Friday, May 27, 2016


I recently went on a police ride-along - again. As a professor of criminal justice, I have done many ride-alongs, as well as taught in the state prison system, and I spent innumerable hours doing field-work in juvenile and other correctional facilities. Just so you know that I am not all academic armchair theory.

For the shift to which I was assigned, it began with roll call in early afternoon at police headquarters. There were about two dozen officers, including three or four women and a few “non-Caucasians.”

First, a supervisor ( a woman) held a briefing about the currently active cases, recent arrests and what to be on alert for. Several mug shots were shown on a projector, so all the officers fanning out across the city knew whom they should be looking out for. Cases were labeled with names like “cougar” and “scuba.” The supervisor described a group four black suspects who were currently roaming around the city and committing armed robberies. Just a few hours earlier they had robbed a poor woman as she was walking home with her $5,000.00 tax refund. 

Then the captain of the watch took over, mentioning several additional fresh and unresolved cases. He described a suspect who, right after being put in the back of a patrol car, started urinating inside the car. The suspect’s father was also at the scene. He tried to intervene on his son’s behalf, he refused to allow a search, so the officers had to obtain a warrant, then the suspect threatened to hurt himself.

This is called a “5150,” which is “involuntary psychiatric hold.”

This was also when hundreds of people were dying from Fantanyl/Norco, the deadly opioid analgesic. Two dozen people died in our city alone. The captain gave an update on this crisis.

My first impression was one of extreme professionalism. The two dozen officers in the briefing room were all well-spoken, upbeat, calm, friendly, smart.

After about half an hour, everyone was ready to go. Some of the patrol cars had two officers, some just one. I was paired up with a spiffy thirty-something blonde rookie officer. I’ll call him Sergeant Adam Cassini.

We drove towards downtown, part of which was Cassini’s beat. The radio was on, of course, Sergeant Cassini was in communication with the dispatcher at all times. We heard a variety of conversations between the dispatcher and other patrolling officers, some of them unrelated to us, some in which officer Cassini participated. It is a network, essentially.

We heard that another “211” just went down - a robbery. A white Toyota; same gang of four as before.

We drove by some dark alleys where homeless people often hole up. Cassini stopped to check a broken gate that was supposed to close off an alley between two office buildings. We walked in. There was a whole bunch of used syringes on the ground. For meth. There was no one there at the time, except a large dog tied to a pole. Its master was probably panhandling somewhere. Cassini put on gloves and picked up the syringes. Clearly someone lived here. Cassini said that he often has to shoo away such transients, because the adjacent business owners file complaints and demand it. 

Later, we came by a group of homeless people and stopped. There was another cop car there too, with two officers. The policemen engaged in some banter with the transients. It was all very low-key, very friendly. This is called “community policing,” I suppose.

This was my first ride-along in about ten years, and one thing that struck me was the great increase in technology. Now, every patrol car has a “license plate reader.” It’s amazing: As we drove down any city street, this machine read EVERY single license place that was visible within a certain radius. That meant several dozen cars every 100 yards. It then immediately notified us if there was anything wrong, e.g. the car was stolen, its owner was a criminal on the run, or whatever.

And another thing: These officers’ dexterity and alertness never cease to amaze me: Whether they are parked, cruising slowly, eating doughnuts at Krispy Kreme or in a high-speed chase, these guys can simultaneously type a million words a minute on their dashboard keyboard, talk with the dispatcher and fellow officers, and notice suspicious behavior on the street.

We drove down Jibboom Street, where there are motels and prostitutes. As we drove, we got our first domestic violence call - a “273D.” Interestingly, it’s still called “domestic violence” even if both the victim and her assailant/boyfriend are homeless.

Three cops showed up, in two patrol cars. It is customary to back each other up. The victim was a transient woman. She was a sad, poor, decrepit, weatherbeaten, older woman, now bloodied up and crying. Her attacker had just left. He had been stalking her, she said. He got out of prison recently. He had previously escaped from prison once. She told him that it was over between them, but he didn’t want to take no for an answer. He had slapped her around quite a bit and he threatened her with more violence. We drove around looking for him on adjacent streets and alleys. We couldn’t find him. Sergeant Cassini offered her a form to file a restraining order. Much good that’ll do. All the officers could do, was to file another warrant out for his arrest...The woman agreed to file charges against him if they ever find him.

Next, the dispatcher called us to take care of someone who had just called 911 and was threatening to commit suicide. We hurried there, it was right in front of the capitol building. Meanwhile, a fire truck and another cop car were at the scene. This was another “5150" - a mental case. They decided that the fire truck would drive the individual to the hospital. Apparently, he had just wandered off and not taken his medication.

The other patrol car at the scene had two rookie officers. I chatted with them. One of them had just gotten his B.A. in sociology at the state university. I mentioned that I taught in that very department for many years. He said that he had just completed his last required course - Social Theory. Since we just picked up a mental patient threatening to commit suicide, we chatted about suicide.
Something absolutely amazing happened: The young rookie officer who just got his B.A. rolled off the famous French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s three forms of suicide - altruistic, egoistic and anomic! I was stunned. We chatted some more - about Karl Marx and Max Weber! Don’t ever tell me again that all American cops are bigoted rednecks (this kid was African-American, by the way).

We then drove by a park. The rules state that the park is for kids and that adults should only be there when accompanying children. This is so as to avoid it becoming a haven for transients. Cassini shooed off a couple of homeless people, including one who was masturbating.

A few minutes later, Cassini stopped a car with an expired sticker. The woman at the wheel showed him her checkbook register with evidence that she had paid DMV for the renewal. They chatted some more, it was all extremely friendly, obviously he didn’t cite her. Having to clear up the snafu at DMV will be bad enough.

Then came a very time-consuming call - a heavy collision. No fatality, but the cars were in bad shape. The airbags deployed and one driver had to be hospitalized. Traffic was ensnarled for several hours. 

The worst call of the entire day was another domestic violence case - this one even bloodier than the earlier one: Another homeless woman got beat up very badly by her ex boyfriend. He was drunk. He accused her of cheating on him, which she denied. A good Samaritan picked her up from the sidewalk and took her into his apartment. We entered and saw a blood-drenched carpet. Blood was oozing out of her cranium, spilling all over the bathroom floor. Of course the ex was long gone. This was definitely felony assault. The police began a search for a white Crown Victoria with license plate starting with 7M.....

Again, the technology was impressive: We got to scroll through the pictures of ALL the cars within the city that start with those 2 characters. Alas, we didn’t find the relevant white Crown Victoria. 

Meanwhile, Cassini and a couple of other officers at the scene discussed another pending case: A suspect was confronting a peace officer by holding up a screwdriver while shouting “Kill me! Shoot!” The other officer wanted to record this as a “245,” which means “assault with a deadly weapon.” Cassini disagreed. He said that this was an attempt at “suicide by cop,” and that this suspect should not be charged with a “245.”

So this was an eventful and extremely informative shift. I learned some additional codes, for example “459" (burglary), “187" (homicide), “502" (DUI), the meaning of “CSI:” Crime Scene Investigation, and much more.

As you can see, my take on this experience is very positive. Nothing here supports the widespread view that many cops are unprofessional and biased. You might ask: Did Cassini and his colleagues behave differently in my presence than they do otherwise? I suppose that’s possible, but I don’t believe that there could be a wholesale ten-hour long concerted “fake performance” by an entire department for the benefit of an obscure ride-along. I believe that the men and women I saw in action are fine, honest, capable, law-abiding professionals doing as good a job as can be reasonably expected under the prevailing circumstances.

In my next post, I will try to reconcile this positive experience with the well-known indictments of the American criminal justice and law enforcement systems.
© Tom Kando 2016
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising - A Terribly Not Funny Movie

 My wife and I made a mistake. We went to see “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” We did this on the second day the movie was out, after reading the rave review it received from Katie Walsh, of the Tribune News Service (Sacramento Bee, May 20), who gave the film the maximum four stars.

I found the movie rarely funny, and always in catastrophically bad taste. The opening sets the tone, when Seth Rogen and his wife Rose Byrne are in bed, attempting to make love, and she barfs all over his face. This is toilet humor, or what the French call pipi-caca humor. I have never found jokes about vomiting, farting, pissing or diarrhea funny, not even when I was eight years old. Read more...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Archie Bunker is Alive and Well, and Still Slinging His Ethnic Insults

We have a couple of groups of friends with whom we often get together. One group, in particular, travels overseas a lot, so the conversation is often about various nationalities and foreign countries. What is mind boggling is that this group is also exceptionally ethnocentric.

These people enjoy ridiculing many categories of foreigners, but one ethnicity upon which it is absolutely open season are the Italians. It’s not clear why, and it is very unwelcome, in that one of us is partially Italian-American. Since the group is very aware of this fact, the incessant anti-Italian barbs can only be a form of sadism, a form of bullying. Their “jokes” are the usual racist vulgarities - Italians are dirty, lazy, they are thieves, etc. The more alcohol these people consume, the worse it gets.

You may ask, why do we even bother to BE with such people? The truth is, we have compromised ourselves. We fear that if we are excessively “pure” in our moral judgments, we’ll end up without very many friends... Also, naively, we have thought we could perhaps educate these people, the way schools try to educate bullies. This is probably a lost cause, as bigots are usually set in their ways. Worse yet, when these individuals see that you are upset by their comments, they do not apologize. It’s a very uncomfortable situation for the few in the group who do not engage in such insults. Read more...

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Century's Worth of Living (Part 4)

copyright: Ata Kando
by Madeleine Kando

When I was six, I went on a hunger strike. I don't exactly remember what I was protesting, but it was one of the few weapons I had in my six-year old arsenal to protest the injustices that were done to me. I am a twin and my mother had the habit of always buying two of the same things; two identical dresses, two identical coats, two identical haircuts, so I was probably protesting my mother's decision to give the red one of two new dresses to my sister, which left me with the yellow one.

If you are not a twin, you cannot possibly know how much competition is involved. The thought of my sister in that red dress and me next to her looking like a canary was too much. The only way I could feel somewhat in control of my fate, was to stop eating. My sister’s far more effective strategy to get what she wanted, was to cry. Not just a sad little girly cry but a wolf cub howling kind of cry. Something told me that if we both adopted the howling strategy, it would backfire. Besides, I was the ‘quiet’ one, the ‘shy’ one. I just didn’t have it in me to howl. I preferred the passive aggressive approach. Not eat, give people the silent treatment, get them to guess what was wrong with poor Madeleine.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trump Redux

Time to talk about “the Donald” again. Things are getting ominous!

I am not going to rehash his racism, sexism and xenophobia, which are documented and commented upon by the media on a daily basis.

Nor do I want to reiterate his personality flaws. It’s obvious that he is, in Marco Rubio’s words, about as vulgar a candidate as we have ever had, that he is a narcissist with a mental age and the vocabulary of a thirteen-year old, that he is embarrassingly inarticulate, and that his knowledge of the international world, of history, of society, of science, of political and economic systems is that of a high-school student. All of this is being discussed by the pundits and by others non-stop. Read more...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Intruders

By Madeleine Kando

I sometimes envy my mother. She is as deaf as a doornail, but what do you expect at her age? She is going to be 103 in a few months. At least she has a permanent acoustic guard on duty, although barring entrance to any sound might be too much of a good thing. It’s different for me. Short of wearing earplugs or buying an expensive noise-cancelling headset, I am exposed to all sorts of unwelcome acoustic intruders.

Noises are part of living, you’ll say and suggest I see a shrink instead of waste your time writing about my predicament. You might conclude that I am suffering from ‘misophonia’**, the hatred of sound. But I am not averse to sounds in general; I forgive sounds that cannot help being sounds, like the sound of traffic, or police sirens. And I couldn’t live without music. Read more...

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Casanova of the Pyrenees

by Madeleine Kando

Pyros (Greek for ‘fire’), a.k.a. ‘the Stud’
Species: Ursus Arctos (a.k.a. Grizzly)

Pyros is a 500-pound alpha bear, born in Slovenia. He was relocated to the Pyrenees in 1997 as part of an effort to bring back the bear population. Hunters killed the last remaining native bear, a female called Cinnamon, so two Slovenian bears, Ziva and Mellba, both already pregnant were brought in, followed by the dominant male Pyros.

Pyros saw, came and boy, did he conquer. He sired over 30 little boy and girl Pyros and is still going strong as a geriatric bear at the ripe old age of 29.

Sponsored by French actor Gerard Depardieu (no relation to Pyros, appearances notwithstanding) he has become a symbol of virility. Spanish Pyros fans started a Twitter account under his name identifying him as the “father of all the bears” and the French call him “the stud of the Pyrenees”. Read more...