AN INSIDE VIEW

May 2, 2011

These young  police officers were all killed on the same day, March 21, 2009. Remembered on this t-shirt, which was displayed at an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association Dinner event at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Convention center over the weekend. I’ve been very close to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Archive Association since its inception as one of its founding members.  I’ve followed its growth as it has  morphed from an archive to part museum, and I’ve participated with other volunteers to help preserve the history of the department, both statistical and personal.
Important to me is that people understand police culture; the semi-militaristic bent of police work. Cops find  family in each other; its a brotherhood and sisterhood; a bonding that doesn’t happen in most ordinary jobs because your desk mate will probably never be called upon to be your back up in a life or death situation. To each other they offer an  understanding of the stresses of the job they’ve taken; they share a humor only understood by other cops; sometimes macabre, sometimes hilariously human. And, they know the job they do isn’t perfect, as they deal with contrary laws, and angry humans set in an adversarial role as society expects cops to punish, incarcerate, deprive, protect and sometimes even kill for the public good.

The Sheriff’s Department Bed-n-Breakfast, an inside view of cop humor.

In earlier times, justice was meted out swiftly with little regard for anyone’s “rights.” If you were caught on a stolen horse, you were guilty without question. Even though we know that isn’t the way it should have been done, we sometimes long for that simplicity to maintain “law and order”.

And, no matter what precautions you take, an inmate can always fashion a deadly weapon, be it a broken CD wrapped in fabric, a magazine rolled into a sock, a sharpened toothbrush, comb, or deadly stem from someone’s eyeglasses.

The cops confiscate hundreds of these weapons and take them away, along with gang identifications as in these belt buckles-

Patty Hearst’s backpack was displayed at this event along with a wanted poster for SLA members. My partner and I had recently watched two movies made about Patty Hearst and I was surprised to see Russell Little in one of those movies expounding on the innocence of the parties involved in the SLA. He was an SLA member who shot and killed School Superintendent Marcus Foster, along with Joseph Romero. They used a hollow point bullet loaded with cyanide. Little served 6 years and now counsels inmates at the jail and in half-way type houses in Oakland. Its the way our country works. But, I can’t help but feel resentment that he is free and making light of the SLA.  From an inside view here is why. Pictures we have of Sergeant Bob Jensen, and Larry Franks, guys I knew, who were attacked during Little and Romero’s escape attempt.

Jensen was beaten with a microphone stand and his eye was put out.

Deputy Larry Franks was stabbed with a pencil, as you can see, still sticking out of his neck. It was aimed to kill and fell short by a quarter of an inch of Franks jugular vein. Romero stabbed him; he had a background in a special forces unit in Viet Nam and was a practiced killer, courtesy of our own military training. The two unarmed deputies were locked in the visiting area with the inmates while they consulted with their attorney.

This was the first vehicle the county Sheriff’s Department bought.

And, in the forties, through the sixties, some deputies served as cowboys, rousting the beef herds from county property to property.  Inmates at one time worked for crews herding cattle, butchering their own hogs, cutting hair in the barber shop, baking breads and rolls, working the shops and gardens as well as manning the Santa Rita Fire Department.  The farm system was one of the best ways to treat inmates. It gave them a sense of worth. But, like society, inmates are more violent and must be locked up without opportunities, fresh air, and hard work. Harsh punishment doesn’t make them better citizens, or our streets safer when they get out. And, once you have a record, jobs are scarce.  The perpetual problem, costly, unsatisfactory.
Its just a glimpse,  a bit of an inside view.
I always enjoy the camaraderie of cops, unique people who have unique lives because of their chosen occupation.

 

Being part Irish, I learned more about them from books and history than my own parentage. My father would sometimes say, “Greetuns’, greetuns and salutations,” when  he was in a good mood. And he’d say, “mournin’ boys” to my girl friends, which kind of embarrassed me as a teen. We got the great big “eye”, a television set, when I was about 16 and he didn’t let me watch old British films because they aggrandized the British. (I really understood that after I read Trinity.)
He believed in political debate at the dinner table and never let us forget that the working man had to fight for every right he ever had and if it weren’t for the unions, we’d all be working in sweatshops.
“I’ve worked all my life, and I never had a day of sick leave, and I’ve been plenty sick,”  he would say.
Even so, he was grateful for seniority, the right to organize and ask for pay increases, the right to complain if an individual thought he was fired unfairly. They won pension benefits, and health care, which in my father’s time was simply a nurse on the job to report and treat injuries and provide a record that injuries happened on the job so the union could investigate if any safety rules were ignored.  They won the right to have written evaluations and records of their work so the boss couldn’t lie about a man’s worthiness. Companies didn’t just roll over an capitulate. They fought it tooth and nail, and had other ways of forcing an older man off the job so they wouldn’t have to pay a pension.
In my father’s case, he worked for Pacific States Steel Company. They didn’t like guys who wouldn’t tow the line or complained to their union about infractions of the union rules and safety violations. He suffered through many attacks;  acid in his locker which ate holes in his clothes. Tacks under his tires, which gave him flat tires. His lunch sandwiches filled with sand; midnight phone calls and threats to my mother. (This happened in the 1960’s.) They finally quit the harassment when the bosses had a meeting with the union and my dad appeared with my husband and my brother-in-law, both dressed in suits and ties carrying brief cases looking like lawyers, and holding a tape recorder. My dad got his pension of  $98 a month. When he died, my mother got $76 of that which was considered very generous. 

My husband’s job as a cop was subject to the whim of the Board of Supervisors. In the forties, cops would be fired if they tried to organize into a union and were told so. In fact, at one time you had to be a Republican and join the Masons to become a cop. Later, you had to be a Republican and a Mason to get a promotion. During one bitter strike by a local cannery in Alameda County, CA. cops were instructed to beat back the protesters with their batons even though the cannery workers had the right to protest. Even forming a deputy sheriff”s association was done with trepidation. Deputies served at the whim of the Board of Supervisors. They could not negotiate for better pay. They did not receive overtime pay. Eventually they received compensatory time, but certain bosses wouldn’t sign their comp time cards and refused to give it to them. Other supervisors would come on the job and say, “You-take your vacation this week.” Just like that. You took your time, with no opportunity to plan, and you were grateful that you got vacation at all.

The Irish were very much at the forefront of unions and union organizing in many communities.  They suffered so much from the British, they made sure it wouldn’t happen in their adopted countries, US and Australia. So, Happy St. Patricks day, and here be a Salute To The Irish, by gorrah!

Since my gypsy lifestyle developed, I have been unable to properly serve as President of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Archive Association, a project that I care deeply about. Bill Rhodes was elected to replace me and what a breath of fresh air. Enthusiasm, a no non-sense, get-the-job-done, attitude. I was amazed at the wonderful changes in the facility he has accomplished in a few short months.

Bill, right with Al Iannarelli, discussing a project with Gary Lindsay and Rich Barlow.

Gary is our Media expert. Ianarelli, the author of three books, is invaluable for organizing career books. Bud Harlow, (not pictured) has undertaken to have our Old Santa Rita Jail Doors sandblasted and refurbished.
Rich was interested in knowing if the Archive contains any copies of  The Rap Sheet, a newsletter published by the Deputy Sheriff’s Association during the 1970’s. We have none that I’m aware of. So, another plea. If anyone knows where copies of The Rap Sheet are hiding, please consider donating them to the Archive.
We had an interesting story surface. A retired deputy with a bunch of interesting old clippings and artifacts from his career stored in his garage had a fire. He immediately realized how endangered those materials were and brought them to the archive. Another danger was cited by my cousin/friend Richard Cardoza.
A neighbor of his who built the Bay Bridge had photos, and memorabilia by the box full that was tossed out by his kids when he died. And pictures his Highway Patrolman neighbor accumulated over a lifetime, huge black and white photos of his early career in Contra Costa County, were likewise tossed. DON’T DO IT. Find a museum and donate before tossing. They are history.
Over the past years, when I attended archive meetings, I  stayed overnight with my cousin, Terri Cardoza from Danville.

She and Richard kindly provided me Bed and Breakfast and made my service to the archive possible. She feeds me and the neighbors rabbit, and a half dozen feral cats she has had fixed, plus four of her own. I am grateful for HER service, and donations to the Archive.

I will still attend meetings when I’m in town, and I intend to continue to do interviews for the archive.

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