Christmas in Jail

At roll call, the deputy chief assigned me to Officer Murphy.  I don’t know if Off. Murphy was happy to have me tagging along all night on his patrol, but probably not.  On the other hand, a lot of people like to talk to reporters. There were hours of just driving around, Murphy’s head on a swivel looking side-to-side.  He talked into the radio popping and cracking, mumbling numbers and acronyms and jokes I didn’t get.  Sometimes pulled up to another police car in a parking lot, driver-side to driver-side and coordinated their next move.  All night long like a pack of cattle dogs they crisscrossed north to south and east to west, catching all the outliers and anomalies to bring it back to baseline. There was a domestic incident involving a delinquent who needed to be wrangled. There was a traffic stop where we had to sit and wait for the canine unit to arrive. There was a suicide in an upstairs apartment. For each and every one of these, I sat and waited in the car. Once he hit the lights to pull over a sedan whose tags he’d just run through the computer. Then when he saw who the driver was, he said, “Oh crud. This one’s a runner.  Sit tight. I’ll be back eventually.” But the guy didn’t run after all.  He wrote a ticket and that was it, if I remember right.

As a reporter, I had a pretty good line with the police I covered. Usually someone would talk to me about whatever story I was working on. One night there was an officer-involved shooting where a man in a neighboring town shot his wife on his birthday and then led a high-speed parade through Roselle, Glendale Heights, and Carol Stream and ended up half-submerged in a reservoir off North Gary Avenue.  I stood outside in the rain at the barricade, police tape stretched across the road.  Sometimes I went into the county jail to interview the inmates, like the story I wrote about what it’s like to be in jail on Christmas Day.  I sat in a room with four inmates.  Two of them had bracelets on.  When I asked what those bracelets meant, they said it meant they weren’t supposed to be in the same room together for security reasons.  They were probably messing with me though.  One guy told me he would never tell the guards he was depressed ever again because suicide watch was the worst. “They put you in a room.  They handcuff you to a bed.  I’ll never do that again.”   Every week I’d run the police blotter, going over the police reports and pulling out the most interesting items. Mostly I just covered whatever press release the police department had sent out the night before.

Maybe it was my screw-up with the police blotter that got me blacklisted, but I think it was the story I was working on about the innocent kid who was arrested for rape and refused to give a DNA sample out of paranoia.  And by the time they figured out who’d actually done it, he’d already tried to kill himself in jail and his mom was evicted from their apartment. Anyway, I lost all my friends at the police station after that, or it seemed like that anyway.

Regardless, things were going downhill at the newspaper.  Most of the other reporters I worked with had already quit. We had an editor we all liked who quit and went to Italy.  So I figured it was time for me to quit then, too.



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