TALES FROM THE DONUT SHOP BY JULES A. STAATS
Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.
Productive police work on the streets is a concept well studied with theories presented in college police science courses as well as police training academies. The concept of present day profiling has met with much controversy when the alleged key factor is the race of the person who may be committing a violation of law. The actual skill of Police Profiling is nothing more than good observation techniques and common sense.
Profiling in grandpa’s time had little to do about race rather the search of certain patterns of behavior that eventually led to the reasonable cause, field interview and subsequent arrest or apprehension.
Jay spent a lot of his time as a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff working solo on patrol—between report calls—watching other people. He would park his patrol car at an intersection or parking lot and just observe people as they drove by. A newer and shiny car drove by. His observation of the driver alone gave him the power by California Statutes to stop this car and investigate.
He followed the vehicle and ran the license number over the police radio as a “roller.” The reply from the Sheriff’s Radio Station B dispatcher was that there were no wants on this license plate. Per the system, the car was not stolen. Jay flicked on the toggle switch on the dash that activated the red lights. After a few minutes, the male driver pulled over to the curb.
The deputy usually asked for a driver license and registration when making traffic or any other arrest of the progress of a driver. Instead he asked a direct question; “Where did you get the car, son?”
“I stole it” was the reply.
Jay had the car thief exit the vehicle and quickly handcuffed him. After requesting his Complaint Desk to make a phone call it was determined that the vehicle was indeed stolen but the owner did not know it yet. The car had been taken from the victim’s driveway; the keys were left in the ignition.
The profiling and subsequent reasonable cause for the traffic stop and the direct interview of the perpetrator was due to one main factor. The driver was an obvious twelve years old.
Jay had a reputation for making stolen car arrests as well as snagging outstanding traffic warrant subjects. His observation of a driver operating the vehicle was a strong contributor of his probable cause. In those days there were a lot of cars with manual transmissions and power assist for steering and brakes had not become common at this time. Watching a person grind transmission gears, failure to turn on headlights or use arm signals were part of the evaluation of possible car thieves.
Traffic stops for vehicle code violations were not hard to find. People ran red lights, made unsafe lane changes and had equipment violations. The deputy usually warned drivers about a tail or headlight burned out and if the driver had a valid driver license and registration there was no citation issued. On some violations such as a cracked windshield which impaired the view of the driver, a “fix it” ticket was issued to ensure that the problem was fixed as soon as possible.
When making these routine traffic stops with the intention of informing a driver of a mechanical problem, Jay actually profiled the vehicle. If most cars were clean, due to good weather, and the car was covered with dirt, this was a question to resolve. A dashboard covered with trash and some spoiled fast food remnants posed another question to resolve. He had learned long ago, that if a person does not take care of his car or clean out trash, maybe he or she had an outstanding traffic warrant. This person may not have time or the responsibility to appear in court or pay the traffic fine.
This worked for him and his patrol stats reflected that this approach was extremely successful.
A few weeks later he was working the night shift with a trainee from the Academy. They were just finishing dinner at a walk up food stand that faced a major surface street. The trainee had heard of Jay’s reputation so he asked him how he had made so many stolen car arrests. Jay felt like being a wise guy for a bit. He stated to the recruit; “It’s easy, you just watch the cars go by and when you feel the heat, it is a ‘hot car’”
The trainee scoffed out loud and obviously did not accept that statement, and even Jay was unaware that he was about to reveal his secret to making arrests. Just then a car drove by in the darkness with headlights out. Jay held back his explanation and instead stated to the recruit; “OK there is a hot car” and under his breath quietly “Maybe” Both deputies quickly entered the patrol car and they went after the vehicle in question that was driving without headlights at night.
The driver pulled over quickly when seeing the patrol car red lights. Jay had done this before and had a feeling about this driver. “Where did you get this car?”
“I stole it” was the reply, “Please don’t hurt me deputy.”
Jay promised the suspect that he would not harm him, then had the thief exit the car and handcuffed him quickly while the trainee watched in amazement. After the suspect was placed in the rear seat of the patrol car, the trainee asked why the arrest was made.
Jay explained that the spontaneous statement of the driver that he stole the car was probable cause to arrest him. Jay had not even run the license plate to see if it was stolen. That was just about to be done when the Patrol Sergeant asked for radio clearance for a vehicle theft that just occurred.
The stolen car BOLA or Be On The Lookout was this one.
Jay spoke with the Sergeant on the tactical frequency and was told that the owner/victim would be transported to his location by his Sergeant, so that the vehicle could be recovered and released to the owner in the field. The owner was an extremely happy man, as the car had been stopped and recovered only three blocks from the point of theft. Yes he had left his keys in the ignition while making a purchase at the local convenience store.
After finishing the booking process and returning to the field, Jay explained to the recruit that this was a good example why any unusual operation or violation should be carefully addressed and not ignored. He explained that he was kidding and was not positive that this was a stolen car, but the driver should be stopped and advised that by driving without headlights he was nearly invisible to other drivers and pedestrians. This was actually a ramification of performing a Peace Officer’s sworn duty—To Protect Life and Property.
He did not actually profile people, but he paid close attention to any traffic violation that affected safety of the public. The subsequent interview of the driver along with a check for a valid driver license and registration often led to either a citation or even an arrest.
It was only one day later and Jay was riding with an experienced partner on the night shift. It was 10 PM. A car passed their patrol car on a four lane street. Jay was not driving and from his passenger seat he glanced at the driver of the other vehicle. He was then greeted by a facial expression that could only be explained as a guilty look.
Further, the car was not clean and appeared to have been on the highway prior, perhaps traveling a long distance. The tail lights were covered with road grime and barely visible. Jay asked his partner to make a traffic stop for the obscured tail lights with the intention of just warning about the safety aspect. A quick wipe of a rag and the problem would be solved.
The car pulled over quickly in response to the patrol car red lights. As his partner approached the driver he hung behind the stopped vehicle to back up his partner. After his partner was given the valid out of state driver license and out of state registration, Jay shone his flashlight into the rear passenger door window. He observed a military M1; 30 caliber rifle on the floor similar to one he carried in Korea while in the Army. It had a 30 round magazine inserted.
Jay quickly advised his partner that this was now a high risk stop using an agreed upon statement that was a code for danger. A backup was requested. The driver and passenger were removed from their vehicle and the car was checked for other weapons but nothing further was found.
However the rifle was fully loaded with one round in the chamber. California statutes read that a loaded weapon in a vehicle was a violation of law. The question; why was this rifle in the vehicle and why was it fully loaded? The answer was chilling. These people from out of state had heard of the recent Los Angeles Watts riot, and wanted to protect themselves if attacked.
The Patrol Sergeant responded and told the crew to arrest the two and book them for possession of a loaded weapon. Jay and his partner started to drive back to the Sheriff’s station with one of the two prisoners. The Sergeant transported the other one. It took 20 minutes to drive to the station. Half way there, a call went out of a gang fight in the street, possibly 100 involved.
The subsequent interview of the two suspects revealed that they were planning on visiting a friend and were enroute. They would have definitely driven right into the gang fight in the street, and they would have had in their grasp a deadly semi-automatic weapon that could have hurt or killed several people.
Jay and his partner, due to good observation techniques, had possibly saved the lives of many persons by just making traffic stop based on a driver’s guilty look and dirt covering the tail lights. They were in the exact proper place at the exact time so that they could made a difference and save persons from being killed by a military weapon.
That is one of the roles of the Law Enforcement; making simple routine traffic stops along with being highly observant can lead to saving others from a future incident that could involve a vehicle accident, injury or even death. Just one patrol car in a large patrol district with hundreds of people driving on the highway. What were the “chances” of driving directly behind this particular vehicle? This was another incidence of being in the wrong place at the absolutely right time.
An additional thought. In the present day, making a traffic stop for a minor offence is avoided by many in Law Enforcement, due to the changing and hostile attitude of the General Public. As a result people may be in danger as the bad guys would continue to drive until they found a victim with nothing to stop them.