I ﬁnally got the call.
“How fast can you get here?” Sgt. Santiago asked.
“Five minutes,” I said.
“Good. We have eyes on our guy, and we are a go.”
I drove as fast as I could to the designated rally area, where I joined more than a dozen men, many with beards (some fairly long) and long hair. None looked remotely like stereotypical cops, but all were “kitted up” and ready to go.
The group packed an impressive assortment of ﬁrearms, from MP5s, M4s and a Remington 870 to Glock 17s and a few high-end 1911s (one I recognized as an Ed Brown custom job). All of the guys were wearing body armor with riﬂe plates, and some had added ballistic helmets. There was no joking or laughing in the ranks.
Several team members eyed me with suspicion, and for good reason. I was being allowed to witness what most citizens will never see: the inner workings of an active special enforcement team (SET). These select groups of undercover detectives are tasked with gathering solid intelligence on drug activity to target drug dealers and users for criminal prosecution. In the case of some users, this insider knowledge will prepare them to become conﬁdential informants.
I asked permission before taking any recognizable pictures, but despite promising anonymity to the officers and their department for the sake of the mission and their security, several politely declined. Detective Blue, however, let me snap several pictures, and even smiled for a few. Others seemed to merely tolerate my presence, strategically turning their backs each time I raised my camera. But I understood. In an environment such as this, trust must be earned.
The cops assembled for this speciﬁc raid were a mix of SET teams from the city and county, and included detectives and special weapons and tactics (SWAT) members. High-tech equipment was already in place to monitor the targeted home in full high deﬁnition, so Sgt. Santiago would know if anyone attempted to enter or exit the house.
After a short drive, we reached our destination. The cops exited their vehicles with lightning speed, knowing exactly where they were going and who they were looking for. They were executing a rare “no-knock” search warrant, which exempted them from having to announce their presence prior to entering. The occupants had no idea that the hammer of justice was on its way.
The suspects were known heroin dealers, and in a city still reeling from four recent fatal overdoses, including a one-year-old baby who got into its parents’ stash, the mission had taken on even more urgency.
As the team swiftly mounted the stairs in a ﬂurry of motion, chaos appeared to take over, but appearances can be misleading. This mission was anything but chaotic to these professionals. In a moment, the door was demolished, and a well-orchestrated group movement was quickly executed, one that could have made a dance company jealous.
Within minutes, the targeted suspects were in custody, and the “all-clear” was given. No shots had been ﬁred, and no one had been hurt. Perhaps most importantly, some very dangerous people were led away in silver friendship bracelets to be questioned prior to being booked into the county jail.
A TOUGH BATTLE
All across the country, SET detectives such as these are ﬁghting a battle that is nearly impossible to win. It’s not a thankless job, but it can sometimes feel like it. For every dealer arrested, dozens more are waiting in the wings to take over. There is no shortage of people willing to sell dope to our families and children, and there seems to be no shortage of family members and children willing to buy.
“There’s a heroin tsunami coming,” one department captain told me. “It’s going to get much worse in the very near future.”
Following the raid, the adrenaline rush of the raid may have been over, but the real police work was just getting started. Any search for drugs and their accouterments is a tedious, time-consuming, messy and occasionally gross task. But these veterans have seen drugs hidden in all kinds of places, including shower-curtain rods and freezers, under mattresses, behind medicine cabinets, in heat registers on the ﬂoor, even inside kids’ rooms and toys. On this particular search, the SET team even took a ﬁre extinguisher outside to make sure it was what it appeared to be. No stone or piece of furniture goes unturned.
Users and dealers also hide drugs on their person. There are places on and in the human body where people are willing to hide drugs, and more than one person has died from an overdose using these foolish methods.
Once the evidence is collected, documented and bagged, it’s taken to a central evidentiary holding facility to be entered into computer system, ensuring a strong chain of custody.
This is the work life of a SET detective: observe, plan, observe some more, plan some more and chase what, at times, feels like phantom drug dealers.
DRUG OF CHOICE
The city where I’m embedded with this SET team is the embodiment of small-town America, but it is also a place where heroin has become the drug of choice, pushing meth and crack out of the way. Heroin makes its way into the U.S. primarily across our southern border, and many experts feel the opiate epidemic can be directly connected to opioid pills and the way they were marketed in the 1990s.
At one time, physicians were told that less than 1 percent of people who take opiates become addicted. According to author Sam Quinones in Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, Oxycontin was originally marketed by Purdue Pharma as a drug that was “virtually non-addictive.”
The drug cartels we read about or see on television are our neighbors. They are smart and well organized, making the SET detectives’ job even more difficult. Pursuing and investigating these businessmen and their businesses could be described as a high-stakes game of three-card monte, with the dopers dealing the cards. But this SET team continues the ﬁght, always with hope that just one break will help stem the heroin overdoses that seem to have permeated the community.
Most of the heroin in this small town is a variety known as Mexican black tar. Cultivated and processed on the Paciﬁc Coast of Mexico, black tar is rolled and manipulated into tiny balls, and then inserted into balloons. The least processed variety of heroin, because of its purity it is the most lethal. Depending on the region of the country, a black tar balloon will cost $10 to $30, and can keep an addict high for a few days.
Compared to opioid pain pills that can cost $1 per milligram on the street, heroin is a deal.
ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER DEALER
Not long after returning to the office following the raid, Detective Noble, one of the senior SET detectives, received a call from an informant. A lady was looking to sell some meth, but the deal had to take place within 15 minutes. The office quickly turned into a beehive. Noble got into a buy car, an undercover vehicle only used for undercover drug deals, while the rest of us drove to different locations to set up a perimeter around the meeting point.
During the set-up, the dealer kept changing the location in hopes of ensuring that her client wasn’t a cop. I was out on the perimeter with Sgt. Santiago, listening via a receiver to what was happening inside the buy car.
Finally, the dealer approached Noble’s car and got in. She sold him 4 grams of meth for $120, but wouldn’t sell him the two balloons of heroin she had hidden on her person. When the take-down signal was given, all officers converged on the dealer as she exited Noble’s car right in front of her house.
The look on her face was priceless. She denied having sold drugs until Sgt. Santiago explained that the man in the car was a cop, and that we had heard the entire deal. Since she was on probation for other drug offenses, the team called her probation officer, who came out and helped with the search. The search yielded Oxycontin, morphine, Clonidine, meth, heroin and Oxycodone, and other pills and paraphernalia were collected and bagged as evidence.
A TEAM OF INDIVIDUALS
Later, I had the opportunity to speak with several members of the team, including Detective Polaris, who surprised me with his candidness and honesty.
“I’m not here to make enemies,” he told me. “I’d rather make friends. These people are going through tough times, and they need to know that someone cares. It doesn’t mean I won’t take them to jail. Sometimes that’s what they need, but my hope is that they ﬁnd a way out of the drug life.”
Detective Polaris relayed a story, with tears in his eyes, of saving a woman’s life as she tried to commit suicide. The woman had a three-month-old baby, and was able to see and hold her infant once she was safe and in the hospital. According to Polaris, the baby just stared and smiled at him and his rookie partner. The woman still calls Polaris to this day to thank him, and to provide an update on her life. “This is why I became a cop,” he tells me.
Detective Puller has been an officer for ﬁve years, and has been with SET for six months. A former active-duty Marine and now in the Army Reserve, discipline and service are his go-to attributes. He has a kind demeanor and a disarming smile. These qualities provide a unique ability to make suspects feel comfortable, and comfortable people talk.
The newest member of SET, Detective Gigante is a quick study in the art of interviewing a suspect. I watched him interview one on the street, and his calm demeanor kept the young lady talking until she had reached the point of no return. Gigante calmly showed her his phone and asked, “How do you think I got these texts?” The game was up, and the girl is now in the process of becoming a conﬁdential informant.
Others are more reserved and quiet. Detective Noble, who looks much younger than he is, tends to keep to himself. He’ll make small talk, but isn’t much on being interviewed. But you know that under his quiet exterior is a brain constantly at work, ﬁguring out how to stay ahead of his targets.
Sgt. Santiago is the “old man” of the bunch. He’s been a cop for more than 20 years, but remains in good physical shape and is a solid leader for his young group of detectives. There are no short cuts allowed on his team, and each process is done the right way. This includes everything from the way probable cause is acquired and writing search warrants to the gear he requires them to wear in the ﬁeld. He expects his men to wear full-body armor including ballistic helmets when entering a house for a variety of reasons, including one that is very personal.
“I hate delivering death notices,” he conﬁded. “And I refuse to deliver a death notice to the wife of one of my detectives because I let them forgo wearing their protective gear. The gear isn’t a 100 percent guarantee [on safety], but I won’t allow my guys to take that chance. There is no leeway or negotiation on this point.”
The years of working SET and other drug task-force assignments have taken a toll on Santiago. He has grown tired of seeing the worst that mankind has to offer. He would love nothing more than to open a beachside bar in the Caribbean, where he could make mojitos and scuba dive for the rest of his life. But that second career will have to wait. He still has a lot of police work left in him.
Other than Santiago, each SET detective will return to regular patrol after the four-year stint on the team is up. This way, the SET squad gets to train more officers on the ins and outs of the drug epidemic that continues to plague every city in this country.
Just because you haven’t seen the problem ﬁrst-hand doesn’t mean it does not exist. The opiate epidemic is growing worse by the day, with no end in sight. But thanks to leaders such as Sgt. Santiago and his dedicated team duplicated on police forces across the nation, it is a battle that will continue to be fought with commitment, knowledge and bravery. ASJ
Editor’s note: The names of the officers in this story have been changed to protect their location and identity.
Police officers are commonly referred to as brothers in blue. This speaks to the close bond that officers develop with each other while enduring difficult situations, and at times requires life-and-death decisions. Sometimes officers are true biological brothers as well, which enhances this bond. Meet Mike and Dan Coyle. Each has a unique outlook on police work, and different reasons for having chosen law enforcment as a career.
DEPUTY MIKE COYLE initially worked various jobs, none of which provided satisfaction. While mowing lawns for a municipality, Mike had an epiphany – he needed to do something with his life that had meaning, and that meant helping others. In the same thought, Mike realized that law enforcement always needs honest people. I have known Mike for 18 years – Mike is honest! The road to becoming a police officer for him was difficult, required dedication and major lifestyle change. It also meant extra time away from his family.
Mike struggled at times, but never gave up on his goal. After completing the academy, he was hired by a sheriff’s department more than 60 miles from his home. His dedication to law enforcement was tested and solidiﬁed by the daily 120-plus-mile commute. After a few years of this arduous schedule, Mike was hired by the Utah County, Utah, Sheriff’s Office, reducing his drive from hours to minutes.
Mike has always worked as a corrections deputy, which is a perfect ﬁt for him. He is a huge man, both in size – standing an intimidating 6 foot 4 inches – and heart. Mike is the type of person who would give his last dollar and ask nothing in return. His honest nature creates trust with inmates, and that manifests usable, dependable intelligence. Some of the information he has gleaned has led to major arrests in the gang and drug world. This is not to say that Mike is not genuine – in fact, just the opposite. He is always kind, and this translates into natural trust from people around him.
DEPUTY DAN COYLE, Mike’s younger brother, initially worked in the IT industry, but also had a desire to serve others, and wanted to be proactive in his community. Dan has now been a deputy sheriff with the Douglas County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office for eight and a half years.
It all started when Dan said to his wife, “I want to do what Mike does.” And that was that. His ﬁrst four years were spent working in corrections, where he treated all of the inmates with respect and dignity. Dan’s time there gave him what he called “a different view of the human experience.”
Four years ago, Dan was selected for road-patrol duty and started his ﬁeld training. Within a short time, an opening for a school resource officer was announced, and Dan jumped at the chance. SROs are the front-line defense for our kids. I wish it were different, but psychopaths have chosen our schools as targets for their misplaced anger and evil intentions. Officers like Dan now stand ready to protect them, and give their own lives if necessary.
Two years ago, an 18-year-old kid arrived at Arapahoe, Colo., High School, a few short miles from Dan’s school, armed with a shotgun and four bombs. His intentions obvious, he killed a beautiful young lady before killing himself. Dan’s school was on immediate lock-down. He guarded the halls of his school with his patrol riﬂe, checking each student to make sure that no one with evil intentions made it in. His office changed the term for active shooter to active killer. This is more appropriate, and better deﬁnes the stark reality of these situations.
Dan, his fellow SROs, along with the military and other law enforcement agencies, train for these kinds of events – even the kids play a part. The drama classes do stage makeup to simulate wounds that ﬁrst responders might encounter, as well as act as citizens during these mock events.
THE GOOD TIMES Mike has spent his entire 15-year career working in corrections. Jail deputies are not just guards, they are mentors, counselors and, at times, friends to people who have hit bottom.
When I asked Mike what his best day in law enforcement has been, he reached for his smartphone and didn’t say a word while he searched for something. I thought he had received a text and was ignoring my question. Instead, he set his phone on the table and hit play:
“Hi, Mike, this is Dianne [her name has been changed]. I just wanted to call and tell you, ‘Thank you very much.’ I want you to know how much I appreciate you. Today is my sixth year clean and sober, and I’m going through my list of memorable people – people who helped me get here. I wanted to thank you for having faith in me, for listening to me and giving me advice. I’m so grateful that God placed you in my life.” Not much more needed to be said.
For Dan, he was once working crowd control at a suicide prevention event when a man and woman approached him. “This is the man who turned my life around,” said the approaching man to his wife. The man had been an inmate when Dan served as a corrections deputy. Dan didn’t remember saying anything special to him other than simply being kind and respectful. Actions have lasting consequences – Dan’s kind actions somehow helped this man change his life.
Recently, Dan helped save the life of a man who had reached his limit and sought to take his own life. Dan was ﬁnishing a patrol of a local park where students often congregate and cause trouble when the call came in: There was a suicidal man on a freeway overpass. Dan and another deputy arrived on the scene at the same time. The man wouldn’t talk, and was getting closer to the edge. Just as the man was starting to lean over to jump, Dan and the other deputy grabbed him. The man remained uncooperative but alive.
EVERY OFFICER WILL HAVE at least one day that will be their worst day in law enforcement.For Mike, that was January 29th, 2014, a cold, snowy, miserable Utah County winter day. One afternoon, Sgt. Cory Wride of UCSO, stopped to help a stranded motorist in a remote area. The vehicle wasn’t stranded. The driver was a parolee, and he had his 17-year-old girlfriend along with him. Long story short, the parolee shot and killed Sgt. Wride through the windshield of his patrol truck. The pair was found 70 miles away, and a shootout with police ensued. Sgt. Wride left behind a wife, ﬁve kids and eight grandkids. Mike knew Sgt. Wride from his early days as a K9 handler, and Mike was one of the ﬁrst deputies scheduled to watch the parolee when he arrived at the hospital. In an act of kindness, the city police department took over watch duties to allow the sheriff’s office time to grieve. The parolee died the next day.
Dan’s worst day happened on November 15th, 2015. Dan often worked closely with state trooper Jaimie Jursevics because she patrolled the county where Dan worked. Trooper Jursevics was assisting with an investigation on I-25 in Douglas County when she was hit by a man suspected of driving under the inﬂuence. The man drove another 15 miles before being apprehended, but the damage was done. Trooper Jursevics died from her injuries, leaving behind a husband and 8-month-old baby girl. These men and women feel the pain when one of their own loses their life.
MIKE AND DAN’S DESIRE to serve and help the less fortunate comes from their upbringing. These two were raised by self-proclaimed hippies from a bygone era of free love and slogans like “never trust the man, man!” They were raised with the sounds of Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Beatles, Cream and The Guess Who. It’s no wonder that both Dan and Mike do a fair amount of DJing as a hobby when not on duty. When I told them that I was going to talk to their mother for this article, both seemed a little apprehensive.
Parents Robyn and Richard Coyle must have done something right to have raised these two ﬁne men. I asked Robyn how she felt about her sons working in law enforcement, and she said, “My family history is full of people being on the other side of the law. Both of my boys have said that they’re in jail too; the difference is they have the keys!”
“It’s not what I thought they would choose, but I am so proud of the work they do. The hardest thing for me is trying to keep my worrying in check. I have to remember that my sons train for dangerous situations, and because they are both in law enforcement they have a special bond. They can unload (no pun intended) on each other when they’ve had a rough day. As a civilian I cannot understand all of their stressors. Naturally, they don’t want to worry me. Their dad [Richard] makes a habit of going up and thanking all law enforcement officers he encounters for their service.”
Even though their parents are proud to be called hippies and come from the counter-culture generation, they are both delighted with their sons.
The bond between Mike and Dan is one that most cannot appreciate – they stand as brothers in blood and brothers in blue. ASJ
North Dakota’s Bill 1328 was supposed to be cut and dry. “In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: drones should not be weaponized. Period,” Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), the bill’s original sponsor, told a committee hearing back in March, per The Daily Beast.That was going to happen too, at least until an industry lobbying firm got involved. Now, law enforcement agencies in North Dakota are legally allowed to arm their UAVs with any manner of weapons, so long as they aren’t “lethal“.
The bill was, in fact, originally designed to strictly limit law enforcement’s ability to weaponize drones. It also demanded that police obtain a search warrant from a judge before employing drones in an investigation. However, a rep from the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association then amended the bill — at the behest of the state house committee, no less — to limit only “lethal weapons.” Anything classified as “less than lethal” is now allowed. That means cops can outfit their UAVs with everything from rubber bullets, pepper spray and Tasers to tear gas and sound cannons. And, as The Guardian points out, “less than lethal” police Tasers have already killed 39 Americans this year alone.
Read the full article Here
Image Credit: Associated Press
We have pulled together some great preseason hunting tips this issue, including how to lighten your day pack and adjusting to warmer-than-expected weather during the current Western drought. We also focus on great optics (get it, focus … optics?) and how to choose, maintain and use the best glass for your style of hunting, and for added motivation, Scott Haugen shares his epic seven-deer year.
No matter what critter you plan to hunt this year, most of all, be safe and respectful. Not just of other hunters, private lands and laws, but of the animals themselves. A wounded and lost animal doesn’t do anyone any good. Be sure that when you take that shot, your mind is clear, your gun is zeroed and your aim is true. The American Shooting Journal will be with you (true … you … get it … anyone?).
Among our featured stories – and one of my favorites – we put a microscope on the master craftsmen who make the tiniest of firearms. How small can a real-life, bullet-firing gun be? You may be surprised to learn that you can fit them between your thumb and index finger. These creations and the jeweler’s patience needed to manufacture these amazing miniatures is truly awe inspiring.
We also detail the people behind SilencerCo and their vision for the future. If you know of someone in the shooting industry who you feel is exceptional, email me at Dani@AmericanShootingJournal.
As any law enforcement officer knows enemies come in all shapes and sizes. To Florida law enforcement officers one such enemy is the fire ant. Small pesky critter whose bite stings ferociously.
While conducting a traffic stop on a busy two-lane road I had asked the driver for their license and registration and then returned to my vehicle to check their credentials. This is when I felt the sudden yet all-too-familiar stings on my ankle and leg. When I looked down I noticed that my foot was entirely engulfed in fire ants.
The roadway where I conducted this traffic stop is very narrow and I had to be careful entering or exiting my vehicle to ensure not stepping into oncoming traffic. Hastily, I kicked off my boot but continued to get stung inside my uniform pants. I pulled off my sock because it too was covered in fire ants. I carefully held my boot and sock out of the car window, and shook them violently to get rid of the ants. In doing so the sock flew out of my hand into the oncoming traffic which launched it about 50 feet passed the vehicle I had pulled over.
This was right about the time my 911 dispatch advised that the operator’s license was suspended and he had an active warrant for his arrest.
Wanting to retrieve my sock, but fearing to put my bare foot back inside my boots I exited my patrol car and limped along. The driver was laughing and said, “Hey, man, was that your sock that flew past me?”
I retrieved my socks, put my boots back on and then placed him under arrest and consequently in the back of my patrol car. He was a good old country boy who was laughing hysterically, and said, “Hey, bud, if you let me go, I promise not to tell anybody what happened.”
He went to jail and I went to the emergency room. Not a good day for either of us. ASJ
While working a series of burglaries in the most southern portion of our county, I heard dispatch state over the radio that the special investigations unit (SIU) was in pursuit of suspects who had fled during a drug raid. Although I was some distance away, there was a possibility the suspects would flee in my direction, so I kept my ears open. A short time later, dispatch advised that SIU was still in pursuit and heading my way. I responded to let them know my location and that I had stop-sticks. As the information unfolded over the radio and I listened intently, my excitement increased when the suspects chose an escape route with only one possible avenue: right past my location. I repositioned my marked patrol car to a more hidden location and stood near the roadside and waited.
I watched other traffic pass my location and soon heard the loud siren of the pursuing patrol car and the roar of the suspect’s engine as they neared. I saw a dark van careening around the corner with the marked patrol car right on its tail. I waited for the vehicle to get close, then threw the stop-sticks just before they passed. The sticks hit their mark, and not only the front tires, but the back as well. Excited, I ran to my patrol car, got in and advised dispatch that I hit the suspect’s vehicle. I activated my lights and siren and headed south. As the road wound to the right I saw the pursuing patrol car parked behind the suspect’s van, which was tilted rigidly to the right and on the side of the road. That is when I observed several individuals dressed in black with the letters DEA on their backs. “OMG!!” I had stop-sticked the DEA van.
Dispatch had communicated the description of the suspect’s vehicle on the SIU channel, but not my main channel. I stopped my patrol car about 100 feet way and turned off my lights and siren. To say they were upset would, again, be an understatement. They all were yelling something and with arms flailing wildly while motioning for me to come closer. I shook my head left and right to say no way! At that moment my sergeant’s voice came through over the radio and asked, “Well, did you get ’em?” Oh, I got them. My only reply was, “Sarge, I think you need to get down here right away.”
Several years later, as a task force officer assigned to the DEA, the driver of the van that day was assigned as my training officer. He trusted me with his life, but not the stop-sticks. ASJ
*Excerpt From: “Officer-Involved Shootings: What We Didn’t Know Has Hurt Us ©”
By Thomas J. Aveni, M.S., The Police Policy Studies Council