Episode 93: Policeman Andy (Voted #10 ep of 2012)
Paul talks with Andy, a listener and California policeman who opens up about the “collective PTSD” that police officers frequently accumulate over years of service. They also talk about the tools he has to use when dealing with haunting memories, the mentally ill and fellow officers who abuse their authority.
Welcome to episode 93 with my guest policeman Andy. My name is Paul Gilmartin, this is the Mental Illness Happy Hour. An hour of honesty, actually about 90 minutes of honesty about all the battles in our heads from medically diagnosed conditions to every day compulsive negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical counseling, it’s not a doctor’s office it’s more like a waiting room that your kind of embarrassed to be seen in but it’s got some dirty magazines. I kinda like that one, it’s got kind of a nice ring to it. Maybe we’ll keep that one, I don’t know. Keep sending in your suggestions for describing the waiting room. The website for this show is mentalpod.com and all kinds of good stuff there, please go check it out. We have a winner to announce for the monthly donor giveaway, the cutting board. The number I had chosen was 198 and the closest guess was Pam O’Reilly with 202 so Pam gets the cutting board. And then the embroidered hoop that listener Rosalie made, she’s making embroidered hoops of sayings from the show and she embroidered a hoop that says “Crying is just your soul blowing a load” and the number I picked for that one was 314 and two people picked 317 so they will hopefully both be getting embroidered hoops. The two people are Theater Folk and John Bodalay, so you guys have a dirty, embroidered hoop coming your way. And please visit Rosalie’s Etsy shop, it’s called Changeling Studio. What else did I want to mention? Oh, thank you for using the Amazon search box on our home page for doing your Amazon shopping. It’s starting to add up and you guys are helping me pay for my Christmas gifts and I really, really appreciate that, in addition to all the other ways you support the show. Boy It’s been a pretty intense week in discussing mental health with the shooting in Connecticut and I’ve just been really unable to watch TV and feeling kind of like I’m letting.. Like I’m being lazy by not doing it but I just… I think what bothers me is that this is what has to happen for there to be serious discussions about mental illness in this country and our need for accessible and affordable healthcare in our country and my feeling is what about the other 364 days a year and that’s why I chose this email that I got either yesterday or two days ago to read. This is from a listener named Heather and she writes “there are no mental health services in my area. It is becoming upsetting every time I hear you say that there are. Every place within driving distance requires Medicaid or insurance. I have neither. I have two children, a husband who cares, and a very big problem with self-injury. All that can happen is that I am sent to the hospital and I am referred to people that cannot help me because I don’t have insurance. My husband and I make just $50,000.00 a year. We have two children and I am ruining their lives with my outrageous mood swings. We have called literally dozens of places and they all say the same thing. Medicaid, insurance, or $150.00 and we don’t even have $150.00. I’m at risk of ending my life to spare my family my behavior and the only thing I can get is a script for Zoloft and Xanax, neither of which helps. There are no payment scales. You can receive financial help if you qualify which means that you are dirt poor and on Medicaid already. I have been hospitalized and am probably on my way there again. All I received were $400 in scripts and a referral to a place that won’t take me because I have no insurance or Medicaid. Also, this hospital is suing me now because I can’t pay them. Not everyone can get help when they need it. I am sick of hearing this. Oh, and helpguide.org is a bunch of BS in my area” and I wrote her back and said “Heather, I’m sorry if the advice that I've been giving isn’t working for you. It’s all I know to do.” I’m just… It’s frustrating, it’s frustrating when you get emails every day from people that need help and can’t get it. I don’t want to bring you guys down, but is this how an industrialized, civilized, first world nation treats the citizens that it supposedly loves and respects? Is this patriotism? Letting our neighbors fall through the cracks and walking around suffering? I don’t think so. I don’t know what the answer is and this show is not meant to be an answer to that. There are smarter people that know the system. This is just a waiting room and I don’t want to be anything more than a waiting room. I like holding your guys’ hands and you holding mine. Cause that I know I can do, that I know I can do and I’m scared of trying to be more that that because it’s such a big complicated issue and…. I don’t know. The episode that I’m going to air today— you know as I was thinking about the shooting that happened in Connecticut a week ago, obviously the people that suffer the most are the victims, their friends, and their family. But really, really, right close behind them are the people that have to show up and see that. The first responders, the policemen, the firemen, the paramedics, those people will never be the same. And that is why I decided to air this episode with Policeman Andy who is a California police officer. He was a listener that contacted me a couple of months ago and about a month ago we recorded this episode and I thought that this would probably be a good week so that you kind of get into the head and the heart of what these guys go through and what they do and the cumulative PTSD, as Andy calls it that is part of their job. So pull out your helium balloons and have a good time everybody!
PG: I’m here with Andy who is a listener and also a California police officer. We’re not going to get specific about where he is so that he can speak more freely about his career. What would you like to preface before we start about what it is that you’re going to share just in terms of being a police officer?
PA: just experiences with dealing with mentally ill which is surprisingly a large deal of what I have to deal with as a police officer, the calls we get. People who are out of control, people who are just not dealing with life well. They’re in crisis, whatever it is. It’s a family problem, it’s drug issues, it’s theft issues. When we’re dealing— when we’re interjecting ourselves into people’s lives it’s not just because they’re a victim: somebody smashed a window out of their car and their purse is missing. It’s what are the causes, why are people doing this to each other, why is this family having this problem? And it’s— and dealing with the mentally ill; suicides. And how we work with, you know, taking people into protective custody and getting them the help that they need. How do you call for help? And what to expect and what not to expect? It’s…
PG: I guess my question was less what we’re going to deal with on here. What I wanted you to be able to state is what we were talking about here before we started recording, “this is just my experience, I don’t speak for, etc., etc…”
PA: No attribution to ‘this is policy, this is the way it always is’ or ‘this is the way the place I work for does it’. I can’t speak for my department, I’m not allowed to, unless I officially ask.
PG: And you probably wouldn’t want to anyway.
PA: No, it’s not my role. This is just experiences. And maybe it can help people through their lives, what to expect, and clear up some issues. And hopefully it helps people in their own way.
PG: You’re how old?
PA: I am 43 years old.
PG: And how long have you been a police officer?
PA: Since I was 20 years old. A long time.
PG: The same force the whole time?
PA: No, I grew up in Orange County more or less, that’s where I went to high school. I was interested in high school for whatever reason. It’s growing up watching Emergency and CHIPS, these L.A. based shows of people going out and rescuing people and helping people and if you were to go back and watch Emergency today you’d see how it’s all filmed on the Universal Studio lot practically. And Chips, it’s when they were building I guess it’s the 210 Freeway it’s all them on an empty freeway, it’s all sterile; they’re never pointing their guns at people. It’s all people living this sort of lifestyle of helping people and somehow it infected me and I wanted to get into that and I did the police explorer thing in High School and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I was pretty goal oriented from the beginning.
PG: The police explorer thing?
PA: Many agencies have teenagers, an offshoot of the Boy Scout program for older kids, where teenagers are volunteering, wearing uniforms, going on ride-alongs, learning, no real law enforcement function at all, but it’s a youth version, a cadet course, so to speak.
PG: Oh, that sounds exciting!
PA: It can be, I thought it was.
PG: I would have done it if I wasn’t high in High School!
PA: It probably prevented me from being high. I knew all the stoners, I hung out with them but I never got into that. It kept me out of a lot of trouble that I probably would have sought out.
PG: So you knew early on that this is something that was, if not definitely what you wanted to do, a good possibility this is what you wanted to do?
PA: Yeah, I started preparing for it and little things like, ‘well, I probably should learn Spanish’, so instead of taking German, which sounds more like a more interesting language to learn, I took Spanish. And, planned, ‘well, what university has a criminal justice program?’ and where did I want to live. And so I just started with my own personality traits, planning out my life, whatever that’s… I’m sure somebody could diagnose me with something.
PG: Have you regretted your choice becoming a police officer ever?
PA: Ever. There’s times when emotionally it just drains you. You get just tired.
PG: You’re being a baby.
PA: I know. Just toughen up. Suck it up!
PG: End of interview!
PA: Suck it up man! You can handle this.
PG: I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine the stuff that you see and you experience.
PA: it’s an outdoor job. And that’s what… Every day is different, no matter what; every day is just an experience. Its fun, it’s—
PG: You like that part of it, the unpredictability of it?
PA: Yes, absolutely!
PG: I suppose you have to thrive on it otherwise it would drive you crazy!
PA: I guess its part of maybe a thrill seeker gene. Even though I really don’t want to jump out of airplanes or you know, jump motorcycles. Its constant change, it’s working a graveyard shift, you’re out hunting, you’re out… you are a predator looking for prey. You’re looking for something to do, you’re looking for trouble. They say when the gunfire goes off, which isn’t too often in my small world, but when the gunfire goes off people are going in the opposite direction, we’re going in to it. And that’s not bravery, maybe it’s stupidity, maybe it’s about nature.
PG: No, that’s, that’s, there’s definitely a huge element of bravery so I’m not going to let you get away with that one. Is there an element of stupidity? That I don’t know, because I would never goes towards gunfire, but going back to what you were touching on earlier, you said you were “looking for trouble”, I just want to clarify, you’re not looking to create trouble, you’re looking to solve things.
PA: To get into things, to get into it. We’re looking to engage, to talk to people, get curious. I’ve told people and I’ve explained to people why I’ve stopped them. Well, I stopped you because of this, and here’s everything that I see and it’s all adding up and now I can see that you’re not the person I’m looking for, go on your way. I tell people I have to be curious. I have to be curious about what they’re doing, I can’t ignore things. I have to go by ‘why is that person there? What’s not adding up?’ and I can’t wait for it to come to me. You have to actually engage and be curious. Cops like to think of the classic Bugs Bunny era Warner’s Brothers cartoon of the sheepdog and the coyote and they both sort of walk in at the beginning of the day ’hey, how’s it going’ and they both check in at the same time, the whistle goes off and then they engage all day and they do their thing and at the end of the day you punch out. They go to work to do their job.
PG: Are you able to turn your head off when you punch out?
PA: Yes, I work and live in the same town. Where I live I can separate myself from my work. I rarely carry a gun off duty.
PG: Just when you’re drunk? (laughing)
PA: (laughing) Or high, or crazed, or just angry!
PG: Or nude.
PA: It’s hard to conceal it then.
PG: That’s why they made the derringer.
PA: That’s right. Many cops do and if I lived in a different area I probably would. But I can turn it off and my personality… people say ‘you’re a cop, really?’ I fit a role, I put on the vest, I put on the belt, I put on the uniform and you go out and you play a role and you can turn it off off duty. And one thing I’ll discuss a little bit later when we do the fears, those fears come through in dreams and you wake up in the middle of the night and just the panic and you get... you start recreating what could be your mind working out problems or preparing for problems because that’s what I think it is, but its also, one thing I discussed in the email with you, it’s ptsd in its own way, its cumulative and it wears on you and it builds and builds and builds and some cops can’t release it and some can through a variety of ways.
PG: that’s interesting. I’d like to, before we’re done, definitely touch on that because… unless you want to talk about it now.
PA: Well, let’s talk about the video. The penguin.
PG: Yes, this was originally…just kind of clue the listener in to how you and I got acquainted. You had emailed me because I had mentioned a clip from a documentary by Werner Herzog called Encounters at the End of the World. And there was a scene in it where a penguin is walking away from safety toward certain death and the makers of the film were saying they had learned years ago that they can take that penguin, turn him around, take him back to the beach where there’s food and his community, it doesn’t matter. He will still keep walking toward the mountain to his certain death and they were showing a clip of this penguin walking through town to a certain death and it made me really sad because it reminded me of the mentally ill in that you’re trying to tell them they’re going the wrong direction and they’re so convinced they’re going the right direction that you sometimes can’t tell them. That is the clip I wanted to set up and so you emailed me.
PA: I watched it and I was equally sad thinking this poor thing is running off to its death. And I realized sort of as an epiphany after dealing with the mentally ill for almost two decades, that that penguin... you can’t help that penguin, that penguin has its destiny. It knows where it needs to go but you can’t change its mind. But when dealing with mentally ill people, people who are lost, we can grab them by the shoulders, pick them up and put them back on the trail and say ‘you know where you need to go, that’s the ocean, that’s the nesting grounds, this is someplace you’ve been before. Let’s get you reset. Let’s get you all ready to get back in the game.’ And eventually that penguin may wander away again and there might not be anybody there to help it, but when we see that penguin that’s gone away, bring him back. Help them, get them on that path again and not just dismiss it. It’s difficult dealing with the mentally ill, it’s tiring, it’s taxing. There are some people that are so deeply mentally ill, the people who are wandering that are disheveled and just a mess, you can’t rationalize with them, you can’t do anything with them. But you can help them.
PA: Sometimes it’s just a matter of ‘hey, hey, hey, you know you’re not supposed to be here. We need to get you back on track’, just some mere traffic control. Let’s get you out of those bushes, that belongs to this business and let’s have you walk over here and maybe just sit on the bus stop for a while. Maybe someplace warmer. Sometimes it can be arresting them. ‘Yeah, you’re intoxicated, now we’re going to take you to jail; you’re going to stay there for the minimum four to six hours.’ You’ll be released, but at least you’ll find some home ground. You’ll be someplace different, someplace safe. And maybe just not in those peoples’ yard anymore. Equally there’s times we take them into protective custody. They’ve gone too far. They’re such a danger to themselves that we have to grab them and say ‘the state has to control you; we have to take you some place for your own safety’. Which is so different than dealing with someone who is so intent on just hurting themselves. They’re people who are just lost. The deeply, truly mentally ill that are just shuffling around mumbling to themselves, howling at the wind and living on a steady diet of fortified alcohol. It still amazes me that we grew up saying ‘no you have to have vitamins and this triangle of food’ and there’s people that have lived their entire existence, all their nutritional value comes from fortified liquor, malt liquor… that somehow like a cow living on grass you can live on nothing but malt liquor and thrive. It’s surprising, it’s amazing. But I digress.
PG: Yeah, that’s ok. There’s so many questions that I want to ask you. You know, why don’t I do this, why don’t I… I put it to the listeners, I said ‘I’m going to be interviewing a police officer, send me any questions you’d like me to ask him.’ So, this one comes from Alexis. She says “how does he deal with the normal life when a tough case is over? Does he have any PTSD issues?” Well, I think you kind of touched on that, do you want to elaborate on that?
PA: there’s times when over a period of weeks you see a lot of death. The most common type of death, the paramedics are enroute, not breathing, cold to the touch and the paramedics get there and yeah, the person’s dead. And we have to deal with the family. That’s very common. For some reason over the past two years I’ve been to quite a few suicides by guns. For some reason it seems to be on some uptick. Those are a little bit more difficult to deal with because now there’s quite a few elements I have to get through on those cases. The PTSD is just cumulative. You’re dealing with people in the most stressful situations. You can’t control it, you can’t help them, there’s only so many things you can say. And it just adds up. My department has a pretty good program on dealing with trying to keep us mentally healthy. They call is resiliency. Being resilient, so just like a rubber band, you can stretch beyond the original shape but it kind of goes back to the original shape. And they talk a lot about diet and exercise and sleep. I do a lot of running, trying to keep myself healthy.
PG: Yeah, you look very fit.
PA: The, like in Zombieland, the number one rule “cardio”. If you’ve ever seen the movie. You got to… and then the running just helps. It frees the mind and invariably I’ll listen to some podcasts.
PG: I would imagine those endorphins also help calm you when you get into a stressful situation.
PA: Yes and every day after work I’m doing something, whether I’m going to the gym or whether I’m running. Just to get out some of that energy, just to burn off some of that steam. And most often by the time I get back I’m tired, I’m ready to carry on with my evening. That’s probably one of the best ways and it helps. I have a friend who works in the LA area and he had to be on the periphery part of that Seal Beach nail salon shooting. Where the guy went in and killed—it was a love triangle— went in and killed his girlfriend or wife and then a bunch of other people. And my friend was there from another agency helping to deal with the families all coming in to this one location. Saying, ‘yeah, there’s been a horrible incident and you all need to come in to this one location’ which wasn’t the crime scene and he’s watching these families pour in and everybody is crying and screaming and freaking out and not dealing with it. So it’s not just one small family, it’s rooms full of people. Dozens and dozens and dozens of people because there were somewhere around a half dozen to ten people killed, not to mention the injured on top of that. So he said he’s never felt this way before. He’s been working in a busy town, tons of experience, he said ‘I’ve never felt this way, I can’t sleep, I’m changed.’ His agency had support. And he worked through those support networks and family life, and exercise to burn off some of that energy. It still remains in you but I think you can burn it off pretty good. And that depends on the individual and they try to hire people that can handle it as much as we can. There’s no sight test to become Marine Corps Infantry. So no one knows how you’ll react to whatever stress that’s going to happen in your life. And in the military there’s sight tests for higher level, Special Forces, Pilots, to make sure they can handle certain things. But the low level, there’s not. So those soldiers come back with a lot of inability to work with it. Beyond the efforts of the Army or the Marines or the other services, they don’t know how to deal with it. Police departments give a lot of effort for resiliency so that we can handle it. And we know when we’re stretched to far we can seek help.
PG: Can you ever go to your commanding officers and say ‘I need a week off’ or ‘I—
PA: Yes. There was a time, well before I started where cops, there was no 40 hour week, it was you worked six days in a row and suck it up and ‘yeah I know something bad happened’ and you’re back the next day. If I talked to my boss and said ‘I need a week of sick leave just for mental health’, they’ll work with me and give it to me. If I need time off. And I’ve seen officers do it, take off a couple months.
PG: What if you say it while you’re wearing a Hawaiian shirt? Does that add to your case?
PA: My bags are packed, but this is a special… This world is pretty generous to say ‘it’s your time, take it. Just let us know what we can do’.
PG: One of the things that Andy said before we started recording was… you wanted to preface that this was your experience as a California police officer. Can you talk more about that?
PA: Right. And without doing any attribution to my own department, I don’t speak for them. But just, this is what California does; this is typical for a California agency. I can’t say this is the same for Mississippi, in Maine, in North Dakota, because they do different things or different laws. So if I ever say ‘this would work to get the attention that you need’ I’m referring to what happens in my small county. Let alone, not saying what LA County might do or what might happen in Miami.
PG: Here’s a question from Andrea. “What’s the most heartbreaking experience you’ve had on the job?” It’s probably hard to pick just one huh?
PA: This one sticks with me just because it dealt with kids—
PG: Guess not! (laughing)
PA: No! No! I was prepared. Um, I was on graveyard so it was the end of my shift about 5:30 in the morning, baby not breathing and I hate to say it but, crappy area of town, crappy houses. So I get there first, well before the paramedics. And there’s two parents standing there in a house that’s neat and clean but poor. And they go, they point. And so I go in the back bedroom and there’s a crib. And so— as cops we take in everything, we’re supposed to take in everything. It’s a crowded small bedroom, bed’s taking up the majority of the room, dresser. Neat and clean, and then there’s a basinet style crib. There’s two mylar balloons saying “congratulations! It’s a boy!” or whatever it is, but there’s no other furniture for a baby. There’s nothing else that you would typically find— When you wife is going to have a baby, they nest. They create a room, they create comfort zone for this child because it’s part of their nature. There’s no nesting involved. And the crib, there’s a two or three day old baby just out of the hospital that died for whatever reason it died and it’s just in that— when you put them on their back and the arms go up at right angles and their legs are splayed because it’s just the way they are. And it’s blue and it’s cold. And they said ‘yeah, we went to bed last night and it’s been, you know, he’s been down for a couple hours and we didn’t hear him cry and we woke up in the morning and it was dead’. And they’re distraught but they’re not— they just were in shock. When you have a dead baby for— the medical training, you never pronounce a baby dead. its like,’ no, no, no’ and you never pronounce it because there’s always hope. When the paramedics arrive, I take it out to them and say “it’s dead” and they go ‘well, we’ll try’ and they look at it and they did their assessment without starting CPR and they say ‘yeah, it’s dead’. So another officer comes out and takes over the scene. But the thing I remember most is little hands, those tiny little baby hands clenched in fists as if that baby was somehow struggling to breath in the middle of the night, just clenched, those little baby fists. And I have two kids of my own, they’re both teenagers now, but whenever they were young and they clenched those little fists, it’s like I wanted to unclench them. I didn’t want them to make those fists because it’s like it just frightened me, I didn’t like it.
PG: It seemed like they were struggling.
PA: It just bothered me because it’s that image. It’s that child, that baby, that—
PG: your own kids—
PA: My kids, when they clenched their fists, I wanted to unclench them.
PG: Because it happened after this episode?
PA: yes, I had one at the time and I had one after.
PG: I see.
PA: and I just didn’t want to see that clenched fist. That sticks with me.
PG: Wow. That’s going to stick with me! That—
PA: it’s just harsh, isn’t it?
PG: Now, if you had to experience something that haunting every day, do you think it would run you out of your career?
PA: It very well could. Um, it’s not hard— well, it’s not hard… You learn to disassociate, to dehumanize. Which is why cops wind up in a lot of trouble because they dehumanize and all of a sudden it’s just us and them and it’s animal. I was just saying I heard a long time ago, and I’m not saying I agree with it, that there’s three kinds of people in the world. There’s assholes, there’s idiots, and there’s cops. It’s the assholes of the world that make the idiots of the world call the cops. And that just shows how when you’re in the function of being a police officer and ‘those are just a bunch of assholes and there’s a bunch of idiots’ and there’s just us, this blue shield of freedom where we are the super men and all of you all are just nothing.
PG: Nobody gets it like we do.
PG: I work in a town where about 85% of the officers in the department actually live in the town. It’s a suburb, it’s copland. Down the freeway toward the metro area all, well not all lots of the cops live in town. So it’s a safe place. We have our share of fools. We’re on a busy freeway so anything can hop off of that freeway at any time and it’s near two big natural areas. But you can get away from the work and there’s a lot of cops in town that say ‘yeah, I work over there in one of the crappy towns down the road’ and he says ‘the only thing I care about in that town is that machine that prints my paycheck. And I don’t care about the people, and I don’t care about the neighborhoods, and I don’t care about the street, I don’t care about the infrastructure. And I don’t care what happens. All I care about is that machine that prints my paycheck.’ And that’s a pretty crappy way to go through a career. It’s survival, because if all you’re doing is dealing with people that are victims one day and suspects the next day it— you just start hating people. You have no choice.
PG: I would imagine there would be no way to separate that attitude about the world because you know, I believe how we view the world has everything to do with not only how we feel about things that happen to us but how we react to things and you can’t limit that. You can’t limit your heart to a mile by mile area because it’s just not that neat and clean. It’s—
PA: Well, it’s separated, it’s just that’s another world. I go behind my double gate guarded community and hide there. You know, I don’t live behind a gate, but it’s separated. I’m in my own little world. I go to my own little house and I’m safe here. And that’s what we should do. I can’t imagine growing up in a place where I didn’t feel safe and living where I didn’t feel safe. If somebody broke into my house, every time I saw the front door that was kicked in, I’d be angry. It would stick with me until I moved. It’s—
PG: Let me ask you another question from a listener. This is from Carl; “I’d like to know what the good cops think of the bad cops, and the best way to deal with it?” I guess ‘rogue cop’ is kind of what he’s asking. What do you do when you see somebody who you know is operating outside of the ethical boundary that is clear to you?
PA: I haven’t seen it in my own department. I’m obligated to say something. As hard as it may be, self-preservation says I have to do it. I’ve worked in a previous agency where they were doing some, not shady stuff, but they were a little physically aggressive with people. And just after I left there— it was an incident that happened before I left but it came to the public after I left and I had nothing to do with it, Thank God. I wasn’t there when it happened but it got people fired and it was in the news and if Rodney King hadn’t happened it probably would have been bigger news. Just because it was local news but things blow up. And you have to report it. And in my own department you know the cops, I don’t want to say ‘you can trust’ because that sounds like ‘well I can trust you so I can screw around in front of you’ but you know the guys that will behave and do things right. There’s things that by law I have to do. If I go out to a domestic violence and there’s a victim, male or female, with visible physical injuries, I have to take a report, I have to seek an arrest. I don’t have a choice and if I saw another officer not investigate that properly I have to take over. I have to do it, because I’ll lose my job. And there’s quite a few scenarios like that in California where these are “shall” to do and if I don’t It’s a misdemeanor, I get in trouble.
PG: So, if you go to a call, let’s say a domestic violence, and the husband is drunk and he takes a swing at your partner and your partner subdues him, cuffs him and then loses his shit and just starts punching the guy when the guy is subdued…
PA: I’d have to report it, but because— I almost had this experience, I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but since part of the subduing process is communication and stopping those things. To the point of shielding. You go ‘ok, we’ve got him’, it’s a melee, and you’ve got four cops on one crazy person that’s struggling and it’s like…as people are trying to do stuff, it’s like ‘hey, think about handcuffs, your handcuffs, get him in handcuffs’ and start bringing people down and communicating. I have to intervene, otherwise I have to say you have to fill out a use of force report and you’re going to document everything you did because I’m not… It’s easy in my department because it’s supportive and I trust the people I work with.
PG: You must feel lucky that you work where you do knowing how bad it can get in other communities.
PA: I chose to work there. I… The first things that I mentioned earlier, that I had something happen; I was reserve there which is… I had put myself through the academy it was my first place that said ‘we’re gonna hire you full time but we don’t have any openings, so you’re going to be on reserve. You’ll go through some training, you’re gonna do some work. We’ll pay you for certain details. And when we can hire you full time you’ll get your full benefits, full retirement’s gonna start and all those things.’ So I left there and I went to another department, stayed there for about five and a half years, saw the writing on the wall for the finances of that city and said I’m going someplace else. So I chose where I work now and I’m happy with my choice. I’m not stuck there. If I was in a place where I was stuck it’d be a little different. I’m not stuck. So it is fortunate and those are the choices that cops have to make and if you’re working for someplace where bad things are going to happening, you’ve got to go. You’ve got to find something else; you can’t put yourself in that situation.
PG: Have you… I’m a believer that adrenaline is one of the most dangerous drugs, also one of the most addictive. Because I’ve found myself sometimes, playing hockey, doing things that outside of the rink I would never do in a million years. Taking swings at people, saying the most god awful, mean things. When your adrenaline is pumping and somebody does something that physically threatens you and scares you, I know that you can react in a way that scares yourself. I’m speaking personally. Have you experienced something on the job where you’ve had that happen to you? Where you’ve been so scared and full of adrenaline that you’ve over reacted and been ashamed later?
PA: Yes, and it could be driving. We get way out of control driving. It’s ‘I’ve got to catch that speeder, that person that ran a stop sign’ and you’re going twice as fast as they are to catch up with them, to gain and you’re like ‘why was I going so fast?’
PG: Because running a stop sign, while certainly illegal, it’s not like he’s got a child in the trunk.
PA: Right, it’s like ‘I’ve got to catch them, that person can’t get away’ and it’s not a pursuit, it’s just ‘I’ve got to catch up to them and turn that red light on so they stop’. I was in my current place that I work right now and it was a graveyard thing and there were drunk kids in a parking lot and cops don’t deal with physically controlling women too well because we feel like we don’t want to hit them or hurt them or take them down. It just doesn’t seem… it’s not in most of our nature. Cops want to protect people who are smaller, more diminutive, maybe victims. And often domestic violence, it’s the women that are victims. Sexual assault, most often its women who are the victims. And that’s what we want to do, protect them. We have a different look toward them. And this sixteen year old girl was drunk, she had her friends with her and I go to grab her arm because she needs to be in handcuffs and she took a swing at me or whatever, she grabbed my microphone which was on my chest. So I had my flashlight which was like an aluminum flashlight, it’s in my hand and I came up and I was just about to smack her in the head with it and it was like (makes a sound of screeching brakes) and it was like I was so glad I didn’t hit her because it just wasn’t called for. I could have written my way out of it but things like that you’re like ‘ok, I’m trained to do something and I’m going to react’ and it’s like ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, I’m not going to do that because it’s going to get me in trouble and it will look bad’
PG: was it that you were angry at what she had done or it had startled you and it was just second nature?
PA: Ninety percent nature, ten percent ‘how dare you? You little bitch, how dare you grab me?’. And that’s what you feel and you go ‘wait a minute; I have to think about that’. And we talked about the stressful situation, how it deals with you later, for the rest of the night there’s anxiety because you got so jacked up it’s like ‘ok, ok, I’ve got to take it down a notch’. So you end up going home and you’re like ‘ok, I’ve gotta sleep, gotta sleep’ and that’s where I don’t drink too much, but that where alcohol could really become a problem. ‘I’ve gotta drink myself to sleep’.
PG: how long did something like that stay with you where you’re playing it over in your mind and beating yourself up for something you almost did?
PA: I think a good sleep cycle takes care of it. But I can still think of it, I can still get you know, emotional about it now. You bring it to the surface, it’s there, but It’s not… It’s such a minor thing. I’ll say I’ve never shot at anybody; I’ve never been shot at. I’ve been nearby, but—
PG: so, you’ve never killed anyone?
PA: No, it’s very uncommon.
PG: you must, I would imagine though… Even in L.A. it’s?
PA: overall numbers, it is. On average.
PG: You haven’t watched Adam 12.
PA: Yeah, exactly! Or 24 or Training Day or any of them.
PG: You haven’t seen hippies dancing. They’re very dangerous.
PA: that’s true, that’s true. I think the ratio is about 50 cops a year get killed by all types of car accidents, stabbed, shot, and I think cops kill in the US somewhere around 400-500 a year.
PG: And that’s nationwide.
PA: Nationwide. So that’s not a lot when you think that New York City has 36,000 to 45,000 police officers. And the overall number of cops in the country is over 200,000. When you do the math it doesn’t happen that often and if an officer gets into one shooting, they tend to get into another and another because, I hate to say it, they pop their cherry, but they’ve reacted and done it and if they work in an environment where that happens, it tends to happen again. We had an officer in my current department who got into two shootings in a month. In about a two month period. And that’s rare for the department.
PG: shot at or shot somebody?
PA: Shot somebody.
PG: Did he kill?
PA: No, no, just injured. But it was just, you pop that cherry it becomes part of your mindset. And it happens, It’s weird psychology.
PG: Was it called for in both circumstances?
PA: Yes, it was justified when you play the scenario out. Yes, it’s justified for what it was. It doesn’t mean the department was happy with him.
PG: I gotcha
PA: But, its justified.
PG: So there are a variety of protocols in certain situations, up to the officer.
PA: it’s a flowchart. It’s a quick flowchart in the brain of ‘yes or no? Yes or no? Yes or no?’ and it winds up being, ‘ok, by policy it’s all good’.
PG: And do you use one of those magic eight balls?
PA: Yes, just a randomizer. And roll the dice on the ground and go ‘ok, snake eyes. Ok, that’s good’.
PG: Yeah. Maybe, ask again. This comes from Allison; she asks “is your career field being more active for making sure officers are mentally solid?” I think you kind of answered that one already.
PA: Yeah, there’s some… we do the MMPI and other character tests and they want a certain profile. They want people to fit into decision making and, you know… If you’ve ever done the MMPI it’s ‘Do you have black and tarry stools?’ and ‘Would you like to be a forest ranger?’ It’s all kind of crazy assed questions. But they want to get a general path of where your moralities are, how you deal with stress, how you deal with people…
PG: What does MMPI stand for?
PA: It’s Minnesota Multiphasal Interview. It was developed in the ‘50’s. It’s something like 800 multiple choice questions and somehow they project a chart off of it…
PG: That alone would make me want to shoot people.
PA: Yes. Oh, it’s a long test. It’s painful.
PG: Would you fail if you spread your own feces on the paper and turned it in?
PA: Dot, dot, A, B, B, B, B. When I got hired by my current department they gave me something called the “B pad”. Which was, ‘you’re going to watch a video and you’re going to respond’ so it was a classic VHS tape they had a camera in your face and you’re watching a monitor. And one of the ones I remember is… Well, there’s no reaction. Once it gets to a certain part in the video now it’s just sort of freezes and you have to continue for 30 seconds. I think there’s a timer and you have to talk. So the deal is ‘can you talk to people?’ And it was, ‘you’re responding to a report of a woman screaming and when you get there this is what you see’ the door opens and there’s a woman holding a baby and she’s saying “my baby’s dead! It’s dead! I know my baby’s dead!” and she just looks at you. So now on camera you have to react for 30 seconds. So it’s, you have to talk and the department’s not going to hire you if you just go ‘duh, yeah, I don’t know what to do’ so it’s ‘oh! This is terrible! I know this is very traumatic. How about you hold on to your baby because…I know the paramedics will be here but why don’t you hold on to your baby for little bit longer.’ Can I talk for 30 seconds? Can I negotiate? Can I communicate for 30 seconds? And departments try to give it a good judge of character. What can this person do? It does not just can you BS your way through an interview or if you can scam a psych test, they want to see if you can communicate. Because it’s all communicating, it’s all negotiating. It’s all just ‘what can you do to not screw up?’
PG: I had a friend, somebody who I know applied to be a police officer and he used me as a reference and they contacted me and I said “I don’t think this person would make a good police officer because I’ve seen this guy lose his shit on people and he has an anger problem and he enjoys hurting people” and he’s not a cop. And I felt good; I didn’t feel bad about it at all because I was like ‘you know what? I have a duty to citizenry, I played hockey with this guy and as much as I liked him off of the ice I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t going to do some of those things he did on the ice.
PA: Was he someone you would want to come to help your mom when she’s in distress, you’re best friend when she’s in distress, your wife when she’s having a problem? Or your own children if they’re being mouthy on the street. Who’s the cop you want to be dealing with these people? You want someone who is going to be stern and maybe is going to apply force when necessary, but... When you work for a department that supports you, it’s great. When you work for a city that supports you it’s great. There’s a recent thing in San Francisco that was in their paper about a couple gang detectives that were out in the evening looking for people and they see a couple of Hispanic guys out walking and they go up to them and one of the Hispanic guys literally pulls out a machine pistol, automatic weapon, shoots at them, they shoot this guy, he goes down. He’s a felon which means he can’t possess the weapon anyway, and he’s a gang member. Oh, and they learn from him in an interview that he was there to retaliate for a shooting that happened the previous night. So he was a felon with a machine gun with murderous intent, who shoots at the cops and they shot him and there was a protest! There was a violent, “smash out windows” protest because the cops shot somebody in the mission district. You go ‘how do you work for a community that doesn’t support you?’
PG: That must be so angering.
PA: For doing the right thing that you lay out that scenario to anybody you say that’s what has to happen. We have to stop gang members from possessing automatic weapons going to shoot up houses. And you go ‘that’s insane! How could you work in San Francisco and deal with that?’
PG: Would you also say though, that you have to make sure that you police each other so that the resentment that’s obviously been built up over decades and mistrust that that community has isn’t there. That that trust is possibly earned back to some degree? I mean there are going to be people that are going to hate cops no matter how good of a job you guys do but is it fair to say that the rogue cops have contributed to that mistrust?
PA: And historically. It’s not just rogue cops, it’s history. The black community has not gotten its fair shake from law enforcement for forever. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad people who need to go to prison but they haven’t. How do you change that? I don’t know. But you can individually do your best. To give maximum service and then…ok, today’s victim maybe they’re tomorrows suspect, I don’t know, but right now they’re the victim and I’ll give them everything they need and see how it works out.
PG: How does he feel about officers who abuse their power? Why does he think this occurs? Why do you think?
PA: It could be their nature to begin with. I mean we’ll start with the basics; they’re bullies that always wanted to just have the extra power. I’ll say that there’s… in American society there’s probably nobody that has the greater ability to use force than a cop. Actually, the government says it’s ok for law enforcement to end somebody’s life with justifiable homicide in the right situation. A judge can deem that after this jury trial and the attorneys have gotten done and the jury says “yes” that he can put somebody to death but a cop can make a split second decision to go ‘oh my gosh, flow chart! Flow chart! Yes! Yes! Yes!’ to go ahead and shoot and take somebody’s life. That’s part of the nature, maybe that’s part of the thrill seeking, it’s dangerous, it’s adventurous. The rogue cop, if that’s all they’re looking for, they’re not going to last, they’re probably going to get burned out because they’re not going to get legitimately enough of those repetitions to keep them happy or they’re going to go overboard trying to make it happen. It has to be… The agency has to police it and get rid of them. It’s internal.
PG: This is an interesting one. What is… There are actually two. “Are you afraid of any of your fellow officers? Have you ever been afraid of any of your fellow officers?” I don’t think he means that they’re going to hurt you but afraid for society.
PA: I’ve seen it. In that one agency that I said where I left before it came to the surface. Yeah, this is…there are some people here that are just… Yeah…
PG: Thinking of anything that I can report them on right now but this guys a ticking bomb?
PA: yeah, they’re just… they were hired in an era by a department that just didn’t filter too well. Currently, no.
PG: That’s great. “What’s your stance on marijuana legalization and do they feel there’s any benefit to legalizing it for medical versus recreational.
PA: Libertarian in me says “legalize it”. Because I haven’t ever gotten into a physical altercation with somebody who’s high. Drunk? Oh yeah. Tweaked out on meth? Certainly. But people who are high just sort of submit and ‘ok, I understand.’ They’re somewhat calm, sedated. It’s not an aggressive…people just sort of get baked and do their own thing. I don’t have a problem with it. I don’t want my kids to smoke it, I prefer they avoid it. I don’t want people to be driving around on it, driving around with it. In my town, harvest season just ended, so you could drive around town and smell it and you’re like, it’s a pretty noxious smell to smell in a garden a couple doors down. It’s a powerful smell.
PG: It’s pretty skunky
PA: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to have to live next to that if I were in my backyard. You go up to some places like Mendocino County, the whole valley, you drive into the valley you’re like ‘oh my gosh’, it just smells everywhere and if you don’t like the smell you’re sort of doomed. That might not be fair. To have to have your whole neighborhood smell like, you know, some good skunky weed in September. But at the same point, it should be legalized. Tax it, sure. But I will say, it’s California, it’s practically legal and if we stop your car and there’s weed in the car and I smell it and I go ‘I’m going to check to make sure its within what the law says’ and I go ‘well, there it is, have a nice day’ by the same token I’ve pulled people out of the car and there have been loaded guns. So, there are a lot of crimes that in the bad communities are marijuana related. You would cut those bad people off at the knees if it were legal to possess and own and grow and buy from the state store and the violent marijuana sales, the home invasion robberies, the turf wars that are happening in a lot of towns would end.
PG: Best portrayal of cops in a movie.
PA: The End of Watch recently came out. Pretty good. There’s some… the whole idea of taking your badge off and getting into a fight with somebody, until there’s a victor, somebody wins, not going to happen. I can’t imagine that happening. But there’s some realism, the conversations. I find that, people hate this, Reno 911, the banter, the interaction, the funny shit cops do, it’s all there. I don’t know where Tom Lennon and them got the idea but they got a lot of the crap down of cops just screwing around and doing things. Take that as lighthearted because there’s a lot of f’ed up stuff that happens but just the whole idea of having the scavenger hunt and finding the prettiest prostitute of the night is sort of, not reality that we’re going to do a scavenger hunt, but we look for stuff just to see who can come up with the craziest shit.
PG: I would imagine you have to keep your mood afloat.
PA: Right, and we see the craziest things, the funniest things. The people at their worst, the people at their most vulnerable and it’s fine, it’s funny.
PG: Anything you want to share?
PA: I’d have to think. The carnival came to town and I know there’s a stereotype for carnies and it’s mostly true. We’re searching this guy for meth and he’s got his pants down, nice tighty-wighty latex with just a hole for his dick to hang out. You catch guys in women’s underwear, you catch guys just driving around in their wife’s clothing and they’re not supposed to be caught, they’re just expressing themselves. And reverse psychology, you catch people at their worst and you pretend not to notice. You can mess with people a little bit, not enough to make them feel bad about themselves, just to have fun. It’s just… That blows off steam and some of that Reno 911 stuff is all true. Colors is another close one, just…that’s an old one, but cops just going out working and finding stuff. But for the most part you go to Training Day. Now, it just doesn’t get…
PG: What about French Connection?
PA: Different era. I’ve seen the movie, they’re deep in an investigation, they’re assuming roles, they don’t… Cops work 40 hours a week and if we’re over 40 hours we’re getting paid for it. There’s no way you’d spend that much time out there in that role. Maybe the Feds get away with it because they don’t get the overtime in the same way but…. I’m sure on the roll it’s quite realistic, but in todays… It just doesn’t exist where cops are in that. In my world, in my experience, where I’ve seen it’s currently being done.
PG: How about the guy from The Village People, how close is he?
PA: Um, very close. He’d be wearing a vest these days so you wouldn’t be able to see the hairy chest, but otherwise…
PG: Um, this is from Michelle and she writes “I’m a 911 dispatcher. Ask him how he’s able to deal with the bad things he has to see on his job.” Well, actually we’ve kind of answered that one.
PA: Well, interestingly, that’s a job for them, because they’re on the phone with someone. Most of our communication is nonverbal. They say that 98 percent of our communication is nonverbal. When you’re on the phone and you’re staring at a monitor trying to hear what people are saying and then, ok, now it’s hung up, they don’t get to figure out what’s happened. They hear a panicked officer on one end of the radio, they’re trying to manage a pursuit, it’s so much a lack of control from what they have to do. They can send us to do things, they can give us information, but the keyboard, they can’t give us control. I think that’s a very stressful job.
PG: I would think so, all day long they’re given a quarter of a jigsaw puzzle.
PA: they are like in my department, they do police and fire dispatch. Yeah, somebody’s not breathing, they’ll walk somebody through CPR, ok fire’s on scene and they’ve hung up. And I’ve called dispatcher and said, ‘hey, here’s what happened’ and the person’s dead or the person’s alive and I try to give them an update and some closure because walking through someone trying to give CPR to a loved one is stressful. Trying to get someone to understand and follow your instructions and all of a sudden paramedics are there and “click”. And, a tough job on their end too. And they get a lot of abuse too, because it’s easy to abuse someone over the phone. More than to the guy with badge in person.
PG: And they think the 911 dispatcher has any control over how quickly the help arrives.
PA: And what the officer does, right or wrong.
PG: I remember about 16 or 17 years ago I was living in an apartment building somewhere in LA and some guy was fucked up on drugs and he had come to visit somebody in our apartment building and it was a gated underground parking and he didn’t have the clicker to open the gate to leave and so he just started ramming it and you could hear this reverberating through the whole building and I think he may have even.. Somebody had tried to calm him down and he tried to hit somebody. So we called the cops and this guy eventually knocks the gate down and takes off and so we’re out in front of the apartment building waiting for the cops to show up and 45 minutes later they show up and we sarcastically clap and this guy just dressed us down and told us what he’d been through that day and I immediately apologized and I was like ‘I’m so sorry, I had no idea.’ He says ‘you don’t understand. When they cut budgets, they cut everything and we’re the ones that pay for it and we are rushing from one thing to the next all day long.’ And I felt terrible but I gained a new insight into what it must be like to be…
PA: There’s only one of me, or one and a partner, or whatever it might be, and we can only be one place at a time and people are like, ‘why can’t you get here quicker’ and I’m like ‘I do my best!’ I can put my lights and sirens on but I still can’t go absolutely fast. There’s still red lights, there’s still traffic, I can’t get there. And sometime the call sits and I don’t know about it or they don’t dispatch me or I can’t get to it because I’m on something else. Which is frustrating to be at a call where you’re seemingly time on somebody who is dragging this thing out on this garbage when you know there’s, you know, the entire population minus this one family without an officer because there’s never enough cops on duty.
PG: I can’t imagine what it’s got to be like.. Like when I see something that’s kind of horrifying, somebody’s out of control, you know, say I’m walking down the sidewalk and somebody’s being on the verge of snapping and I’m thinking ‘ugh, thank god we have cops.’ I can’t imagine what it’s gotta be like, you, it ends, the buck ends with you. There’s nobody for you to call other than more backup.
PA: you develop yourself into a role. And you say, ‘ok, I’m the man, I’ve got to stop this’ and we have tools. The Taser is a wonderful thing. We have tools and we communicate and we just deal with it. It is intense to go ‘ok, I’m going to this call. I know something bad has happened because there’s gunshots and there’s victims and people are saying all these bad things.’ And you just say ‘ok, I’ve gotta go through the flow chart, I’ve gotta get there, I’ve gotta do it.’ There’s never enough of us. LAPD, I don’t know how many 100’s of officers are on duty right now spread throughout a massive city that this is, but what are the odds of there being more than two of them within a couple miles of you at any time that aren’t busy doing something else, that might not even be on the right radio channel because they’re crossing through districts. And if you were that lone Sheriff’s Deputy in Inoe (sp?) County or San Bernadino County which is larger than the state of Rhode Island, you could be one deputy out there all alone going to something that you know is bad and you’re the only one out there. To the point where they even have an air unit that will stop, pick up deputies, and fly deputies out to the middle of the desert to do cover. That’s got to be a whole different experience of being all alone in the middle of the desert or the middle of the woods, knowing that even with lights and sirens it’s going to take someone an hour to get to you.
PG: And I would imagine, too, that the drugs that are more popular now than ever, like meth, where the hallucination factor is just… where there isn’t even a sliver of reality that you can be dealing with this person. What is that like, is that the worst drug to face somebody who is high on? PCP? What are the bad ones?
PA: I’ve never seen PCP in action, to the point where they’re actually whacked out.
PG: you’ve never been to one of my parties.
PA: I’ve seen the videos though, they’re quite amazing. Meth, I think meth just fucks with people’s brain and cumulatively it really puts people on a different world. But they’re usually individuals, so it’s usually just one person acting bad. That’s dangerous when they have a rifle, or they have a gun or a knife or whatever it might be, or if they have a car. I think alcohol is scarier. Because then you get a crowd outside, for example, the Staples Center, after a championship game, because then you’ve got this mass energy, this crowd feeding on each other, lighting a bus on fire after the Giants win the World Series. That’s scarier. Or to be on a subway, on the BART system and somebody’s reporting that somewhere on this subway car there’s a person with a gun and its New Year’s and there’s a hostile crowd and you’re trying to deal with a group of people while there’s a dozen more of their friends, perhaps one or more carrying a gun, while they’re behind you. That results in a lot of the stress which results in a bad decision like what happened in the BART. With the BART incident with the officer who said he was going for his Taser but went for his gun and shot a guy in the back. That’s’ stress, it’s that crowd, because you’re going to lose control and you could be overwhelmed very easily. I went out on a group of, let’s say 16-17 year olds in a park and put myself on and did all the right stuff and was out with them and they were being dicks, but then my partner showed up and we dealt with them. I heard later that they had formulated intent that they were going to jump me and just do whatever they wanted to kill me. I heard that later and had my partner not showed up, that would have happened. That’s scary. The concept of being all alone with people that were going to take you out but for here comes the second officer that was order. So that’s where you go, ‘ok, I’m happy I did things right’ and just not randomly not call dispatch, get out of my car, and do that because I don’t know what I would have done. I would have done my best, but… a group of people like that…
PG: ok, so let’s talk about the mentally ill. Or, include in that grouping people who are addicted to drugs because I think that is its own mental illness and in many ways in my experiences with people who are really fucked up it’s like trying to reason with a child. How do you go about dealing with those who just test every fucking nerve?
PA: When people aren’t listening to you, and it could be a screaming 14 year old who just doesn’t want to hear what you are saying, and it could be somebody who’s drunk that you just can’t reason with, how do you do it? You just start talking quieter and you just start bringing them down if they’re yelling, and you just bring it down, or you just take seat. No one is expecting you to take a seat when somebody’s freaking out, you just take a seat. You make it look like ‘this is no big deal to me’. You put them at ease. Hopefully, you’ve got somebody else with the tools behind you who’s watching over you. It’s just a matter of bringing them down.
PG: That’s so funny that you mention that because that’s always what I did as a stand-up comedian when a crowd was loud and talkative. I would just get quiet and then they would shush each other so that they could…
PA: you keep a conversation going. You open up and you let them roll and you just… they call it “l.e.a.p.s.”, stands for listen, empathize, ask questions, paraphrase, and summarize. I’m listening to what you’re saying. I understand what you’re saying and I feel sorry for you. Why is it making you feel this way? So what you’re saying is this is your problem? And well, this is what we need to do. And if you follow that pattern of just listening to people. I’ve sat there and just let somebody yell. “I understand, I understand”. And not patronize them, just let them get some of that anger out and it helps. Now, if someone is whacked out and they have no idea what they’re doing, they could go on forever. If they’re on meth they’ll do that for the next 24 hours. There comes a time when you want to say ‘ok, now I’m Dad yelling at you. Listen, this is what is going to happen to you, I have a Taser, I have a baton. This big guy is going to do something worse. Let’s do it. Ok, you don’t want to listen? Fine, I have causes to take you in to my custody, it’s happening now.’ And you just dance.
PG: have you ever had somebody come at you with a knife?
PA: No. But the worst thing that ever happened was a drunk guy in a garage. I went out there once, it’s evening, loud music, he’s in his garage, he’s just drunk. You go ‘hey dude, turn it off’ he turns it down. You come back an hour later with a partner and I go, ‘hey, last time I was out there he had a bow and arrow so just be aware of that’. So we go up to the garage, he puts up the bow and arrow, starts notching an arrow in a compound bow and starts bringing it up. We yell at him, pointing our guns, and he put it down. That could have been a justified shooting there. I don’t want to get shot with an arrow that’s going to go right through my vest. That’s a little bit harsh. But people… It doesn’t happen as much as people think it does. Even just watching Cops. Cops is realistic except for you’re being approached by cop with these two cameramen behind them. It’s a different scenario. You’ve changed the structure of the contact by having the two cameramen and the sound guy behind them. But it’s pretty realistic and maybe if you watch Cops it doesn’t happen that often. There have been a few shootings on Cops, a few tasings, a few beatings, but not as much as you think happens based on what popular media would think happen. But I’ve talked to a few people who have, you know, grabbed people who have had guns, I’ve talked people down who have had knives in their hands saying ‘I’m going to do these things because I’m suicidal’. I’ve talked the out of it but they always come at me with, you know, a switchblade coming out.
PG: What, did they think they were in West Side Story?
PA: Yeah, I know. It happens, I mean, it happens but it doesn’t happen as much… We also, by using our own tactics, we try to anticipate, we keep distance, we communicate with people, and—
PG: Well, it sounds like one of your best tools is to make that person feel heard.
PA: It’s everything. Communicating is everything in the job and if you can’t communicate, if you just stumble over your words, it’s not going to get you anywhere and the best cops are the best communicators. You can’t be meek. It takes a while to develop. It takes a while to get some sayings down. And once you get them down, you roll with it and people tend to listen and you experiment and sometime you don’t say the right thing. When people are in, manic is not the right word, because manic is the opposite of the depressive low, but when people are in a mania where they’re, what I call, there are circles and loops going through their head and they can’t break the loop and the loop keeps going, and they can’t break the loop and the loop keeps going, I tell them that. I tell them “you’ve got a loop going through your head” and I explain it to them, and I explain it to them. “You’ve got a loop going through your head and we’ve got to try to break this loop. Somehow we’ve got to break this loop. We’ve got to get these thoughts out of your head.” And it helps them. It helps them figure out ‘o.k., this is what’s happening in my head.’ Let’s calm this person down, let’s get this person some help. Let’s distract them.’ And ‘ok, this is helping. Let’s talk about your dog, let’s talk about the wall. Let’s talk about what was on TV. last night. So how long have you lived here?’ You just sort of distract them with different…whatever you can say to distract them.
PG: You sound like a really patient person.
PA: At times. At times. I have my moments but that’s doing this job for 20 years. There’s no rush, I work for 10 hours a day. I’m here, what else am I going to do but solve this problem? Or at least do my best to resolve these calls so I don’t have to come back in 15 minutes or 15 hours or 15 days.
PG: Do you still enjoy turning the siren on?
PA: Yes. Sometimes I avoid it, because it’s… They say “ok, you can respond with lights and sirens.” I’m like, ‘I’m close, I’m just not going to do it’, but it is fun, it is a thrill. And I don’t go too crazy with it but it is… It’s fun to go down the middle of a road where there’s just that dust in it. You kick up all the dust and you see the back and there’s just this cloud of dust flying up because it’s the middle of the summer and there hasn’t been any rain for a while and you go, ‘that’s cool!’
PG: You’re doing 100 and nobody can tell you.
PA: It’s cool to rev and engine and just… It has its thrill at times. At other times it’s…. I was involved in a long pursuit a couple months ago and it went into two different counties and I was getting bored. Because they’re just going 85 and you’re following them and it’s just ‘ok, lights and sirens’. And I’m the first car, there’s a car behind me that’s doing the updating so all I’m doing is just watching the car, for an hour. You’re just like ‘ok, this is getting boring.” But its, you know, it’s still fun.
PG: Wow. Do you want to… Was there anything else that you want to add before we do fears and loves?
PA: No, I have some notes. No, that’s… Let’s see… just that penguin thing of bringing somebody and bringing them back on track. I will say that if you’re suicidal, ask for help, seek help. You may not have friends, you may not want to go to your friends because you’re embarrassed, you may not want to go to your family because it’s tough. I know in California, I’ll just speak for California because I know it’s going to apply in many other places, call 911. Tell them “I’m suicidal, I need help, I need to be taken somewhere.” Don’t feel obligated to have to do something as an act, don’t cut your wrists just to make them take you. Just tell them, “I have a plan. If I don’t get help right now, this is what my plan is. I feel that I’m on the brink of harming myself. I need help.” You’re not always going to get the best cop, you’re not going to get the best ambulance crew, you’re not going to get the best mental health clinician but seek the help. BE that penguin that can turn around and go back toward the main trail and ask for help, ask for directions. It’s out there; we’re required to help people. It doesn’t always mean you’re going to get the best officer at the best moment, just ask. That’s all it takes.
PG: It’s better than sitting there trying to fix a broken brain with a broken brain though.
PA: Something has to make those thoughts, those loops get out of your head. Those circles that you just can’t get out of. Something has to change. And eventually something can. That might not be, as they say in addiction, your low. That may not be the worst, most depressive state, but at least you can start to connect with that person that’s going to help get you back on track.
PG: Thanks. That’s sage advice. I’m going to be doing the fears and loves of a listener named Caroline. You want to start Andy?
PA: I’ll start. I would say that most of my fears come from that waking up in a cold sweat, somebody’s just… That’s where my fears come from. Losing control. Having a group of people and not being able to just corral these people. Knowing it’s just not going well. First fear.
PG: Caroline says “my older daughter lives far away and dates someone with anger issues and I’m afraid she will get killed and I won’t know about it for weeks or months. I fear because I know I can’t protect her.”
PA: Letting down my peers. Doing something and not being quick enough, not doing the right thing, and just being ostracized by my peers for not doing the right thing.
PG: I would imagine that would be a really deep and profound fear for a police officer.
PA: it’s performance, it’s the quarterback not being able to throw the pass or the receiver not being able to catch the pass.
PG: With the stakes about a thousand times bigger than a football game.
PA: Right, forever being a pariah. It’s a constant performance fear.
PG: Caroline says “I fear that my older daughter is going to keep getting progressively larger gauges in her ears and she’ll eventually have those huge holes that make people wince and look away.”
PA: A fear I have in the middle of the night when I wake up in a cold sweat is being caught doing something criminal and I know it’s over and I’m going to go to prison forever and the heart’s beating and I can’t break that, break the loop, so to speak, from the dream and get back to reality and it’s ‘oh my god, it’s over. I’m done, my career’s done. There’s no retirement, there’s no medical and I’m going to be in prison.’
PG: Wow. Caroline says “I worry about the pot smokers that my older daughter is living with and what she’s doing now. I fear that my older daughter will continue dating people because she feels compassion for them instead of a deep and loving connection.”
PA: Losing my ability to run and just get out there and take my mind off everything and just run.
PG: Your relief valve! “I fear that my older daughter will always be in a frustrating and unrewarding minimum wage job because she skipped college.”
PA: Losing my eyesight and just living in a fuzzy and hazy world and not being able to see things clearly.
PG: That’s a good one. “I fear that my older daughter will keep drifting and not being happy and that she’ll keep blaming other people for her circumstances.” She’s got a lot of… Most of her fears are about her daughters.
PA: I don’t know how to resolve that. That’s worrying about your kids, that’s what we’re supposed to do as parents. Kids bounce back, kids find their way most often.
PG: And sometimes the best gift they can have is making a mistake or hitting a bottom because then they get the clarity.
PA: My next one is being in constant pain. Some injury that says “I’m in…” like a back injury where I can’t move, I can’t breathe and it’s just debilitating for the rest of my life. That’s a fear.
PG: “I fear that my people pleasing younger daughter will make bad choices based on what people pressure her to do.”
PA: I’m getting political. Living in a marginalized country where it’s just… A country that’s lost our way. Not to the point of something like a zombie attack or The Road or something like that. There’s just… That’s easier to deal with, I could deal with no society, but there’s just living in a country, perhaps like Greece, where there’s no economy, there’s no future, there’s no benefits, the government can’t do anything and it’s an honest fear of mine. For whatever reason.
PG: That’s one of mine too. Caroline says “I fear I will always have incredibly yellow teeth because I can’t afford to get veneers and my teeth are way too sensitive for bleaching the few times I’ve tried.”
PA: This will be my last fear. Looking back at my life as a father and seeing that I am the character in the Harry Chapin song Cats in the Cradle, you know, just being a parent who didn’t have enough time for their kids and looking back and saying ‘well, I should have given more time, maybe it wasn’t enough.’
PG: Well, you know, my thought on that is if you even think that fear then you’re better than most dads. There’s an awareness there.
PA: I can still have that fear, you know?
PG: And Caroline’s, I’ll finish with one of her fears, “I fear that I will screw up my diet again. I fear I will succeed on my diet and will not be able to afford a tummy tuck and a boob job to lift up all the sagging body parts and excessive skin that are left.” And let’s move on to the loves.
PA: My first love, and they’re very sensory, having worked graveyards, I love seeing the sun rise. I love the sky changing colors and the clouds. It’s overwhelming; it’s too much to take in. Just the clouds and the colors and mountains…
PG: and it’s so quiet too. That’s the other thing I love about it. Let’s see, where’s her first one? “I love a room that has a logical and beautiful arrangement of furniture and other items in it.”
PA: I love running on a trail in a forest. Just me and that trail and I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere.
PG: “I love being able to find things in my giant purse quickly.”
PA: I love being down on a trail and just coming across wild animal. A fox, a coyote, a deer and it’s just I’m and out of my place and I’m in its place and this is where it lives.
PG: “I love my gps and that I almost never get lost anymore.”
PA: I love working with a team, like at work, and having it all work out. Everything just goes in your favor and at the end of it you go, “that was perfect. That worked out flawlessly.”
PG: that is one of the greatest feelings. I think something genetically, a flip just gets switched in us when something like that happens. It is just the moment we are made to want to experience. And I don’t know about you but when I’m in that team experience, I’m not thinking about the past, I’m not thinking about the future, I’m completely about the present and I feel like I’m meant to be exactly where I am at that moment.
PA: I think it’s part of what makes humans humans. It’s working collectively and towards a goal and being proud and happy not just for a selfish reason.
PG: And being happy not just for yourself. Caroline says “I love kissing the smooth, hot, sweet-smelling fuzz on the top of a baby’s head.” That could have gone two ways! The way that started!
PA: I love making my wife laugh. Just saying something and watching a smile come across her face and laugh. I could say women in general but I’ll stick just with my wife. There’s nothing like a woman laughing at something you’ve done, something you’ve intended to do!
PG: laughing with you! It’s also kind of cool having a wife laugh at you sometimes too. If you can laugh at yourself, there’s something about that too. “I love catching the eye of a baby or toddler in a stroller or shopping cart and making them smile.”
PA: That is what they’re designed to do. They’re designed to be adorable and have you love them and they are excited to see you and you just go “they noticed me, of all people. They have their parents and they love me.” I love the smell of garlic and cooking. There’s something about it, better than meat, it’s just garlic.
PG: the first 20 seconds of garlic sautéing is so good! Caroline says “I love kissing the area just outside of my husband’s moustache and goatee, just outside of his lips. I can feel the smooth skin but also the rough beard and the edge of his lips. It’s masculine and sexy.”
PA: I love seeing a colorful wild bird. A blue jay, something that’s just “oh wow, that’s shocking! I wasn’t expecting that!” A flash of color and then it just disappears.
PG: “I love seeing my husband’s slow grin when I know he’s reading a dirty text from me. “
PA: I am out of loves, I realize.
PG: Well, Andy, thank you so much for being so open and honest and giving us a glimpse into he soul of one California police officer.
PA: Thank you, I enjoyed it. It’s therapeutic to be able to speak, thank you.
PG: Well, I got a lot out of listening to you. Thanks.
Many thanks to Andy for giving us a peek inside of what it feels like to be inside the front lines of the battle of the crazy. And again, we recorded that about a month ago, before all this stuff went down in the news with the shooting and the kidnapping case, so that’s why there’s nothing specifically asking him about that stuff. Before I take it out with a couple of surveys, I want to remind you guys that there’s a couple of ways that you can support the show. You can support it financially by going to the website, mentalpod.com and making an either one time or a recurring monthly PayPal donation. Of course the recurring monthly, I love, because it’s more consistent and then I get a feel for whether or not I have a realistic shot at this being my full time job. You can also buy t-shirts, coffee mugs, you can use the search box for when you shop at Amazon and they give us a couple of nickels. And you can support the show non-financially by going to iTunes, giving us a rating, saying something nice to boost our rating; it brings more people to the show. And you can spread the word through social media, that really helps. I notice some of you guys are starting to take quotes from the show and put them up on Tumblr and some of them are really gaining traction. Some of them are getting, I don’t know, getting re-blogged and I think that’s a good way to help spread word about the show, so I appreciate that. I think that’s about it, let’s get to these surveys.
This is from the Shame and Secrets survey. And, by the way, there’s about half a dozen surveys on the website. Please take them, it helps me get to know you guys and you can also see how others have responded so you can get to know your fellow listener. This one is filled out by a listener who calls herself Calypso, she’s bisexual and in her 20’s. She was raised in an environment that was totally chaotic. She says “my mother has even more mental illness than I do and they are more extreme and only in the last year has she done anything about it. I‘ve seen it all.” Have you ever been the victim of sexual abuse? She says “yes, and I never reported it. Raped twice in my life, both times by my boyfriend at the time. I always suspected I was molested as a child.” Deepest, darkest thoughts? She writes “I love my boyfriend and have no interest in dating anyone else, ever, if we broke up and I wasn’t interested in having a relationship ever again before meeting him. But I don’t want to have children with him. I love kids and I would not mind raising them with him, but our genetics freak me out. Too many mental illnesses, too many ailments, obesity, and I hate to sound cruel and full of myself, but he’s not as intelligent as I am and I’d rather not dilute it. There is a guy that I am friends with and I have no interest in him romantically or sexually but would be my ideal breeding stock.” What are the sexual fantasies most powerful to you? And she writes “being tied up and came into by a multitude of men. A ridiculous amount of them.” I like that, a “ridiculous” amount, like there are these, you know, 15 guys, and then the door opens and 1,000 come in and she’s like ‘ok. That’s ridiculous. Now you can start fucking me.’ “blindfolded and videotaped is a plus. Being a small child and being taken advantage of by an older sibling which is silly because I have no older siblings. Having a mail order, slave-type husband with a mohawk and dressing him in a corset and fucking him in the ass while cutting marks into his back.” Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend your fantasies? She writes “no, I’m as open as a book but these things cause me too much shame.” Deepest, darkest secrets? She writes “I used to be a prostitute. Which in itself is not a big deal to me, and plenty of people know. The secret is that I was enjoying it. The sex sucked and despite my sexual fantasies I am not the kind of girl that enjoys too much sexual attention. It was that in those moments I had an exact worth. As fucked up as that is, I liked having a price to base myself on.” Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings toward yourself? She writes “disgusting. I’m what no parent in the world, at least I hope, would want their children to become. I know I’m not all that bad, and I’m certainly not vying for my parents’ approval, but I have a deep rooted guilt for what I think. The breeding stock thing is particularly bad for me because I’m afraid it’s some kind of subconscious attraction or something. He’s also someone I drink with on a normal basis with my boyfriend’s approval and we all know how subconscious and alcohol are always the best mixture for disaster. I think I feel the worst about it because on the surface it seems like a perfectly rational thought. Painfully so. I feel bad for thinking my boyfriend isn’t good enough. I feel bad for my friend because I’m objectifying him, bad for me because I’m not sure if wanting to be logical is a good thing or a bad thing anymore.” Well, Calypso, welcome to The Mental Illness Happy Hour, you have a home here. We get shit. We understand you and we do not think negatively of you. And I appreciate your honesty.
This next survey is also from Shame and Secrets and it was filled out by someone who is using the fake name Joseph Kerr and I’m not sure why specifically that name and I wonder if that’s a fictional character or something. But he says at some point in this that that’s a fake name. He’s straight, he’s in his 20’s, he was raised in an environment that was a little dysfunctional. He says “my childhood changed constantly due to divorce, moving to different states, and death”. Ever been the victim of sexual abuse? He writes “no, I’ve never been sexually abused.” Deepest, darkest thoughts? He writes “I want to stress that I am seeing a psychiatrist and I am on medication. But I am having thoughts of homicide and suicide. I did have elaborate ideas about how to throw my city, a small one, into total chaos.” What are the sexual fantasies most powerful to you? He writes “my fantasies vary quite a bit. One of them is being a toy for a group of women to use as they will. Humiliation is a recurring theme for my fantasies. But I also have fantasies that are the exact opposite, being in total control. But I also have the fantasies that are all about love. Finding someone I love and just having sex. “I relate to that, I relate to all three of those things I think. Can be quite stimulating! Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend your fantasies? He writes “this is the first time I have ever admitted this to anyone and I am using a fake name.” Deepest, darkest, secrets? He writes “I am constantly getting myself into trouble through inaction. I have a warrant for driving without a license because I was, for lack of a better word, lazy to renew it. I am terrified to go to court. This is not the first time that something like this has happened so I am likely to go to jail for a short time. I am a hoarder. My outrageous spending has gone through a large chunk of my inheritance of a million dollars. I quit my job because I was going to kill myself and can’t get another one because of my legal troubles. I want to stress that my legal troubles stem from inaction, not action. Oh, and almost no one knows that I have an undescended testicle.” Oh, join the undescended testicle club. Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings about yourself? “I am constantly awash in panic, dread, sorrow, and suicidal thoughts. Filling out this survey really hurt but I hope it can help someone feel not so alone as you have done for me.” Well, I’m touched by that, Joseph, and I’m touched by your honesty and you are not alone and anybody else out there listening and it feels like nobody out there is as fucked up as you are, nobody out there is as doomed as you are, nobody out there is as depressed as you are, nobody is as anxious or as full of self-hatred as you are, you are wrong. There are hundreds of thousands of us, millions of us, and we’re not alone. We’re not alone. And I’m glad to have you guys. I’m really enjoying this community. As painful as it is sometimes, as sad as it can be sometimes when I read an email like the one I read at the beginning of the show from Heather, you know, maybe sometimes this is the period of darkness that needs to happen sometimes for things to change. I hope so; I hope we’re moving in the direction that people will begin to see that mental illness is not something that we can just sweep under the carpet. Neither our own mental illness or the mental illness of those around us. Oh god, that was so boxy. I just put myself to sleep. I’m going to go have some cocoa. Well, I don’t know if it’s corny or not, but I want to say this, I’m going to say this, I love you guys. I love you. I really do. Your support of this show gives me a sense of purpose and a feeling that all the shit I’ve been through in my life, all the pain, has not been a waste. And to all of those of you that are feeling that your life has been a waste, it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be. Reach out and ask for help, as scary as that is. Oh! I’m back on my soapbox! Thanks for listening.