Friday, January 03, 2003


Apologies, all, three days into the new year and still no posts from me, and this isn't going to be one, either. It's a busy, busy time of year - I'm up to my eyeballs in RSVPs for the annual dinner, demands for up-to-the-minute information on the thickness of the ice on Saratoga Lake for our upcoming fishing derby, chariot race plans, and invoicing. It happens.

I'd stay late to write more, but the other token punk/libertarian in the valley (I discount the Sewer King and the Oracle from this number only because they were born too early to regard our music as anything but noise) awaits me at his bar in Riverside, whereat we will drink an overdue toast or two to the memory of Joe Strummer. 2002 was a rough year for punk, with two Ramones gone and now Mr. Clash. So it goes.

And then there's a real funeral to go to tomorrow, for one of the last of the old-style nice guy cowboys. I'm talking, for those locals who are still confused, about Pat Shields. The funeral has been reportedly set for 2 p.m. tomorrow at the high school, but I have since learned it's actually at 11 a.m.

Poor sweetie. I miss him already.

And I'm sure he'll forgive me if I still have "London Calling" running through my head while we all say good-bye. We lost these two people just a few days apart, and they both meant something to me, after all.

Monday, December 30, 2002


To rant about a current controversy in the news, one with its origins in Saratoga but one which, surprise, surprise, has yet to appear on the pages of Saratoga’s newspaper for reasons somewhat unfathomable but nontheless prevailing.

I’m talking about our second-most senior officer on Saratoga’s police department, a woman my own age whom I myself persuaded to join the force because she had (and still has) so many of the qualities that make for a good cop: bravery, common sense, equanimity, a respect for procedure, people skills and vision, whose profile suddenly got much higher when she had to use force to subdue a suspect in several car thefts a few weeks ago.

The particulars of the case don’t particularly matter; a young man, against whom there appears to be quite a lot of damning evidence, got caught, and laboring under the laughably mistaken delusion that he had a right to pick which officer arrested him, he fought off the one who nabbed him. It being her job to bring in bad guys even if they’d rather not come along, she fought back somewhat.

The rest is all under investigation, a matter of hearsay and speculation for the time being. The only reason it is even in the papers is because the suspect’s mother decided to raise a fuss and alerted the press. This sort of thing happens often in other places; it’s unusual here only because of its rarity in tiny little towns like ours.

Whatever the outcome, names are being dragged through the mud, reputations damaged irreparably; even if every single person, suspect, co-defendants and cop, is eventually found blameless, not everyone will receive that information. It’s a known fact that readership of a story and its follow-ups declines over time and not everyone who read the initial splash will bother to pay attention to the ripples.

Labels have been bestowed, and there’s little to be done about that.

What’s interesting about all of this is, of course, the dialogue it has inspired, some of it amusing in its predictability and complete lack of consequence, some of it disrespectful, some of it respectful, some of it very, very pointed in the wake of my colleagues’ and my recent decision to give raises to the five patrol officers on the street in an attempt to keep them from leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere, as one of our officers so recently did.

The usual questions of why we need five officers (which I discussed in some detail in my July 25 entry, A LITTLE MATH PROBLEM), how we justify a police chief who never patrols and who acts solely as an administrator (much more difficult, but I will say this for him: he managed to tighten and tinker and switch amongst line items within his own departmental budget to fund the salary increases his officers recently received), and, of course, my personal favorite, why do we need police officers at all.

That last question always gives me a chuckle, betraying as it does a level of sloppy thinking and self-centeredness that one only can chuckle at, lest it drag one down to truly terrifying depths of despair at the utter hopelessness of the human race.

See, at bottom, everyone believes that laws and rules only apply to other people. My speeding 95 miles down the highway through a construction zone isn’t dangerous, but by all means, bust that other guy. I can handle a pickup truck after downing a fifth of Jack Daniels, but that gal down the bar from me sure as hell can’t. It’s okay for me to put an outbuilding on my residential property without a house, but that guy’s is so ugly you’d better fine his ass, etc.

Of course, the same people who insist we don’t need cops, or need fewer cops, or need purely ceremonial cops, are the very ones who howl for municipal blood if the knuckleheads next door burglarize the house over the holidays or if the neighbor’s dog poops once too often on a prized and cared-for lawn or some drunken maniac whips around the corner in the night and trashes a parked car.

You can’t have it both ways, folks.

And being a cop is a nasty, nasty job, right up there with lawyering in terms of the built-in hostility from others that comes with the role, and as my father and so many others have observed, the extremes of mind-numbing tedium and heart-pounding excitement, with nothing in between... “90% boredom, 10% sheer terror,” my father said of his years on the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

For the Saratoga Police Department, I’d adjust those figures to 99% and 1%, respectively.

And since any kind of action at all is unusual, such action immediately becomes a public obsession, even if someone’s mommy isn’t whining to the press.

But I digress.

The important thing here is to bear in mind that we do not, yet, have all the facts (and that includes Your Humble Blogger; council member though I am, I am not privy to all that much more than you are, and have authority only as one of four persons who make up a governing body. I exercise little power as an individual; I am not the mayor).

Rushing to judgment is exactly the wrong thing to do here, as is hastening to tinker with the entire structure of the police force.

Wait and see.