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.

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