extremely obstinate about the whole affair. You got it. So much so that the seemingly docile hitchhiker produces a gun, which causes officers to produce theirs. And in the ensuing firefight, the man is killed. Thank God no officers are hurt. I asked veteran officer and Line of Duty technical advisor Mark DiBona if he had ever given a ride as a compassionate cop to anyone in his 33 year career:

“Well, I’m okay with somebody that’s disabled as far as like their vehicles disabled or physically disabled. And I need to get from point a to point B. I’m okay with that. But here’s the problem that I’m not okay with. They didn’t find out he had warrants and he wasn’t in arms until the ride was concluded. So the issue I have is why didn’t you check this person for warrants obviously, and then, and pat them down before you put them in your, in your cruiser. So I see two mistakes right there, and I hate to bad mouth another cop, but  there was mistakes made there, obviously, and it could have been a lethal mistake. So I have an issue with that. Now, have I given rides in my cruiser? That I’ve absolutely, but I used to tell people all the time, here’s the deal. I need to see your ID. And I need to pat you down before you get into my car, plain and simple. And most people, if not all, people had no problem with it whatsoever. And it’s a huge, it’s a huge officer safety issue. You’re putting a total stranger in your vehicle that you know nothing about, and you haven’t done a pat down or check them out to see if they’ll want it. I mean, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Ron Barber: “So the bottom line is 100% of the time, whether it was somebody with a disabled vehicle, somebody walking along the side of the road, whatever the case may be 100% of the time you said, I need an ID and I need to pat you down before we go any further?”

DiBona: “Oh, absolutely, Ron. if you remember in one of our talks, we talked about was when the elderly woman was involved in the crash and I drove her to the restaurant and I said to, I said to the lady, well, number one, I had her ID anyways, cause I worked the crash. And of course,  you should run everybody you come in contact with, but I did Sarah, before I put her in my cruiser was I just needed to take a, if it’s okay with you, I need to take a look at your purse and make sure you have no weapons. And she was, she was perfectly fine with it. And this was an elderly woman. Um, you know, the youngest person that killed a cop was nine years old. The oldest was 80 something years old. So cop killers come in all shapes sizes and all ages. So you should be, you should be checking people out. Absolutely.”

Ron Barber: ” Did you have any policy in regard to where you had the individuals sit in your cruiser and did you have them belted up? Was there any specificity in regard to that?”

DiBona: “Yeah. Per policy, um, everybody sat in the back seat, uh, behind, behind the partition, the cage, whatever you want to call it. Uh, as Sergeant I didn’t have any, I didn’t have a partition and the only person I ever transported, uh, without the partition, without the cage, was that elderly female. And honestly, I didn’t feel threatened by her. Um, but that was a policy. Everybody sat in the back seat behind the partition for officer safety reasons and also Ron, you want to think about allegations also, especially if you’re a male officer transporting a female, and there could be some allegations being made there because there’s nothing dividing the two people. So we don’t want any type of allegations also, which obviously leads to liability, which would lead to a false complaint or something to that effect. So that’s, that’s why the policies were so strictly enforced to transport people.”

Ron Barber: “Did I understand you to say that in the sergeant’s cruiser, there was no partition?”

DiBona: “Yeah. When I first made Sergeant we had them. And then for some reason they decided not, I don’t really remember the reason why I thought it was kind of strange to be honest with you. Now, I will tell you this as a cop of 33 years, not having a cage, your seat goes back further and that is more comfortable. I believe so. Maybe that was the perks of being a Sergeant. While I wasn’t really too thrilled with not having a partition, because when I made an arrest, I used to have to call another unit over, to do the transport for me.”

Ron Barber: “Is there anything else that you’d like to add to the mix in regard to that situation?”

DiBona: “It reminds me of a saying that we used to say all the time, as a joke, In God We Trust, everybody else we run through NCIC (national crime information center). So that once again, bad guys come in all shapes and sizes, different colors everything like that, officer’s safety comes first in every situation.”

Now, if you should choose to be Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful and give a fella on hard times a lift, is there any reason that all your officer safety training should get flushed down the toilet? Maybe a cursory pat-down of the individual and a quick look-see at anything he’s toting, maybe a request for a legitimate form of ID and a check on that ID with dispatch. If anything should come back to bite you, why oh why do you want it to be your own teeth?

And that’s our little treatise we’re calling burned fingers. Remember, take advantage of that free two-week trial, just go to lineofduty.com, click on the red tab that says, Get a Free Trial. You won’t regret it. I’m Ron Barber and that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy!

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