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.
By now, most people in the shooting world have an idea who he is, or have watched one of his videos. After seeing a few, I decided that there was so much more to this guy, so I set out to speak with him. Vickers did not disappoint.
IN THE BEGINNING
Vickers was born the son of a World War II veteran and had military service in his DNA. Hailing from a small town in Ohio, he enlisted in the US Army’s delayed-entry program before graduating from high school in the early 1980s. His enlistment gave him the opportunity to go through Infantry School, followed by Airborne School and then the Special Forces qualiﬁcation course. Following his successful graduation from all of these schools, Vickers was awarded the coveted Green Beret and began his career in the Army.
During his enlistment, however, Vickers decided that being in the Green Berets wasn’t really what he wanted to do, so when his stint was up, he left active duty. Vickers expressed interest in Delta Force, but was advised that he had to be on active duty to even attempt qualiﬁcation, so he reenlisted.
The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) is the brainchild of Colonel Charles Beckwith, who served with the British Special Air Service (SAS) as an exchange oﬃcer in the early 1960s. After a decade of pitching the idea for a similar group to the US Army, Beckwith was eventually tasked with forming a counterterrorism and hostage-rescue team of highly trained soldiers capable of operating in small teams. Today, we more commonly refer to this as Delta Force.
Before Vickers was allowed to begin training for a Delta operator position, he had to pass an entrance exercise. The premise was simple: complete a land-navigation course in the mountains of West Virginia. Alone, with a 40-pound rucksack over an 18-mile course. And the time limit to complete this task was only known by test administrators. The students are simply told at the end of the course whether they are good to go or not.
After the full Delta-course training is complete and the enlisted service member is ready to graduate, there is one ﬁnal test – another land-navigation course, again in the mountains of West Virginia. But this time it’s 40 miles with a 45-pound pack and the time is, again, unknown to the candidate. Go or no-go is all you get at the end. The failure rate during the course is high; estimates are as high as 95 percent, but oﬃcial numbers are never given. Vickers made the cut and became a Delta Force operator.
OPERATION ACID GAMBIT
The overwhelming majority of Delta’s missions are classiﬁed top secret and never made public. Of the few that have come to light, Acid Gambit represents one of Delta’s victories and Vickers was there.
Kurt Muse, an American civilian living in Panama, was accused by President Manuel Noriega’s regime of being a CIA asset. Delta was tasked with rescuing him. The mission involved ﬂying by helicopter to the Modelo Prison in Panama, then landing on and entering via the roof. The prison was heavily guarded and resistance was expected to be heavy.
Delta blew open the top entrance and stormed down a few ﬂights of stairs to where Muse was being held. Any guards who were foolish enough to tempt fate were quickly dispatched. The operators retrieved Muse and headed back to up to the roof. While leaving the prison the MH-6 Little Bird that carried Muse went down, but in the end no American lives were lost and multiple operators received commendations, including a Bronze Star of Valor for Vickers.
RETIREMENT AND TRAINING THE CIVILIAN WORLD
After 20 years, three helicopter crashes, numerous missions and several broken bones and a numb left leg, Vickers decided it was time to retire.
“The guys who stay longer than 20 years usually end up dead or even more crippled than I am,” Vickers told me.
Let’s face it, we live in a world where information is easily accessible and there is no limit to the number of people who claim to be experts in a variety of endeavors – particularly ﬁrearms training. I’m not saying that they are all frauds, but there are many who are not all they claim to be. Vickers is not one of them.
His interest in training civilians and law enforcement started years ago, before being an instructor was hip. His expert advice has been sought by large federal to small police departments.
Vickers’ rise to popularity came from his internet videos. This is where I ﬁrst saw him. He was in one explaining why he, as a former Delta operator, was fat. I laughed when I ﬁrst saw the title of the vid, and was thoroughly entertained by his answer to this question. The question was raised by viewers, and Vickers’ answer was simple: He was fat because he didn’t want to end up dead, so he got out of Delta.
“The alternative, because of my lifestyle in Delta, was permanently crippled, paralyzed or dead,” said Vickers in his video. He continued, “I gave this country the best part of my life. I have no regrets and I’d do it again, but the facts are the facts. Frankly, I’m lucky to be alive.”
His videos cover a huge range of topics, from how to reload in a ﬁreﬁght to how much lube is too much and his crazy Russian friends running their outrageously dangerous shooting drills. One of those drills involves an operator being shot in the chest with a real round, and then returning ﬁre at a cardboard target right next to the guy who just shot him. It’s insanely dangerous!
Videos aren’t the only thing that Vickers does or has done. He was also brought on as a consultant by Heckler & Koch during development of the company’s HK416 – the carbine purportedly used to kill Osama Bin Laden – the HK417 (the 7.62mm version) and the HK45 handgun.
Vickers has also helped Daniel Defense get their Daniel Defense M4 to market and pushed Sureﬁre to develop smaller tactical ﬂashlights. Most recently he coauthored a book, Vickers Guide: 1911, which was just released. I’m assured it will be a must-have for any serious handgun lover.
Vickers was also one of the founding members of the very popular International Defensive Pistol Association. According to the IDPA website, the organization has a current membership of 22,000 shooters, and IDPA matches represent some of the most practical stages of any major shooting organization.
VICKERS AND THE RUSSIAN
Larry Vickers makes no bones about his favorite riﬂe of all time – the venerable AK-47. His love of everything AK stems from all of the variations that can be found in the world. Once the Eastern European countries disavowed communism, the diﬀerent versions of the AK became widely available in the United States. The riﬂe’s simplistic design is its real selling point and another reason that Vickers loves it.
My favorite Vickers’ story is of his quest to get the autograph of none other than Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47. In 2003, the SHOT Show was held in Orlando, Fla., and it happened to coincide with Knight’s Armament Company’s open house of their new facility in the Space Coast City of Titusville. Kalashnikov was expected
to attend. Vickers knew this was his chance, so he secured tickets to the catered dinner event and went with several friends. As the night drew on he knew that his opportunity was slipping away. He saw Kalashnikov sitting in a private dining room and approached him. According to Vickers, “As soon as we walked in there I knew it wasn’t going to go well. He doesn’t speak English, but his daughter who was with him did. She asked me what I wanted, and I said that I was wondering if I could get Mr. Kalashnikov’s signature. She basically told us to get lost.”
All was not lost, however, because in 2009 Arsenal USA released the 35th Anniversary Gold Edition AK-74. Part of the astronomical price tag included a certiﬁcate of authenticity with an original Mikhail Kalashnikov signature. Mission accomplished.
The bottom line for me is this: When I need legal advice, I get an attorney; if I’m sick, I go to a doctor; and if my car is acting crazy, I go see a mechanic. If you have questions or need training, you seek an expert. Larry Vickers is just such an expert when it comes to surviving and winning a gun ﬁght. His style of teaching is straightforward, and his personality is easy going and fun. If you are looking to improve your shooting skills and knowledge, give Vickers a shot – you won’t be disappointed. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information on Larry Vickers and training opportunities, you can visit his website at vickerstactical.com.
When it first appeared it was chambered for .223/5.56, but today one can find calibers from .22LR all the way up to .50 Beowulf. With all of the options out there, building one’s own rifle has also become a popular pastime, because no matter how many cosmetic changes are made to an AR, the guts are often always the same (with the exception of piston-operated versions): all have the same boltcarrier group, firing pin, buffer tube, buffer and spring. But what if you simply wanted the best of the best?
Johnny Noveske started out as a gunsmith who tried to make a better chamber and barrel for the AR-15. He wanted more exacting standards, better accuracy and reliability. He didn’t realize it at the time but he was creating the Porsche equivalent for the AR platform, and is now known for creating just that – Noveske created some of the finest ARs on the market.
IN THE LUSH, green woods of southwest Oregon, Noveske Rifleworks designs and builds a wide array of luxury AR-based rifles. Their rifles are masterpieces of design and craftsmanship, but they aren’t for everyone. The price alone, which ranges from $2,000 and up with their newest rifle starting at $3,400, will keep many shooters from owning one. You do get what you pay for, however. My Toyota gets me to work every day, but a Porsche would get me there in style, comfort and precision engineering. The same holds true for a Noveske rifle. It’s a piece of art that just happens to come in 5.56, .300 Blackout and .308. Once you shoot a Noveske, the realization sets in that you have just handled one of the finest ARs in the world today.
The company is staffed by what can only be described as an eclectic group. There are only 33 members of the team, and in order to accomplish Noveske’s innovative approach, these people think outside of the box, and more likely don’t even know what the box is.
SADLY, IN JANUARY of 2013 Johnny Noveske was killed in a car accident at just 36 years old. The company forged ahead with his widow, Lorina, in an attempt to keep Noveske’s dream and the company alive. They have had more than one change at the president level since his passing, but have now landed Mike Alland. Alland has a long history in the outdoor, adventure-sports and firearms market. Alland is a high-energy guy who brings excitement, commitment to excellence and cutting-edge product ideas to the table. He isn’t your typical gun-company executive, either. Alland has a degree from San Diego State University in economics and statistical analysis.
Noveske has a guerilla-marketing style that forgoes the normal channels used by their competitors. For example, at the gun industry’s biggest annual show, SHOT, you won’t find a Noveske booth. You may see one of their guns here and there displayed at one of their distributors’ booths and the Noveske folks might be wandering the floor, but no booth. Their business comes from word of mouth and customer testimonials. This a live-on-theedge concept; if your customers are unhappy, you are going to have a difficult time selling your product. Up to this point, Noveske has kept their customers happy. The only complaint they seem to get is that they don’t introduce new products quickly and past products took a long time to get to market. These are issues that Alland has addressed and is correcting.
To Johnny Noveske’s credit, he passed much of his gunsmithing knowledge onto his employees, but just like when Apple lost Steve Jobs, Noveske too had lost their innovator. A lack of ingenuity causes stagnation and this can ultimately kill a company. When Alland stepped in, this was the concensus, but this is changing. The company is finally releasing their N6, which has been highly anticipated by their loyal followers, and will not disappoint the critics.
THE N6 IS A 7.62, but will also be released in 6.5 Creedmor and comes with some incredible features. The rifle is available in two barrel lengths: 16 and 12.5 inches. It has a switch block, which allows the shooter to control how much gas comes through the system, and there is a setting for suppressed, nonsuppressed and off. The suppressed setting allows the user to cut back on the gas that gets pushed back while shooting suppressed, saving wear and tear on the can and rifle. When turned off, the round will fire but the action will not cycle – perfect for maximizing sound reduction. According to the Noveske Rifleworks team, small operational units have shown interest in using the 12.5 version in full auto.
If you get the chance to shoot a Noveske rifle, take it. It may, however, create a dilemma for you. My dilemma was whether or not I needed to eat for the next six months. To each their own, and you will figure it out quickly. After all, shooting is supposed to be fun, and Noveske makes it fun.
Very fun. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information about Noveske, go to noveske.com.
It Seems That Country Singers are a dime a dozen today, especially with all the reality-based singing shows. Many of the artists are just ﬂashes in the pan. Staying power is the key to the music business – to any entertainment business, really. Staying relevant is the most diﬃcult part of keeping in the public spotlight. Life for Morgan is no diﬀerent. It is a ﬁght to remain relevant in the country-music scene. Television can seem worse as consumers are bombarded with entertainment options, and the only way to get and keep loyal fans is to continue producing fresh and exciting products that speak to them. Morgan has ﬁgured out a winning formula for he and his fans, and this talent has kept him in the limelight since he ﬁrst entered the music scene back in his Army days.
As A Paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and later a member of the 101st Airborne/Air Assault Division, he amassed more than 800 jumps, including combat jumps. If you’re not familiar with the Army, that’s a lot of jumps! Morgan knows the lonely, miserable feeling of being far from home in a hostile atmosphere. At one point, while serving, he entered and won multiple singing competitions, which gave him the conﬁdence to continue. After 10½ years in active duty, Morgan came back home to Tennessee and dedicated himself to a music career, while still continuing to serve by joining the Army Reserve until 2004.
His music career didn’t occur by happenstance. Born in central Tennessee in 1964, his father was a bassist and Morgan was introduced to many of country music’s royalty as a child, including George Jones and Tammy Wynette. He even sang the National Anthem at age 10 with Minnie Pearl in the audience. The way the story goes, Miss Pearl told Morgan, “Son, someday you’re gonna be famous.” Miss Pearl was correct. In 2008 Craig joined the iconic country music institution, The Grand Ole Opry – with Miss Minnie Pearl by his side. An invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry is a high honor for any country music artist.
Morgan hasn’t forgotten his roots, nor his time in the Army. He regularly entertains service members around the world on USO tours – in fact, he was on one as I wrote this article. Although his tour location is a secret, due to security concerns, he has performed multiple times in Southwest Asia over the past decade, bringing joy, entertainment, comedy and relief to young men and women risking their lives thousands of miles from home.
Acting Like A Country Star is simply not in Morgan’s DNA. Speaking to him was like talking to an old friend. Sure, he’s a busy man these days, what with a new album getting ready to launch, the seventh season of his hit TV show Craig Morgan’s All Access Outdoors airing in on Outdoor Channel in July, a couple of kids in college and a wife, Karen, of 25 years, but I never felt like I was burdening him for his time. He has a guy-nextdoor vibe about him – approachable and kind. He’s also a jokester. His cable hunting series is as much a comedy as it is an adventure. Let me give you folks a piece of advice: If you are on a plane and you see someone who looks like Craig Moran – don’t fall asleep! If you do, you will make it onto his Twitter and Facebook accounts as #SOP – sleepers on the plane. His tweets include selﬁes with snoozing passengers in the background. He takes great joy in catching his fellow sojourners napping. You’ve been warned!
Morgan has had many hits over his career such as: “Redneck Yacht Club;” “International Harvester;” “Bonﬁre;” and “That’s What I Love about Sunday” – a hit that stayed number one on country music billboards for four weeks and was ultimately declared the number one hit of 2005. Morgan just keeps evolving with every album.
A single from his new, yet to be named or released album is out now. “When I’m Gone” is fantastic and has a more emotional yearning to it than some of his previous work. I was fortunate enough to hear the entire album, and in this writer’s opinion, “When I’m Gone” will be big, but the best cut is titled “A Whole Lot More To Me.” The song speaks to Morgan’s multidimensional life. I asked Morgan is expand on this a bit more. “We’ve been stereotyped as rednecks, but it’s our own fault – we are to blame. With this song, I wanted people to see a diﬀerent side to country music. We can like the ﬁner things in life and still be country. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
The Latest Album Isn’t the only activity taking up Morgan’s time these days. He has been and is still ﬁlming episodes for his show on Outdoor Channel. The show is part reality, part comedy and a whole lot of outdoors. Unlike many outdoor shows, Morgan isn’t about ﬁnding the biggest buck on a hunt, but about having fun while being with his family and friends, all while encouraging his viewers to get outside too. In 2015, his show won the coveted Golden Moose Award for best comedy.
Morgan is a seasoned outdoorsman and his show is proof positive of his interests. Season seven (beginning in July) promises to be even more adventurous and is geared towards everyone who enjoys the outdoors, country music and fun – it’s not just for hunters.
In one of the many upcoming episodes, the show supports Billy’s Place, an organization that caters to griefstricken children and children in crisis and was named after Morgan’s father-in-law, and highlights Billy’s Place 5K Run, Billy’s Place golf tournament and music fest. Craig saw the need for activities like during his time as a deputy sheriﬀ – yes, one of his many facets.
Other adventures you will see include Morgan using various Hoyt compound bows while hunting deer in Illinois and Kentucky and big elk in the enchanted state of New Mexico, and a visit to the Remington ammunition plant, where I hope he will ask what happened to the .22LR ammunition! More bowhunting in Ohio and Texas and then oﬀ to Nebraska for mule deer – the best kind, as far as this Utah writer is concerned. There is some Florida hog hunting, showing that there is more to the Sunshine State than beaches and bikinis, and then all the way up to Canada for black bear. There are even turkey and goat hunts along the way. These are just some of the adventures.
Morgan Also Travels To Hawaii to hunt Vancouver bulls, as well as goats and turkeys. Yes, you read that correctly, Vancouver bulls. You know, cows, but wild. The history behind this is interesting. Captain Vancouver gave King Kamehameha a herd of cattle as a gift. The cattle were killed and eaten rather quickly, wiping out the herd. So the captain gave the king another group, smaller this time, and told him to let the herd grow so he could provide his people with a food supply for a long time.
That was over 300 years ago, and now the islands have a wild cattle problem. Initially, the king issued an order forbidding the killing of the animals, and the herd grew quickly. But what do cattle do if unmanaged? Raze crops and hurt people. An organized hunt was commissioned years later, which thinned the herd, but deep in the jungle, these nonnative animals continue to damage an already stressed ecosystem, thus the hunt. The hunt isn’t easy either. To get to these bulls, one must walk through steep terrain and thick jungle just to ﬁnd them.
Morgan’s international travels also take him to New Zealand for tahr. Similar to a mountain goat, hunting these Himalayn transplants is very diﬃcult due to the terrain and strong winds that blow where these creatures live.
If Hunting Isn’t Your Thing, then tune in for Morgan’s motorcycle racing episode in Indiana and his day at the dirt track racing in Missouri. He’s also headed for the Bahamas on a world-class ﬁshing trip, doing his best Ernest Hemingway impression by catching the big ones.
And what would a season of CMAAO be without music? Craig will be performing in Iowa and Kansas and parts of these shows will be aired during the season.
Craig will also be teaming up with Bass Pro Shops and JP Morris for a cast-and-blast turkey hunt, and will, of course, be participating again this year in the Annual Opry Hunt. This hunt features legends in the country music world out hunting together. In the past the Opry Hunt has been for duck, but rumor has it that this year it’s a riﬂe hunt – what could they be hunting? You’ve got to tune in to ﬁnd out!
Craig Morgan seems to have two speeds – full speed or asleep. When he’s not traveling the world entertaining the troops with the USO, he is performing concerts, recording a new album, going on adventures for his Outdoor Channel show, working with Exodus Road to try and stop human traﬃcking overseas, volunteering with his local sheriﬀ’s oﬃce and spending time with his wife and kids. The old saying is true, “If you want something done, ask a busy man.” Somehow Morgan is able to ﬁt more into his 24-hour day than any other human I’ve met.
Do Yourself A Favor, and check out Morgan’s new shows on the Outdoor Channel starting this summer and watch for his new album to be released sometime in mid-2016. I’ve listened to every song multiple times and can say that as a country music fan, I love this album. His new music doesn’t pigeonhole him as the Bakersﬁeld or Nashville sound. To my untrained ear, he is mixing these polar opposite sounds to create a unique and distinctly Morgan sound.
We throw the term “hero” around a lot. Sports stars, music stars, reality TV stars are being sold to us as heroes. A true hero is someone who can be depended on to do what’s best for those around him or her. A true hero doesn’t calculate risk to life or reputation and they never make decisions based on what’s politically correct. A hero sees what needs to be done and simply does it. Craig Morgan’s life has been lived in this exact manner. Is he a hero? He is to me. AMSJ
Editor’s note: Part I in this series last issue covered the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations.
The United States Air Force is a unique service for a multitude of reasons. It was the ﬁrst branch of the service to allow women into combat roles (security police) and has an entire career ﬁeld dedicated to protecting air bases, aircraft, Air Force personnel and nuclear weapons. All of the other services require individual units to provide security for themselves, i.e. an Army aviation unit’s members, including her mechanics, are armed and trained as riﬂemen. In the Air Force, only one group is trained in the art of Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD).
POST WORLD WAR II
In 1947 when the Air Force was officially separated from the Army, the need to protect not only the aircraft but now a cache of nuclear weapons became paramount. The old-time bomber pilot and commander Curtis LeMay saw the need for a unit to function like the infantry, but on Air Force bases. These airmen needed to be versed in the use of small arms, crew-served weapons, and squad- (ﬁre team in the Air Force), platoon- (called a ﬂight) and company- (called a squadron) level tactics. These units needed to be highly specialized in the deterrence and detection of unauthorized people or groups attempting to access a base (especially ones with nuclear missions) or missile ﬁeld. The Strategic Air Command led the way in developing their APs into highly trained soldier airmen, known unofficially as “SAC Trained Killers.”
During the Korean War, very few air bases came under attack. The APs were basically law enforcement on the base and guarded aircraft. No tactical plans had been implemented, let alone training for a base attack. The Air Force was lucky, but their luck would be tested mightily in the next go-around. The SAC model wasn’t followed by units in Korea, as the nuclear weapons were kept stateside.
As the Vietnam War ramped up in the 1960s, so did the need for the Air Force’s presence in and around America’s ally in Southeast Asia. The U.S. focused most of its air bases in South Vietnam and Thailand, with others further away in places like Guam and the Philippines. Those bases located on the mainland endured the greatest risk of attack, as they sat close to enemy forces. Amazingly enough, few of the Air Force bases came under attack in the beginning years of the war. The tactics and mindset were still very Korean War-oriented. Many APs arrived at bases in Southeast Asia to ﬁnd no weapons had been sent for them to use. Other bases had WWII leftovers – Browning Automatic Riﬂes (BARs), .30-caliber Browning machineguns, grease guns, Colt .45 ACP 1911s and M1 Carbines.
I spoke with Senior Master Sergeant Pete Piazza (retired) at length about what the Sky Cops (as they were lovingly dubbed) endured from 1966-72. Piazza served three tours of duty in Vietnam as an AP and then as a SP. He witnessed ﬁrsthand the Air Force go from no real idea of how to defend a base to being awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Bien Hoa Air Base on Jan. 31, 1968, during the Tet Offensive.
Piazza took charge of his bunker when his leader, Capt. Maisey, was killed by a rocket. A staff sergeant at the time, he spent the next eight hours running through heavy machinegun ﬁre, rockets and sniper ﬁre to keep his men fully supplied with much-needed ammunition and water. Piazza was quick to educate me on a couple of little known facts.
“Ninety percent of the SPs that were at Air Force bases when Tet started had never seen combat,” he told me.
He also said something that intrigued me: “The Air Force was the only branch of the service that didn’t have one of their bases overrun by the enemy.”
Why was that? Men just like Piazza. But ask him and he’ll say, “I was just doing what everybody else was doing.” While humility is the true sign of a hero, I will have to disagree with Pete on this one. Silver Stars aren’t just handed out, especially to enlisted USAF airmen.
Undoubtedly, there were others who performed as bravely as Piazza did on that January day so long ago. I can’t possibly ﬁnd and speak to them all; some, including his direct supervisor, Capt. Maisey, were killed on that day and in the days to come as Tet raged on. Piazza certainly wasn’t part of any “chair force.” He was every bit an infantryman that day as Audie Murphy and Chesty Puller.
Ask any soldier and he or she will tell you: Whoever owns the night has the advantage. The SPs were some of the ﬁrst units in the Vietnam War to receive ANTVS-2 scopes, nicknamed “Starlight” because of their use of ambient star and moon light. These scopes were some of the ﬁrst real attempts at night vision and changed the face of war forever. The riﬂemounted scope gave the user night vision out to 400 meters, while a crew-served weapons version, the ANPVS-4, worked out to 1,000, and an off-weapon version, the ANPVS-5, allowed sight out to 1,500 meters. For those airmen who had them, night shifts became a little less nerve racking.
One asset was in great supply, and gave the SPs another advantage at night – military working dogs, MWDs or K9s. The Sky Cops would walk the perimeter at night with their dogs. The SPs couldn’t see any better just because they had a dog, but the dogs could sense the presence of intruders, and on more than one occasion they stopped enemy sappers before they had the chance to breach the perimeter fence. For whatever reason, the Viet Cong also had a healthy fear of these K9s and kept their distance as word spread of their presence on the air bases. At the height of the K9 program, in January 1967, there were 476 dogs deployed. The dog handlers carried a special version of the M16, called the GAU-5/A. It was shorter and allowed the handler to control the dog and ﬁre the riﬂe one-handed if needed.
It wasn’t until after Tet that the Air Force wrote its ﬁrst deﬁnitive, battle-tested, air-base ground defense manual to be used in the years ahead – especially during the Cold War.
THE MAYAGUEZ INCIDENT
On May 12, 1975, Cambodian naval ships captured the S.S. Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant marine ship, in international waters. Negotiations broke down and a rescue mission was planned. The closest unit with combat experience was the 56th Security Police Squadron stationed at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. After the CH-53 Knife helicopters plus some HH-53 choppers left the base, Knife 13 disappeared from radar 40 miles out. It is widely thought that mechanical issues caused the crash. All 18 security policemen and four crew members and a linguist died.
Moments before take-off, a picture of the ill-fated Sky Cops in Knife 13 was taken. Thirty minutes later all 23 passengers were dead. The image leaves a haunting legacy of sacriﬁce and how short life can be in a combat zone.
As the Cold War heated up, America’s nuclear arsenal followed suit. Most nuclear assets came under the purview of the USAF, and more speciﬁcally SAC. SAC was the brain child of LeMay and was arguably the best run major command in the Air Force. SAC operated bases for bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, as well as bases that
supported missile ﬁeld operations. These wings were subject to remarkably stringent inspections, the failure of which would result in the ﬁring of the senior staff of the wing.
The SPs were responsible for several missions on SAC bases: the protection of the weapons storage areas, where the nukes were stored; and the physical guarding of the B-52s and KC-135s, air refuelers, that were on “alert.” Being on alert required the aircrews to live in a special facility next to the aircraft. At the sound of the klaxon, the crews rushed to their aircraft and were ready for take-off to top secret destinations. The SPs guarded all of these locations, day and night, 24/7/365. At places like Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, guard duty tested one’s desire to be a cop.
Missile ﬁelds also demanded the attention of the SPs. These ﬁelds were vast and remote. Cops worked seven days straight, often living out of campers attached to the back of pick-up trucks. The missile ﬁelds weren’t located in tropical locales either. They were spread across states like Montana, Kansas, Wyoming and South Dakota. Working conditions for the cops were less than ideal; in fact, at times the conditions resembled the Arctic Circle more than the continental United States. But defend these locations the SPs did, and to this day, still do. In 1997 security police career ﬁelds of law enforcement and security specialist were merged into one ﬁeld and renamed Security Forces. This change gave the cops more ﬂexibility in manning assignments, as well as providing cross training.
MODERN-DAY WAR ON TERROR
The USAF’s modern-day Security Forces function even more like infantry units than the cops in the past. They have all the weapons of the infantry – the M240, M249B, M4, M9, M203, 81mm mortars and M24 sniper systems. They are the ﬁrst service to deploy female snipers and have now trained multiple women in this role.
The Air Force’s cops continue to become a “high speed, low drag” group. They have a squadron that is airborne qualiﬁed, stationed in Georgia. This group of cops even made a combat jump with the Army into Iraq. Air Mobility Command has also developed a group called the Ravens. In this group of Security Forces, airmen accompany aircraft into dangerous regions of the world where there is no on ground security for the aircraft. These men and women travel the world providing security for these USAF assets and serve as Force Protection advisors to aircrew members. Other major commands have similar.
The Air Force continues to change with the times. It just so happens that the “Sky Cops” are leading the way when it comes to installation, asset, nuclear and personnel security. The lessons learned in the Jungles of Vietnam and Thailand, as well as the lessons of the Cold War in Europe and the frozen missile ﬁelds and bomber facilities of America are the foundation under which the new generation of Sky Cops continue to grow and evolve. ASJ
STORY BY TROY TAYSOMIn 1947 the world was rebuilding after the most devastating global conflict we’ve ever known had ended. The importance of air power had been proven with the destruction of Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Berlin and Hamburg. The importance of owning the skies above the battlefield led our nation to form a new branch of the military; on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force was born.
AT THE END OF WWII, Major General Bennett E. Meyers, in charge of procurement, fell victim to one of the seven deadly sins – greed. He saw how much money was being spent and how little oversight was present, and took advantage of his position. An anonymous letter floated around the military and the FBI for years, written by a junior-ranking officer explaining what this general was up to. Legend says that the letter remained largely ignored because of unclear jurisdictional matters. The letter finally saw the light of day during Senate hearings, and exposed the inadequate system that the Air Force had for such investigations. In April 1948, this Senate committee made a recommendation: “A competent investigative unit should be established at once to act as a watchdog over the huge and continuing expenditure of public funds by that important arm [Air Force] of the military establishment.” OSI was formed with a three-pronged dictate: investigate fraud, criminal activity and perform counterintelligence.
AFOSI FUNCTIONS MUCH LIKE the FBI, but only within the confines of the mission of the Air Force. Special agents (SA) don’t wear uniforms and rank is hardly spoken of. AFOSI reports directly to the Inspector General of the Air Force, and is not beholden to base and wing commanders like all other Air Force personnel. It’s not because they are privileged or entitled; it’s to ensure a safety gap exists in the event that the base or wing commander is the one under investigation. This separation ensures that rank is not used to intimidate the enlisted agents as they investigate potential crimes.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the number one requested career field by newly commissioned 2nd lieutenants is pilot training. However, it may surprise some that the second most requested field is OSI. The amazing thing is that the field has less than 3,000 agents and just over 300 of those are officers. The majority are enlisted personnel, followed closely by civilians.
SAs go through a rigorous selection process that includes an exhaustive background investigation, an in-depth polygraph and then basic federal agents’ school in Glynco, Ga. After basic training, the SAs split off into their own OSI academy to learn the capabilities and pillars under which OSI operates. According to OSI, their cornerstones are:
• Vigorously solve crime;
• Protect secrets;
• Warn of threats;
• Exploit intelligence opportunities;
• And operate in cyberspace.
AGENTS HAVE A PLETHORA of weapons they use in the field. From the early 1950s until the late 1970s OSI agents carried .38 Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special (which was renamed the Model 36) 3-inch revolvers. In the late 1970s, OSI decided to switch to the M1911A1 .45 ACP. They acquired surplus guns that the Navy had deemed unserviceable and customized them. The barrel and slide were shortened by three quarters of an inch and the frame by a half inch. The shortened frame required a custom-made, six-round magazine. Many agents praised the change to a better caliber, but the gun was plagued with slide cracks, failures to feed, as well as stove-pipe failures, according to one retired agent I spoke with. It is estimated that it only cost the Air Force $100 per gun to make changes to the .45s, making the project highly economical.
The Colt proved to be a good stop-gap between the old 3-inch .38s and the new 9mm adopted by the armed forces in 1985. Not long after the military adopted the Beretta M9, OSI started issuing them to the SAs. The M9 was liked by many and hated by probably just as many. For an OSI agent the biggest issue was concealability. The M9 was not designed to be carried as a concealed firearm. It was a battlefield back-up gun. OSI needed something more in line with their missions, including undercover investigations and protective details.
Ultimately OSI adopted the Sig Sauer M11, or P228 in civilian terms, just like US Army pilots and other aircrews. However, in November 2015, the AFOSI commander, Brigadier General Keith M. Givens, announced a new weapons policy, which allowed SAs to carry privately owned weapons (POWs) as long as they are on the list of 27 approved models. Brig. Gen. Givens explained, “One of the main driving forces behind this change was the desire to provide each agent the option to employ a weapon that best suits their individual body type and hand size for preference and concealment concerns. Now, OSI Special Agents will have that flexibility.”
Agents are also trained with the Remington 870 and the M4. Agents who deploy in counterinsurgency rolls have the chance to qualify with other weapons like the M203, M240 and M249.
Agents working protective details have used everything from Remington 870s with a folding steel stocks to Uzis and MP5s, depending on what part of the world they are in.
Once and SA has completed training they are assigned to a detachment somewhere in the world to undergo their probationary period. During this time a more senior SA will work with them on criminal investigations, including fraud, narcotics, sexual assaults, murders and any other serious felonies that present themselves.
AFOSI HAS A REPUTATION of working closely with their civilian counterparts. One famous incident involved three airmen from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The airmen robbed a hi-fi-type store in Ogden, Utah, a town close to the base. During the robbery they held several people hostage and committed heinous crimes, including forcing some to drink liquid Drano in hopes of killing the witnesses. When this didn’t work they shot each of the hostages. One man still didn’t die and they resorted to kicking a pen into his ear and choking him – he lived and crawled outside where he was found. A tip from a fellow airman led police to Airman Dale S. Pierre, then 21 years old, and Airman William Andrews, age 20. Evidence was recovered from a dumpster next to the base and with the help of OSI, a search warrant was issued and executed in the barracks. The stereo equipment was recovered, and the two stood trial and were convicted on multiple felonies including capital murder. Pierre was executed in 1987 and Andrews in 1992.
Former SA Nathan Sessler told me that during his time at Pope Airfield, N.C., he worked closely with the Fayetteville Police Department to learn more about street gangs. Street gangs wouldn’t seem to be a problem in the Air Force, but SA Sessler pointed out that the military is a microcosm of society – if society has it, the military has it too, just on a smaller scale. With his new training he was able to identify members within the Air Force and get the local police to verify gang membership.
In Texas, OSI found that members of the “Bloods,” a known and violent gang, had joined the Air Force and were working in the post office on base, using it to smuggle and transport narcotics.
OSI has always excelled at investigating fraud. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a chief master sergeant stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., was investigated for stealing flight-line generators and using them to help high-ranking officers build summer cabins in the countryside.
At around the same time a master sergeant working in a supply supervisory role was caught using government funds to furnish his private rental units. The investigation uncovered $200,000 worth of ill-gotten furniture, fixtures and equipment in his apartments.
DURING MY INTERVIEW with SA Sessler he mentioned a case where a topographical-map printer, valued at $13,000, was stolen from an air evacuation medical unit. The printer didn’t turn up until the spouse of an airmen was involved in a domestic battery. She told his commanding officer and police that her husband had stolen a printer from his squadron. SA Sessler went to the home to investigate and located the printer. What came next shocked the seasoned OSI veteran. The wife casually asked, “Would he (the husband) be in trouble if he had stolen other stuff from the Air Force?” “Yes, ma’am,” responded Sessler. She led him to the couple’s three-car garage that was packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall with stolen and misappropriated merchandise. The man was an E-7 with 19.5 years of service and was a unit purchaser with a no-limit government credit card. He showed his subordinates how to reconcile the books by simply selecting the approve-all button in the software. In 18 months the master sergeant had stolen $392,000 worth of material. His subordinates were charged with dereliction of duty and he received an eight-year imprisonment, loss of rank, forfeiture of pay and a bad-conduct discharge.
OSI has also jumped into the world of computer crimes as well as counterinsurgency. These crimes include everything from attempts to steal sensitive data to child pornography. SA Sessler was one of the agents who got a confession from an E-6 who had been creating and distributing child porn while stationed in the US. He was arrested at Pope AFB. Airman Nathan Wogan was sentenced to life in prison, thanks to the efforts of AFOSI agents like SA Sessler.
UNTIL 9/11, OSI WASN’T HEAVILY involved in counterinsurgency. During the war on terror many OSI agents were sent to the front lines to work human intelligence (HUMINT). This is no different than working narcotics cases with informants and insiders. In fact, OSI was able to get one of the most prolific improvised explosive device (IED) makers in southern Iraq off the streets. Several SAs had been discussing problems they were having in the area with IEDs. One of the agents suggested they work the case just like they would for narcotics. They did and worked their way up the ladder, so to speak, and were eventually buying directly from the IED maker, ultimately taking him into custody. After the operation, the number of IEDs in that area dropped to nearly zero.
In December of 2015, four OSI agents were killed doing counterinsurgency work in Afghanistan. Even though they are not considered front-line units like Rangers, Special Forces, SEALS and Delta Force, the job that OSI agents do is vitally important to the safety of our air assets and the lives of those who serve in the Air Force. Make no mistake, however, theirs is a dangerous job and always will be.
In OSIs 68-year history, they have lost 14 agents in the line of duty – four in that single day in 2015. ASJ
Editor’s note: Next issue, in part II of this series, we will profile other very important USAF law enforcement agencies that protect military assets and help keep our country safe.
Author’s note: Special thanks to the following retired OSI agents for their tremendous help with this article: Mike Brunson, Steve Rivers, Nathan Sessler, Michael Taysom, Bill Yurek and many others.
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
Call this guy! He’s lived an incredible life and has amazing stories,” my editor told me. So, I called Bob Cameron, a veteran of the US Air Force, an expert bloodhound trainer and handler, an expert witness for tracking, a legend in search-and-rescue (SAR) and the inventor of the most important $5 tool you will ever own. But first, to understand Cameron you have to understand bloodhounds and life in the rugged states of Montana and Idaho.
Cameron’s first experience with a missing-persons search came when he was a young teenager in the mountains of northern California’s Alameda County. The local sheriff’s deputies were looking for a couple of missing girls, and Cameron volunteered to help. Sixty years later, he is still actively participating in searches, although according to him, “I don’t do the technical climbing anymore.” For all of those years, the only time Cameron wasn’t searching for people was during the three years (1951-54) he spent in the Air Force, stationed at Mather Air Force Base in Rancho Cordova, Calif. Like many men of his generation, he lied about his age – enlisting at age 16. He was part of the aircraft rescue and air police. His job was two-fold: respond to flight-line crashes and provide security for the base.
AFTER HIS TIME IN THE AIR FORCE, Cameron moved to the wilds of Montana. He became active with SAR at his local sheriff’s office, and his involvement with bloodhounds happened by accident – literally. Ralph McKenzie, Cameron’s best friend, had been working SAR in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was hurt while on duty and could no longer care for a SAR bloodhound. He called Cameron and said, “I have a surprise for you.” That surprise was three-year-old Radar – Cameron’s soon-to-be best friend and partner in crime.
BLOODHOUNDS HAVE an incredible sense of smell combined with a natural predilection to track. They have a long-term memory for scents, and can deftly distinguish one from another. According to Cameron, “Every sheriff’s office in this country should have a bloodhound for their SAR teams.”
We humans slough off 10,000 body cells a second. When we get excited, or scared, that number can jump to 100,000. The cells are distinct in their smell. You and I can’t smell them, but bloodhounds can and use them to track. They follow the scent of the cells. Most of the time the handler uses what is called a scent article – a shirt, sock, pants, bed sheets or anything that the target person has come in contact with will work. Once the dog has recognized and imprinted the scent, the hunt is on.
Handlers don’t always have a scent article for the hound, so they have a unique talent called drop-scent tracking. The dog is allowed to smell everyone present and then tracks the smell of the person who is no longer present. It’s the dog’s process-of-elimination skill. Amazing!
AS ONE CAN IMAGINE, SAR work can be very rewarding. Reuniting missing loved ones, catching criminals and rescuing stranded people bring these workers true satisfaction. However, not all searches have happy endings. Sometimes the work consists of body recovery and sometimes that body is of a child.
Jennifer, a two-year-old girl out of Grangeville, Idaho, was kidnapped from her bed on October 31, 1979. The county sheriff spent several days looking for the girl with no luck. They called Cameron and asked him to come and assist with the search. At the time Cameron lived in Hamilton, Mont., and worked as a deputy sheriff for Idaho County, Idaho. Cameron was understandably upset when he found out that the girl had been missing for a week. Three suspects voluntarily agreed to take polygraph tests. Two came to the office, but the third fled before testing.
His passion was so powerful that he gave a bloodhound to any law-enforcement agency or SAR team that wanted one.
The third, Robert Howerton, became the prime suspect, and using his T-shirt and a piece of little Jennifer’s bedding, Cameron and Radar began their search. The dog tracked through a wooded marsh area to an old trapper’s cabin. The cabin was green with moss, and inside they found mattresses stacked on top of each other also covered in moss – except for the very top one, which had been wiped off. Radar kept alerting to a ladder that accessed the attic. In the attic they found the little girl’s nightgown.
Radar continued to track from the cabin to the Clearwater River 3 miles away. At the river Radar began tracking down a dirt road, eventually losing the scent. After returning to the bank, Cameron was speaking with other searchers when Radar took off running down the river’s edge. The Clearwater was moving fairly quickly, so there was no way that the little girl could still be in the river – not after this long. But Cameron trusted his dog and asked the others if they had a boat or raft. Cameron and a couple of the men floated down the river in an inflatable raft until they came to a slow-moving eddy. They looked around and couldn’t see anything. As they were preparing to leave, Cameron looked straight down, and in about 5 feet of water he could see the shape of a tiny child. They’d found Jennifer. Cameron retrieved her moss-covered body and made history as the first expert witness allowed to present bloodhound evidence in a trial in Idaho. Howerton confessed to the kidnapping and was sent to jail, thanks mostly to Cameron and Radar having found the child’s body.
AS CAMERON BEGAN to understand the incredible benefits of bloodhounds, he decided to start breeding these amazing dogs. His passion was so powerful that he gave a bloodhound to any law-enforcement agency or SAR team that wanted one, and all they would have to pay for was the transportation of getting the dog there – that’s it.
In the mid-1980s, he got a call from Bob Herring, a young deputy in Fresno, Calif. Deputy Herring wanted a dog, but his sheriff wouldn’t allow it. Cameron wasn’t going to allow this to happen, so he pulled some strings and the deputy got his dog. The city of Fresno made a big deal of the dog coming onboard, and had all of the local press there to greet the bloodhound as he came off the plane. They named the dog Montana.
Herring and Montana made quite the pair, and went on to help locate dozens of victims during the Sanger, Calif., earthquake even while they were still in training. These two also caught a pair of thieves while traveling home from training in the mountains. Using the drop-scent technique, Montana was able to smell the store owners, then tracked the two thieves a couple of miles down the road, where Herring found them drinking their stolen beer. Herring, now retired, still trains officers on the use of bloodhounds.
EVEN WHILE CAMERON was raising dogs he was actively being called out on searches. He tells of a time when he and his partner John Michaels of Hamilton, Mont., were called to find a missing airman from Malmstrom Air Force base in Great Falls, Mont. Within 42 minutes of arriving on scene and getting a scent article, they and Radar found the wanderer. Had the lost airman gone any further, he would have ended up in lost in the wilderness and more than likely have died. The airman’s friends were amazed at how fast and physically fit Cameron and Michaels were. They were thrown off guard because the men were dressed in many layers, giving the appearance of being overweight rubes. When one of the airmen asked how they had gone straight up the mountain in the snow and found the man in 42 minutes, Michaels replied, “We just sit in the bar and drink beer until they call us.” No further explanation was given as they packed up and went home grinning.
In the 1980s a wealthy family bought a summer ranch next to the Salmon River in Idaho. The father raised Doberman pinschers and one pup was born with floppy ears, hence not worth selling, but his nine-year-old son wanted to keep it. The dad allowed it, and one summer day the boy and his dog wandered off and got lost in some of the most treacherous country in central Idaho. The sheriff called Cameron and asked for his help. Cameron and the team searched for the little boy, who by this time had been missing for five days. The terrain was steep and dropped almost vertically down to the Salmon, which is also known as “The river of no return.”
Finally, when they had almost given up hope, Cameron stood on a point overlooking the river and called the boy’s name as loudly as he could. A faint reply – “I’m down here” – led to the boy and his dog being reunited with his family. The father, a striking fellow standing well over 6 feet tall, was overcome with emotion. He offered Cameron a handmade walnut box. Inside was a rare S&W .357 revolver. Cameron explained that he could not accept the gift. After much discussion and negotiation – including a threat to throw the revolver in the river if it wasn’t accepted – Cameron took the gun on the condition he be allowed to raffle it off to raise money for a new SAR building.
“If You Can be Heard – You Can be Rescued!”
CAMERON NO LONGER conducts technical searches, but he remains dedicated to people who might go missing, and has invented a must-have tool for anyone who goes outdoors. It’s a whistle, but not just any whistle. It’s a whistle that is capable of 120 decibels, which is the equivalent of a rock concert or a chainsaw 3 feet away. This whistle has been adopted by the Coast Guard, Forest Service, National Parks Service, Army Corps of Engineers and Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), to name a few. The slogan for his company, named Whistles for Life, is “If You Can be Heard – You Can be Rescued!” Blowing a whistle is much easier than screaming, and can be sustained for much longer periods. This whistle also makes a great personal-defense item. I blew one and it seriously attracts attention. The whistles come in bright colors and are lightweight, as well as flat, making them easy to find and carry. Cameron is also a charter member, patron member and golden eagle with the National Rifle Association. Whether it is searching for lost university students, backpackers in the mountains of Idaho and Montana, armed robbers or kidnapped children, Cameron has been there to help locate them.
I spoke with Cameron for more than two hours, and it was some of the best time I’ve spent in my life. He is one of a kind. I told him that my son is studying recreation management, and is interested in doing SAR. Cameron immediately asked for my son’s name and told me to have him call. Bob’s knowledge of search techniques and bloodhounds is immense, but his heart is even bigger. His life and experiences could easily fill a book, and it’s a book that needs to be written before his knowledge is lost forever.
In a world that often seems lost, it is thanks to people like Cameron and his partner Radar who are the light at the end of the tunnel. ASJ
Editor’s note: If you are interested in more information about Whistles for Life, you can visit them at whistlesforlifellc.com.
Cameron was an Idaho County, Idaho, deputy sheriff, but worked with law enforcement agencies all over the country that needed his expertise.
Idaho County, Idaho, was very proud to have Radar as one of its citizens.
Posted in Law Enforcement Tagged with: Bloodhound Montana, Bloodhounds, Bob Cameron, Deputy Bob Herring, Dog tracker, Dog trainer, Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, tracking criminals, Troy Taysom, Whistles For life
Technology gives us instant access to information. If something happens such as a car accident, riot or tornado, for example, we can see it instantly through the power of digital recording and the Internet. If we need an answer to any question, we can type it into Google and within milliseconds have one – right or wrong. The public holds the same expectation now for interactions between law enforcement and the public.
What are the first two questions asked after a police shooting? Was the officer wearing a body camera, and where’s the video? The public want transparency and answers.
The idea of officers wearing body cameras has been a topic that law enforcement agencies have been investigating for years, and some of the biggest policy makers in the business have now weighed in, including the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), as well as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and a presidential task force with their policy recommendations.
In a perfect world, a police shooting would be captured from multiple angles and all of the questions surrounding the event would be answered. But this just isn’t possible. The difficult part is that body cameras, or more appropriately titled body-worn cameras (BWC), will not provide everything either.
BWCs are a natural technological progression for law enforcement, but at best the camera will only capture whatever is directly in front of the officer minus any obstructions such as outstretched arms in the firing position or another officer.
The camera cannot capture subtle nuances. Officers tend to develop a sixth sense through their experiences, and the camera cannot see what they are sensing or what is happening beside or behind them. Simply put, the BWC is a tool – just another piece to a very complicated puzzle. The biggest hurdle for law enforcement is managing the public’s expectations.
The technology involved with BWCs is advancing quickly. The Safariland Group, a respected and well-known law-enforcement products company, has a line of BWCs and has developed new software which allows BWC video to be redacted. This means the video blurs the faces of bystanders or other objects captured in the footage. The software is made by VIEVU, which uses an advanced algorithm for this process. The software is available to departments that use VIEVU’s solution cloud-hosted evidence system.
Microsoft has partnered with VIEVU in developing this new cloud technology, and the CEO is a former Seattle police officer.
Budgets are finite, and many cities, counties and states have seen discretionary budgets drastically reduced in recent years. These reductions are across the board and include law enforcement. The costs associated with body cameras are not insignificant, and in fact can be staggering. The initial purchase price of a body camera is close to $1,000 per unit. Money must also be budgeted for the replacement of these cameras over time.
Data storage is the biggest cost and only grows as time goes on. A department with 107 sworn officers including detectives and administrative types can expect to pay $70,000 per year for an off-site data-storage solution. If the department elects to host their own storage, the cost could be less, but then they assume all of the liability for security and data backup.
Many departments are opting for cloud-based storage, which puts the security and backup in the hands of the vendor.
This is a big concern for the officers and administrators. Questions regarding when it’s appropriate to video are proving to be tough. Some departments have a policy where the camera is turned on for every callout regardless of its nature. This may prove to be problematic when dealing with sensitive issues. It may also be problematic if the responding officers find that no crime has been committed but the call was still a private matter. Situations might include: calls where citizens are deceased; sexual assaults; or child-related incidents.
There is also the question of the officer’s privacy. This has been raised by multiple unions representing officers. The fear, they say, is that supervisors will use the video to discipline officers who may be speaking ill of management.
There is also the fear that an officer who is a whistle-blower can be tracked and punished by using video from the camera. The unions contend that officers have some expectation of privacy while on duty and while speaking with their coworkers.
It isn’t practical for a patrol officer to run their body camera every minute of every shift. Deciding on when a BWC should be turned on is up to each agency, but is also heavily influenced by state law. Some states have laws that require consent from anyone being recorded. These laws provide an obstacle that must be overcome through legislation, thus delaying implementation.
• Officers shall activate the BWC to record all contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties;
• Whenever possible, officers should inform individuals that they are being recorded. In locations where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a residence, they may decline to be recorded unless the recording is being made in pursuant to an arrest such as while searching the residence or the individuals;
• The BWC shall remain activated until the event is completed in order to ensure the integrity of the recording, unless the contact moves into an area restricted by this policy;
• If an officer fails to activate the BWC, fails to record the entire contact or interrupts the recording, the officer shall document why a recording was not made, interrupted or terminated;
• Civilians shall not be allowed to review the recordings at the scene;
• Officers shall not edit, alter, erase, duplicate, copy, share or otherwise distribute in any manner BWC recordings;
• Officers are encouraged to inform their supervisor of any recordings that may be of value for training purposes;
• If an officer is suspected of wrongdoing or involved in an officer-involved shooting or other serious use-of-force, the department reserves the right to limit or restrict an officer from viewing the video file.
• BWC recordings are not a replacement for written reports.
Here are some of the recommended restrictions of using BWCs:
• Encounters with undercover officers or confidential informants;
• When on break or otherwise engaged in personal activities;
• In any location where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a restroom or locker room.
The IACP isn’t the only group to publish their research and recommendations. The BJA has created a national body-worn camera toolkit for law enforcement agencies to use. This toolkit is free to departments and includes research, costs and other important information.
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing included a section on body cameras in their report released in May 2015 too.
The resources are there for departments to design policies and procedures. Many questions still remain unanswered, but will be answered in time as situations and cases arise. The important point in all this is that technology is a tool that can be leveraged in law enforcement. But it is just that – a tool. It isn’t an answer to every problem or situation. ASJ
Growing up, Norman had an uncle who was a chief of police for a small town, but he never even considered a career as a cop until he was 26 years old. The youngest of nine children, he eventually decided to apply to the North Little Rock Police Department, was hired and went through the law enforcement academy. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the patrol division, where he still serves today 17 years later — with no desire to ever leave.
When Norman started patrolling the streets of NLR, his mother would call him each night at 2:00 a.m. to make sure he was safe. No matter how old one gets, a mother will always worry, and she wouldn’t be denied knowing her child was well.
Seventeen years ago terms like tweet, viral video, post, Instagram and Facebook either didn’t exist in our lexicon, or meant something completely different. Times have changed. Smart cops have embraced that change and use social media to their advantage. Tommy Norman did just that and became, unexpectedly, a Facebook superstar and Instagram sensation. He has always been a great guy and compassionate cop according to his community and peers.
From the beginning Norman understood that to be a successful cop required public trust. The same people who often have valuable information for the police can be the same people who trust the authorities least. Gaining this trust, while not impossible, takes years to build and can be destroyed in seconds.
Officer Norman knew that the way to be a part of a community was to be a part of its lives and without prejudice. This is not to say that Norman won’t arrest someone who broke the law. On the contrary, part of gaining his community’s trust is by being fair and keeping the streets safe for the law-abiding citizens; final judgment is left to the judge and jury. Norman works around people who have difficulties and sometimes need to be punished. This allows them to learn, move forward and change.
Officer Norman is Making a difference. A man named Willie was recently arrested in NLR for stealing copper piping from an abandoned house. Norman (not the arresting officer), spoke with Willie while he was in jail and discovered that he had stolen the piping to pay his rent. While it was clear that Willie needed to be arrested because he had commited a crime, Norman also saw a chance to help him out and showed him other ways to get help without breaking the law. Norman mentioned this incident on one of his social media accounts and received a check from a woman in Pennsylvania to help Willie pay his utilities. Norman took the money and paid Willie’s utilities. When he presented the receipt to Willie and explained what had happened, Willie cried. “I had no idea people cared,” Willie said.
Recently a couple from New York contacted Norman to tell him about their wedding anniversary gift. The wife, Kim, wanted to buy clothes and shoes for one of Norman’s best little friends, Tim Tim and his brothers. Tim Tim and crew were new to the area and in need of help.
Another video that Norman posted shows him meeting up with Gloria, a former drug user and homeless woman, whom he would see walking the streets late at night and early in the morning. On the day of the video, Gloria had been clean for three years, employed and living in an apartment. She and Officer Norman danced a little jig in the lobby of a local fast-food restaurant to celebrate her sobriety.
A couple, Deborah and Jay, who both have special needs had met in a homeless shelter. Because of their financial situation they move regularly, and always picked a dwelling in Norman’s patrol area simply because they felt safe with him around. Norman was their best man for their wedding vow renewal.
Several years ago Norman saw an opportunity to get to know the kids in his patrol area. Many of them stand around at school bus stops, but instead of being bored they wait with anticipation. Will today be the day that Officer Norman comes? Will he dance? Sing? Will he ask about grades? The answer is, “Yes.”
Norman is reknowned for posting videos on social media of dancing and singing with kids at their bus stops. He doesn’t care that the kids laugh at him when he doesn’t know all the dance moves, or that they think he looks silly doing the “NaeNae,” a type of celebratory dance. He also doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the age of what he calls his “victims.” Browsing through his video catalog one can see him dancing with fellow officers, senior citizens and young and old alike. All of his videos have one thing in common – everyone is smiling. A smile is really a snapshot of the heart, a physical demonstration of what is happening on the inside. For a brief moment in time, these people have forgotten their everyday worries and stresses.
There are many hard realities that a police officer must deal with, but the most difficult of all is a child in need, says Norman. Many of the bus-stop kids come from homes that cannot afford to feed them breakfast in the morning. One of the first questions Norman asks is if anyone is hungry. You’ll never see this part of his visits on his videos simply because, I imagine, Norman wouldn’t want any of these kids to be embarrassed.
He carries Pop-Tarts and juice in the trunk of his car in case any of the kids haven’t eaten. He could refer these kids or their parents to a social programs and call it good enough, but he realizes that he can feed a child right here and now. This love goes beyond police work and speaks to Norman’s humanity and caring. While a Pop-Tart and a juice box won’t solve world hunger or poverty, it helps a child know that there are people who care, and many of them wear a law-enforcement uniform.
One of Norman’s favorite pastimes is reading to the kids, and he carries books in his car so he is always ready. Kids usually see reading as a boring exercise. Norman is teaching these kids that someone cool loves to read, and because he has gained their trust, his example has value to them. The quickest way out of poverty is by having dreams and an education. Books provide both.
Among the stops along Norman’s beat are the senior-citizen assisted living centers where there are people who suffer from disabilities, along with the homeless and downtrodden. He has even deputized two men who have cerebral palsy and are wheelchair bound. He refers to them as Officer Pickens and Officer Sharp. He reports in with them regularly, bringing smiles to their faces and to the faces of the thousands who see
Norman can be seen in his videos pulling over children in their toy cars and issuing citations – unless they escape! He’s been locked in the back of his police car by an unforgiving child officer, and laughed at by citizens of all ages as he tries to do the Quan, yet another type of dance. More importantly, he inspires others.
Sadly, not all of Norman’s experiences have had a happy ending. During our interview, Norman told me of a young man named Tupac whom he had known from the street. In the beginning, this child would smile, wave and run to meet up with him. As the child grew older, he would look away when Norman approached. Pretty soon the kid wanted nothing to do with him or any other police officer. He had mixed in with the wrong crowd and started making poor decisions. A couple of months prior to our interview this young man was shot and killed in the street.
Officer Norman has been on CNN and The Today Show, and has been recognized by multiple community organizations for his work with the citizens of NLR. He has inspired people from New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and many other locations who were willing to get involved. More importantly, he is inspiring other officers at the community level. He doesn’t expect everyone to get involved the way he does, but he does give sound advice to fellow officers via Instagram: “Bring back the human factor and stop creating an us-against-them mentality. I challenge every fellow officer to get out of their cars and walk, talk, dance, play and interact with their community. There will be less lives lost and more mutual respect.”
Will all of this matter in the big picture? Will it matter that he gave out Pop-Tarts, sang and danced at bus stops? It matters to those children. Those kids love him and one day when they need him most, they will know that they can count on him. ASJ
Editor’s note: If you would like to see Officer Norman’s videos and images, or follow his daily routine, you can visit: Instagram at TNorman23 or Facebook.com/Tommy.Norman.944.
Story by Troy Taysom • Photographs by Laurie ReyesPolice officers deal with a variety of people and problems daily. Some of the problems are self-inflicted, others are the result of genetics and some simply have unknown origins. Misidentifying a problem is an all too common occurrence in law enforcement. A person approached by officers may suffer from mental illness, a genetic disorder like autism or even a disease like Alzheimer’s, which renders them incapable of following simple commands.
These types of encounters have had really bad outcomes in the past. An officer may mistake a person with autism for a noncompliant individual, or a person with mental illness for a drug abuser. What many people don’t realize is that these individuals are less than capable of following commands because of their disorder, not because they are defiant or high. This shift in thinking is saving lives, careers and creating a cohesive bond between cops and citizens.
Laurie Reyes of the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) in Maryland, is the leading advocate for this paradigm shift. To understand Reyes one must first be able to comprehend selflessness, dogged determination and unconditional love. If these concepts don’t register, then stop reading, because you will never understand her. If, however, you know what it’s like to fight uphill battles, deal with heartache without quitting and love those who are misunderstood and ostracized, then you will love Reyes and her story.
Since the age of five, Reyes knew she wanted to be a cop and nothing less would do. She loved everything about cops; the cars, the lights, etc. And helping those in need was programmed into her DNA. She never wavered from her goal of becoming an officer, and after completing her bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland, Reyes was hired by the MCPD.
Reyes spent seven years in the patrol division before being assigned to special operations. Her job with within this department was to oversee Project Lifesaver. Project Lifesaver is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose stated purpose is “(t)o provide timely responses to save lives and reduce potential injury for adults and children who wander due to Alzheimer’s, autism, and other related conditions or disorders.”
Officer Reyes has been working to integrate this project into the MCPD for the past 10 years. The program provides tracking bracelets for adults and children who are predisposed to wander or elope, due to cognitive disorders. The bracelets are trackable by air up to a couple miles away. While a wonderful tool for caregivers and police, the bracelets don’t address perhaps the most serious issue and that is an officer’s interaction with people suffering from a cognitive disorder.
Cognitive disorders are not mental illnesses. The autism spectrum, while it affects the brain, is not a mental illness like depression, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder. Because of this officers need to understand how to identify and, more importantly, approach and interact with a someone who has autism. This is where Reyes comes in.
Reyes has worked tirelessly to create a program that teaches officers to recognize autism and understand the intricacies of interacting with these people. The normal procedures for dealing with a citizen will not work with a person with autism. In fact, standard practices could potentially escalate a situation. This can be confusing not only to the citizen, but for the officer as well.
Fortunately, Reyes has spent countless hours studying and learning about autism, and its potential effects and manifestations. Speaking with her, I found that she is well versed in the subject and its unique challenges. My wife works in special education and I have learned a great deal from her about those who suffer from cognitive disorders, especially autism, and she helped me put together questions for this interview. It was extremely helpful to have an assistant who helped me understand Reye’s answers.
Children with autism have what Jake Edwards, a young man with autism – more about him in a moment – calls his “super powers.” These powers tend to be heightened senses, especially hearing and touch. Many autistic people are sensitive to loud noises such as music, crying babies, yelling and sudden loud sounds. These can trigger the child to act out in an attempt to stop the noise, and at times the actions can be violent. They are also very sensitive to touch, both being touched and needed something to hold. Simply touching a child with autism may also lead them to be violent, but on the other hand, they can be calmed when given an item such as soft toy, a string of beads or a textured ball to hold. This need for holding or touching an object is called sensory.
Reyes understands all of these issues and has started training the officers of the MCPD to approach situations in a different manner. She wants the officers to think, “Could this be autism? Would a bag of skittles work better than going hands on?” Give simple commands, in a calm voice, and allow the person time to process what is being asked. At no time, however, is officer safety to be compromised, but children with autism respond differently, and this difference must be accounted for.
It isn’t just the police that Reyes works with; she is also involved with the parents and primary caregivers, and helps them get identity bracelets (different from the tracking bracelets), which help officers immediately identify a person with autism. With the help of their parents, children are encouraged to approach police officers in public and show them their bracelet.
Reyes has also had bright yellow T-shirts made that she gives to caregivers and parents. These shirts identify the child as having autism and says, “If I’m alone call 911.” It also has the MCPD badge on the back with the same admonishment. These shirts have helped dozens of children who eloped and were later found by citizens. They are only given to the children that are prone to eloping, are nonverbal and a danger to themselves. Many of them are resistant to wearing the bracelet because of their sensory issues.
This job has given Reyes some of the highest highs and lowest lows that one can experience in police work. She told me of a young man whom she had worked with when he lived in Montgomery County. The boy had autism and was nonverbal. The conditions he lived in were deplorable. Reyes lost contact with him when he moved to a neighboring county, but some months later officers from the MCPD found him. They identified his bracelet, called Reyes and said, “Hey, we have one of your kids down here.” The scene was horrific; the young boy was carrying a bedpost to which he was chained and locked. He had somehow broken the bedpost away from the rest of the bed and walked several miles back to Montgomery County.
Reyes told me, “This crushed me to the core.” I could hear the sadness and anger in her voice as she relayed the story. She still keeps and shows officers the dog leash and padlock used to hold him, but she says, “Jake Edwards makes it all worth it.” Who is Jake Edwards? According to her, “Jake will change the world.”
Jake is a young man with autism. He is a vocal, self-advocate who was recently named the ambassador for Autism Night Out in Montgomery County. At this year’s event Jake gave a speech in front of a crowd of hundreds of people. The speech, which can be found on YouTube, was moving. So moving, in fact, that it brought 38-year law enforcement veteran Chief J. Thomas Manger of the MCPD, to tears. Very few in attendance had a dry eye when Jake was finished speaking. Do yourself a favor and watch the speech – you’ll be a better person for it.
Jake’s vibrant personality, along with his indominatable spirit, makes him the perfect person to represent those with autism. Reyes’ plan is for Jake to speak directly to recruits in the police academy, giving them a chance to speak and deal with a person who has autism in a safe, controlled environment. Education is really the key when it comes to understanding these people.
Reyes will be the first to tell you that she does not, and could not, do this alone. Caregivers, like Jake’s mother, Jenn Lynn, are Reyes’s number one supporters. She is also supported by her colleagues like, Officer Tara Wimmer and Paula Aulestia, an amazing volunteer who works closely with Officer Jason Huggins, a search and rescue unit coordinator, as well as all of the officers that belong to this specialized group.
Officer Reyes was quick to point out that her husband Tarik and their sons have been supportive of her career in law enforcement too, especially her work with Project Lifesaver. Her parents, Roger and Dee Nelson, actively support Autism Night Out, passing out pizza and greeting everyone with their infectious smiles. The approach: get everyone involved and the kids become the winners.
Simply put, Reyes’s job is to save lives. She works assiduously to make sure that all officers’ interactions with people who have intellectual developmental disabilities are safe and nonviolent. Thirty years ago people with autism were hidden away and forgotten by society; today they are living productive lives. This dramatic turn of events would not be possible without people like Reyes and all of the dedicated, loyal caregivers and educators who work with these children and adults on a daily basis.
Chief Manger of the MCPD told me, “Officers like Laurie Reyes are the heart and soul of our police department. Her work in the community has made us better at what we do. Among everything she has done, putting on the police department’s Autism Night Out event is amazing, and one of my favorite nights of the year!”
It’s not just the chief who admires Reyes. Jenn Lynn said, “Officer Reyes means a future for our children. I’m less scared about my child’s independence, knowing Officer Reyes is leading our county and the country in autism education for all officers. Her heart is gold, and her efforts tireless. She is devoted to our children and saves lives every day.” ASJ
Editor’s note: To learn more about autism and how to get involved in your community go to autismspeaks.org.
Posted in Law Enforcement Tagged with: Autism Night Out, Autism Spectrum, Autismspeaks.org, Behind The Badge, Chief J. Thomas Manger, Cognitive Disorders, Intellectual Development Disability, Jake Edwards, Laurie Reyes, Law Enforcement, MCPD, Officer Jason Huggins, Officer Tara Wimmer, Paula Aulestia, Project Lifesaver, Troy Taysom
Worthy, now a deputy sheriff in Brevard County (where Satellite Beach is located), grew up doing what kids in small beach towns do – surf. When Worthy wasn’t surfing, he was wrestling for his high school.
Immediately after graduation, Worthy enlisted in the United States Army on a Ranger track and was assigned to Charlie Company 1/75th Rangers. He attended Ranger School a year later. Ranger School consists of 60 days of sleep deprivation and stress-induced missions. Each mission forces the Ranger candidate to think critically under less-than-ideal situations. The school has three phases, each more difficult than the last. The beginning phase takes place at Camp Darby, Fort Benning, Ga., followed by mountain training at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., and culminates in the Florida Phase at Camp Rudder and Eglin Air Force Base. The graduation rate hovers around 50 percent or lower, and most have to start over at least once during the course. Worthy completed the course the first time through.
After earning his Ranger tab, Worthy went back to Charlie Company and began working his way through the ranks. He started out as a rifleman and advanced to grenadier, M249 Gunner, M240 Gunner and finished his enlistment as an E-5 sergeant team leader. Worthy found that his favorite weapon system was the MK 48, a light belt-fed machine gun chambered in the hard hitting 7.62x51mm. Worthy told me, “[The MK 48] is an amazingly lethal weapon that saved the lives of many fellow Rangers and prevented the enemy from advancing on us almost instantly.”
During his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan Worthy was involved in an operation that placed he and 30 fellow Rangers in harm’s way. Although the details remain classified it’s easy to surmise that Worthy and his fellow Rangers were doing what they do best – looking for and eliminating bad guys. As is usually the case with special ops units, they were deep in Taliban territory and undoubtedly being watched by the enemy as they made their way through the rugged countryside. Soon they found themselves surrounded by 100-plus Taliban fighters. Their squad leader dead, Worthy and his fellow Rangers fought their way out. Worthy told me that he didn’t do anything differently than any of the other Rangers, but his superiors didn’t see it that way and rewarded him with the Bronze Star Medal with a V for valor in combat. It’s a classification for heroism.
As Worthy’s enlistment came to an end he followed his father’s example and also became a road patrol deputy for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office where his dad has been a deputy for some 30-odd years. The transition from service to his country to service to his community was a natural one for him.
As I spoke with Worthy it was apparent to me that he is a humble, quiet man who didn’t want to talk about himself more than he had to. When I asked him if there was a seminal moment when he knew he had made the correct choice in becoming an officer, he told me he couldn’t think of one, but promised to think on it and email me later. He did as he promised and emailed me a story. That he would rather email the story than say it out loud demonstrates his humility. Here’s the story in his own words:
“I responded to a trespass call at a local gas station. The clerks advised that a homeless male was loitering on the property and they wanted him to leave. When I arrived the man began to pack his things and said ‘You must be here for me. I didn’t mean to bother anyone; I was just trying to stay warm.’ I decided to stay there and talk to him about his situation. It turns out the man wasn’t asking for money. He only wanted to get into one of the local shelters; however, his ID card was stolen, and he stated that the shelter will not accept anyone without an ID. As the male looked down and proceeded to walk towards his bicycle I told him I had to go back to the precinct right quick but wanted him to meet me at the Subway [sandwich shop]. When I met back up with him I gave him an unofficial record of his ID card that was on record from a previous consensual encounter with another deputy. The man began to cry and told me that nobody has ever gone out of their way like that to help him, especially the police. Since he was too proud to accept any cash for a sandwich I gave the money to the cashier to make him one when he came inside. I wished him luck and told him the cashier wanted to ask him a question as I left in my patrol car.”
Singer Don Henley released a song in the 1980s entitled “Dirty Laundry.” The song is about how much the news media loves tragedy, pain and suffering. One line in the song says, “I make my living off the evening news, just give me something, something I can use. People love it when you lose … ”
The song’s lyrics are almost prophetic in describing today’s news reporting. Stories of murder and mayhem abound, and the volume is cranked to 11 if the story involves a cop. There is no shortage of news stories casting cops in a bad light, but what you rarely see are stories like the one Worthy shared with me. My bet is that he hasn’t shared that story with anyone besides maybe his fiancee.
Worthy could have just as easily sent the homeless man on his way without trying to help him out. My experience has been that people who witness war and all its tragic occurrences like Worthy has usually end up one of two ways: 1) callous and uncaring about other people and their problems; or 2) they vow to alleviate as much suffering in the world as they can. It is obvious which path Worthy has taken.
Regrettably, not all calls end in a positive way. Monday, March 9, 2015, was a defining date in the young life of Deputy Worthy. At 9:08 p.m. a 911 call was fielded describing a man standing in the street firing a handgun at random cars and houses. The house from where the 911 call originated was occupied not only by adults but by children as well. The City of Cocoa was the primary agency responding to the call, with Deputy Worthy responding as back-up. It turned out that he was the closest officer and arrived first.
When he got within two blocks of where the shooter had last been seen he stopped to retrieve his Colt AR-15 patrol rifle and approached on foot. His time as a Ranger had taught him that the element of surprise was worth its weight in gold, but like all well thought-out plans his was subjected to Murphy’s Law. The original plan went by the wayside within seconds of his arrival.
Worthy’s car was blacked out, meaning no lights of any kind were on, when he saw a man standing in the street. Worthy turned on his headlights to get a better look at the man. The man, who turned out to be the active shooter, acted as if he was going to run, so Worthy activated his blue lights announcing that he was a deputy sheriff. As soon as the lights came on the suspect reached into his pocket, pulled out a handgun and began firing at him.
One of the first shots came through the patrol car’s windshield and embedded in the headrest, narrowly missing Worthy’s head. Worthy exited and sought better cover behind his car. The shooter, in a highly agitated state, pursued Worthy to the rear of the car, shooting the entire time. At one point the suspect, later identified as 30-year-old Cedrick Bishop, was running towards Worthy and it was at this time that Worthy confronted the suspect and killed him. Worthy’s experiences in Southwest Asia saved his life that night.
Worthy was fighting for more than the lives of the residents in that small Florida town; he was fighting for his future. His fiancée, who was nine months pregnant with their daughter, and her young son were at home. If it were not for his quick response you may very well have been reading his obituary and that of several citizens of Cocoa instead of this article.
As Worthy and I were talking about the shooting he told me that taking a life is never a good thing. I agree, but the decision to take a life that night had already been made and not by him. The active shooter had decided that someone was going to die and ultimately made the decision that it would be him.
It was a privilege for me to interview Worthy. Something that struck me while speaking with him was his desire to deflect credit away from himself and give it to others. He did this when I asked him about his heroic efforts in Afghanistan, and on March 9, 2015. But isn’t this what real heroes do? This modesty is what confirmed it for me. As a father of three boys I can imagine how proud Worthy’s parents are of him. As a citizen I know how proud we are of him. As a son I know how proud his kids will be of him when they are old enough to know what their dad has done in the name of service.
In this age of overpaid, overindulged athletes, entertainers, and other public figures, it is refreshing to know that people of character are out there. These quiet men and women go about their jobs every day never seeking the limelight or fame. They go to work with the singular goal of protecting the citizens in their jurisdiction no matter the cost. These officers deserve our gratitude and support for their willingness to sacrifice all so that we can be safe.
Worthy said it best: “I did what any other law enforcement officer would have done; I just happened to get there first.” What Worthy doesn’t say is that when the shots first ring out, he and his fellow officers (and soldiers) run towards the danger, not away from it, all to protect their citizens. ASJ
What happens when a newcomer to the industry combines tradition with cutting-edge technology and 21st-century company culture? Magic. Welcome to the universe that Josh Waldron and Jonathon Shults have created in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah. Two less likely candidates to start a firearms company have never come together before.
Waldron was a professional photographer by trade. He spent years on assignments for publications like Newsweek, Outdoor Life and Forbes. Feeling maxed out as a photographer, Waldron wanted to do something challenging, but fun. “If you’re going to work, do something that you love; otherwise, what’s the point of being on this earth?” Waldron said during our interview. He grew up in northern Utah County, Utah, where shooting sports are popular and places to shoot and hunt are abundant.
Shults, Waldron’s partner and lifelong friend, was a music producer and sound engineer before they joined forces to revolutionize the suppressor industry. He too, grew up in northern Utah County.
MANY EUROPEANS COUNTRIES ENCOURAGE THE USE OF SILENCERS SIMPLY TO FIGHT
What brings two artists into the world of manufacturing and firearms? Customer service, or more accurately the lack thereof. Waldron told me, “Shults and I have always loved shooting and we started buying suppressors in our early twenties. We were often disappointed in the quality, as well as the customer service. It was horrible.” Not only did these two dislike poor customer service, they also felt that the suppressor industry was archaic and inept. The market was ripe for a revolution, and Waldron and Shults were poised to lead it.
Describing the diversity of SilencerCo’s team is much like describing the taste of sugar; one must experience it first hand in order to truly grasp the concept.
The team is an eclectic group: beards, tattoos, bright red hair and piercings are just a few of the things one will see when walking the floor. What is immediately apparent from the moment one steps into the workspace is excitement, fun and creativity. These are exactly the things that are generally lacking in a firearms manufacturing facility.
The team members come from across the country and all walks of life. While I visited their 72,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Salt Lake City, I met this group. Many are prior military representing all branches of service, but there are also ferriers, blacksmiths, graffiti artists, gun armorers, painters, photographers, graphic artists, videographers, editors and engineers. They do not fit any kind of traditional mold other than they love what they do and are creative thinkers. The SilencerCo atmosphere is more like a software firm than a firearms company. If you are looking for crusty old men talking about the good ol’ days, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The director of product, Willie Booras, is a twenty-something with the most vibrant, almost iridescent, red hair I’ve ever seen. She (yes, she) is from a small town in Wyoming and studied industrial design at Georgia Tech before coming to Utah. She is a fun, smart, no-nonsense lady who gets things done. Not only does she oversee all of SilencerCo’s products from start to finish, she is also in charge of large-scale events, as well as branding and public relations. A testament to her abilities can be found in SilencerCo’s award for best booth at the 2015 SHOT Show.
SilencerCo’s CFO, Josh Mercer, has an unusual background. Before becoming a financial wizard Mercer earned his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry, followed by a Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis in finance.
I also met Ellie, a beautiful, fair-haired golden retriever that comes to work with Booras, and another dog named Izzie, a blue healer, that kept a close eye on me during my tour of the facility, making sure that I, too, was well behaved. All employees are encouraged to bring their dogs to work.
The customer service team is the number one department at the company. SilencerCo came to be because of poor customer service, so they make sure this area is the best of the best. They warranty all of their products for life and will, according to them, “even fix stupid, once.” They told me about a customer who had used the incorrect thread adapter to install his suppressor on a handgun. This ruined the baffles as well as the threads on his barrel. They fixed not only the suppressor, but the threads on his barrel at no cost – once.
Firearms companies tend to use known gun celebrities in their ads and on their websites. SilencerCo headed in another direction. Waldron uses personalities outside of the traditional gun channels. On his website you’ll find videos of Aoki, a music phenom who double majored at U.C. Santa Barbara in Women’s Studies and Sociology; Travis Browne, an MMA fighter in the UFC’s heavyweight division; and Cam Zink, an insane, professional mountain-bike rider who apparently fears nothing. These three have nothing in common except that they all love shooting firearms, sporting suppressors from SilencerCo, and value their hearing.
What makes Waldron and the SilencerCo team think that this kind of marketing will work? Waldron stated it very simply: “If you want to control a market, you use known industry insiders in your marketing, but if you want to create a new market, you use other industry insiders.” Waldron and his team of fanatics have created an entirely new market, which is where shooters from all areas of the industry come to buy the highest quality and most reliable suppressors made by the most innovative company in the firearms industry, where excellent customer service is the minimum and exceeding customer expectation is mandatory.
Times haven’t always been this good, though. In the beginning there were many weeks when Waldron had no idea how he was going to even make payroll, and it was two and half years before he actually took a paycheck home. Waldron and Shults had trouble finding people to loan them money to grow the business, and when they did find a lender, they were forced to endure loan-shark-level interest rates.
While Waldron no longer worries about making payroll, he isn’t sitting in his office admiring his successes either. Everyday Waldron worries about his company and strives towards perpetual innovation. When a company stands still they are actually moving backwards. Complacency breeds laziness, which can ruin companies. There is no laziness or complacency at this company, and this applies to the CEO, president, machinists, office staff and everyone else in the SilencerCo family.
For a company to be highly successful and creative they must espouse a company philosophy. SilencerCo takes this seriously; so seriously, in fact, they have a vice president of culture.
The VP of culture focuses on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent available. This atmosphere is vital when creativity is essential. Creators and innovators must think outside of the proverbial box in order to be successful. Once inside a box, creativity is stifled and innovation suffocated.
While the worries of being a new company have, for the most part, passed, new worries have taken their place. The biggest is production. Waldron and his crew are so good at what they do and are providing such a superior product that they are operating at full capacity — all the time. While this may sound like a highlight, operating this way leaves a company vulnerable to disaster if a machine or an employee goes down.
Wait times are another issue that must be addressed when a manufacturer is operating at full capacity. Most consumers will happily wait for quality, but not forever.
SilencerCo is vertically integrated, meaning that you only rely on outside companies for raw material. In the manufacturing world this is the holy grail. Quality and precision are in the hands of their talented machinists, allowing the company to avoid issues of correcting outside quality-control mistakes.
Not only do they control manufacturing from start to finish, all of the advertising, PR, photographs, videos, editing and anything else they need is handled in house.
It’s not just innovation, creativity and operating at full capacity that have Waldron and the SilencerCo crew occupied; they have also started a campaign aimed at getting the archaic and invasive National Firearms Act changed to reflect the 21st century. Many may think that the 1934 NFA was passed in an attempt to thwart gangland mobsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Moran from getting silencers and concealable and automatic weapons, but in truth it was designed to thwart poaching and to keep hunters from quieting their firearms to shoot under the radar.
Flash forward to the 21st century and the law still stands, as does the tax stamp required to own silencers. The misconception is, of course, that a silencer (or suppressor, depending on who you ask) only reduces the noise level to a tolerable and safe decibel. It does not render a firearm completely silent. The ammunition someone is shooting (supersonic, or subsonic) will determine how quiet a gun’s report will be. A supersonic round will still crack and a subsonic round will be much quieter.
With these issues in mind Waldron started the Fight The Noise campaign. This effort focuses on hearing loss in the shooting-sports world. The number one medical claim for veterans today is tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears. This problem alone costs close to $2 billion in medical bills annually.
Guns by their very nature are loud, but that doesn’t mean the shooter should be subjected to punishing noise during target practice, hunting, serving in the military or working as a cop. The United States is falling behind the rest of the industrialized world in our treatment of suppressors. In Denmark, Finland, and Germany only a firearms license is required to own a suppressor. In Poland, Ukraine and Norway, suppressors aren’t regulated at all. Many European countries, including France, encourage the use of silencers simply to fight noise pollution.
Fight The Noise is pushing back and not accepting status quo as an answer.
The webpage is clear on their goals: “Fight the Noise is a movement to regain our voice. To exercise our right to protect our hearing and silence the sound. To be responsible gun owners and be treated as such. We want law-abiding citizens to have the ability to purchase and own silencers without being subjected to excessive wait times, paperwork, and taxes. We are the silent majority, and it is our time to be heard. We are your friends. We are your coworkers. We are the suppressed.”
With this campaign, Waldron and crew hope to educate the general public, making them aware that: 1) silencers are legal; 2) you shouldn’t have to pay an extra tax and wait months for the ATF to act just to own a silencer; 3) and guns don’t have to be loud.
The campaign is clever in its simplicity. Supporters are asked to take a picture of themselves with a piece of tape over their mouths. The tape says Fight The Noise. There are pictures of kids, mothers, grandmothers, businessmen, cops and soldiers. There are also a fair number of celebrities who have joined the fight, including Jep Robertson of Duck Dynasty. All races and walks of life are represented in the campaign lending an aura of unity amongst a diverse following.
Steve Jobs spoke of people like Waldron and his SilencerCo mates when he said:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently, and not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things, they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
If you think that SilencerCo will stay in their lane, you have a big surprise coming. I’ve been sworn to secrecy about what’s next for them, but I can tell you that they are poised to make waves in other parts of the industry in the very near future. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t ignore ’em. They are here to stay and are ready to change the way business is done in a good ol’ boy industry. ASJ
Posted in Industry Tagged with: Best booth, Duck Dynasty, Fight The Noise, Jep Robertson, Jonothan Shults, Josh Waldron, SHOT Show, Silencer, Silencerco, Steve Jobs, Suppressor, Troy Taysom, Willie Booras
I recently sat in a meeting with John King, Chief of the City of Provo, Utah, police department, and a recorded 911 call was played for us. The caller was sobbing uncontrollably and it was impossible to understand what they were saying. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it took me 30 to 45 seconds before I really even knew what was happening. It was stressful; I knew the caller needed help, but I didn’t know what kind and I was stunned that the 911 operator could figure it out. The dispatcher was calm and deliberate with her questions and her statements.
“Hon, you need to take a deep breath and tell me what is happening?” I heard the dispatcher say. “Sweetie, I can’t understand you. Can you tell me if the person is still there?” She went on, “It’s going to be OK. The officers are almost there, don’t hang up no matter what, even if you have to stop talking, don’t hang up.” The call lasted a short eight minutes; it felt like it went on for hours.
I can’t dwell on a past emergency, that would interfere with the next call.
After hearing this I decided that I needed to meet the people who choose a job where they constantly speak to people in crisis. No one calls 911 to give good news. The dispatchers answer the phone having no idea what they are about to hear. I’ve lived a long time and seen some bad things, but what I have experienced in 47 years is what a 911 dispatcher hears in a month.
I sat down with the training supervisor for Provo City PD’s dispatch center, Gen Pratt and Lieutenant Brandon Post, the lieutenant in charge of dispatch, to find out what makes these support personnel tick, and how they handle such a stressful job.The dispatch center has a staff of 21 people, with a budget for 24. According to Pratt and Post, the dispatch center is rarely staffed to the allotted 24 people. They have a very difficult time hiring people, and when they do, chances are that they will not make it through training. The turnover rate is higher than that of the people that they support – police, fire and paramedics.
Provo City has had its own dispatch center for 20 years now, and in that time only one dispatcher officially retired. Lt. Post said that less than one percent of hires will retire from the dispatch center – the turnover rate is astronomical. The emotional distress that comes from working with the city’s crisises cannot be quantified, but plays a significant part in the turnover rate.
These quiet and dedicated support warriors pay a high price for their desire to make a difference.
The center in Provo fields 150,000 calls per year. With a staff of 21 people that means that each person takes approximately 7,143 calls per year. That is close to 27 calls per day, per person. That is an amazing number, especially when one considers that these aren’t your Sunday afternoon calls to grandma.
After the interview, I listened to the dispatchers, whom were all women, take calls. At one point everyone was on a call or dispatching. They worked in sync as if they were one person. I had no idea what was happening; everyone was speaking, radio traffic was crackling and the clacking of keyboards was coming from what seemed to be every direction. No one, besides me, got flustered or stressed. These five women just kept talking and somehow communicating with each other. When it finally slowed down, the ladies went back to talking to each other about their plans for the weekend or what their kids were doing. I was in shock; my head was still swimming, trying to figure out what had just happened.
I asked Pratt if calls ever disturbed her. She said, “Not really.” She had learned to treat each call as an in-the-moment experience, and when the call ends, she moves on. I asked her about closure, or wanting to know the disposition of calls that she receives. Pratt said that she can’t dwell on calls and wonder about what has or hasn’t happened. That would interfere with the next call. She did say that there have been calls which have created lasting memories; her first fatality call and her first baby-not-breathing call after returning to work from maternity leave. Both of these calls have stuck with her during for her 11 years at dispatch. This tenure makes her one of the veterans.
When all is said and done, these quiet and dedicated support warriors pay a high price for their desire to make a difference. Burnout is common; retirement is not. Stress is customary and emotional punishment the norm. Recognition is almost unheard of; not because they haven’t earned it, but because so many of us simply don’t think about them – until we need them! ASJ