Riding Shotgun In War On Drugs

[su_heading size=”30″]Special Enforcement Teams Go Undercover To Stem Tide Of Heroin Trafficking Across America[/su_heading]

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY TROY TAYSOM

 

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]I [/su_dropcap]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.

During an undercover buy, a female drug dealer sold the SET team four grams of methamphetamine. Although she was already on probation for multiple drug charges, the team found countless other drugs prepared for sale while searching her house.

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.

The nationwide war on heroin continues at epidemic levels, and law enforcement agencies around the country are constantly in danger of falling far behind.

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.

A sample of the drugs and paraphernalia seized in the initial SET raid.

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.

Black tar heroin in its most basic, powdered state (WIKIPEDIA COMMONS PHOTO)

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.

Undercover groups known as special enforcement teams (SET) or special investigation units (SIU) spend countless hours working with drug addicts and other informants to help take down dealers who present an ongoing threat to the general public. From left to right, Detectives Gigante and Polaris, Sergeant Santiago, and Detectives Noble and Puller pose with some of the tools of the trade.

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. 

New Breed Of Protection Dogs Blur Lines

[su_heading size=”30″]FTI K9 Breeds And Trains Elite German Shepherds For Protection And Companionship[/su_heading]

STORY BY DANIELLE BRETEAU * PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF FTI K9

Raul Hernandez, a former K9 sergeant with a major US law enforcement agency, is the lead trainer for FTI K9.
Raul Hernandez, a former K9 sergeant with a major US law enforcement agency, is the lead trainer for FTI K9.

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]W[/su_dropcap]orking dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but it is often the image of a German shepherd or Belgium Malanois that comes to mind when we think of K9s in law enforcement or military applications. Many dogs benefit from having jobs, and certainly these breeds are at the top of the list, but they also readily bridge the gap between a home invasion and an invasion by a 3-year-old when properly trained and socialized.

FTI K9, a division of the Force Training Institute located in north-central Florida, is redefining personal-protection dogs by selecting European-born German shepherds – carefully chosen from a network of the finest kennels in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria – from elite bloodlines and tailoring their training. They use modern, reality-based methods backed by positive reinforcement, and specifically target shepherds with high intelligence and courage. What is also important to FTI is that the dogs must demonstrate an admirable temperament and dependability. These key traits can be the perfect base for a companion that is truly the family’s best friend and eager protector.

FTI only selects shepherds from the finest bloodlines and looks for qualities such as intelligence, courage and dependability.
FTI only selects shepherds from the finest bloodlines and looks for qualities such as intelligence, courage and dependability.

RAUL HERNANDEZ, a former K9 sergeant with a major US law enforcement agency, is the lead trainer for FTI K9. Hernandez is certified with Delta Society Pet Partners program and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He is also an instructor in law enforcement high-liability training, including defensive tactics. With over 30 years of experience working with canines, he has a worldwide reputation as one of the top importers, breeders and trainers of quality European German shepherds.

Some dogs are inspired by food, others by a ball or toy. Working with a dog’s preference will make it a more eager participant.
Some dogs are inspired by food, others by a ball or toy. Working with a dog’s preference will make it a more eager participant.
All of FTI’s dogs are hand-selected in Europe from Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria.
All of FTI’s dogs are hand-selected in Europe from Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Austria.

THE 32-ACRE FACILITY runs these dogs through all sorts of scenario training that mimics real life events. They are put through rigorous exercises that include agility, family protection, law enforcement and military applications, sport and obedience. They also use bustling Florida cities like Ocala, Gainesville and Orlando, which are often filled with tourists and high-energy activity, to acclimate them even further. Hernandez says that the physical aspect of a working dog is very important, but equally important, if not more so, is that their dogs must be loyal and trustworthy to the core for the families they will join and protect.

Hernandez says that positive reinforcement is key during training, and they ensure all of the dogs have fun and enjoy working with their handlers. They praise the dogs with food or a ball, depending on the dog’s motivational preference, and ensure they’re well socialized with people and taught manners so that they can seamlessly work in homes, offices, warehouses – even yachts.

The 32-acre FTI training facility runs these dogs through scenarios that mimic real-life events.
The 32-acre FTI training facility runs these dogs through scenarios that mimic real-life events.

Whether you are taking on a birthday party with a dozen and a half 6-year-olds or securing the perimeter of a nuclear power plant, the trainers and K9s at FTI have a lot to share. ASJ

Some of the most elite K9’s graduate from the Force Training Institute in Florida.
Some of the most elite K9’s graduate from the Force Training Institute in Florida.

Editor’s note: For more info on FTI K9, you can visit them at ftik9.com.

Guardians of the Air Force Part II of II

[su_heading size=”30″]‘Sky Cops’ Protect Bases, Bombers, Missile Fields, And Take On New Roles[/su_heading]

STORY BY TROY TAYSOM

Editor’s note: Part I in this series last issue covered the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations. 
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he 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).


Chuck Norris started his martial arts training when he was an air policeman in Korea. Besides Norris, the “Sky Cops” have a storied past full of unsung heroes, hard-fought battles and the distinction that not a single air base was ever overrun during the Vietnam War – and not for lack of trying on the North Vietnamese’s part either. It has taken nearly 70 years for this career field to gain its true identity. Here is that story.

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.

VIETNAM
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.

Air police, security police, security forces – the protectors of our country’s air bases and overseas assets have had several names, but the job they’ve done has never wavered. (TROY TAYSOM)

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.
COLD WAR
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 USAF was the first branch of the military to deploy female snipers and has since trained multiple women in this role. (USAF)

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.

Couple of Ravens in back of C-17 Aircraft - Photo by J Hines
Couple of Ravens in back of C-17 Aircraft – Photo by J Hines

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.

In addition to guarding U.S. Air Force missile fields, “Sky Cops” also protect the nation’s bomber fleet. Here, Airman 1st Class Arlando Budd, assigned to the 509th Security Forces Squadron, provides security near a B-2 Spirit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (SENIOR AIRMAN NICK WILSON, USAF)

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

Inside USAF’s Office Of Special Investigations

[su_heading size=”25″]Guardians Of The Air Force – Part I of II[/su_heading]

‘The Eyes Of The Eagle’

STORY BY TROY TAYSOM

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]n 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.
Just one year later, a new career field was created within the USAF. Modeled after the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI or OSI) was formed in August of 1948. The impetus for its formation would propel OSI agents to the forefront of professional fraud investigations.

Agents carried Smith & Wesson’s .38 Chief’s Special between the 1950s and 1970s, but these days may carry personal handguns on an approved list. (USAF)
Agents carried Smith & Wesson’s .38 Chief’s Special between the 1950s and 1970s, but these days may carry personal handguns on an approved list. (USAF)

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.

The military is a microcosm of society, which means if society has it, the military has it as well, just on a smaller scale. Many of the crimes OSI investigates, such as drugs for example, are among the wide swath of responsibilities under their umbrella. (USAF)
The military is a microcosm of society, which means if society has it, the military has it as well, just on a smaller scale. Many of the crimes OSI investigates, such as drugs for example, are among the wide swath of responsibilities under their umbrella. (USAF)

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.

OSI agents destroy weapons in Afghanistan that were seized during operations. (PHOTOS USAF - SRA MARCI BOOZER)
OSI agents destroy weapons in Afghanistan that were seized during operations. (PHOTOS USAF – SRA MARCI BOOZER)

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.

Special Agent Nathan Sessler (left) with another agent and local children in Iraq. This is just one of many locations around the world where OSI operates. (NATHAN SESSLER)
Special Agent Nathan Sessler (left) with another agent and local children in Iraq. This is just one of many locations around the world where OSI operates. (NATHAN SESSLER)

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.

After 9/11, many OSI agents were sent to the front lines to work human intelligence (HUMINT). Searching for weapons caches was among the many duties of this special agent. (USAF)
After 9/11, many OSI agents were sent to the front lines to work human intelligence (HUMINT). Searching for weapons caches was among the many duties of this special agent. (USAF)

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.

OSI agents report directly to the Inspector General of the Air Force. SA Smiley takes in the sights in Afghanistan. (USAF)
OSI agents report directly to the Inspector General of the Air Force. SA Smiley takes in the sights in Afghanistan. (USAF)

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.

The future looks bright for OSI. There seems to be no end to their expertise and ability to reshape their section of the Air Force to adapt to changing times. (USAF)
The future looks bright for OSI. There seems to be no end to their expertise and ability to reshape their section of the Air Force to adapt to changing times. (USAF)

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. 

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is often considered to be the FBI of the Air Force. Their roles in investigating crimes around the world ranges from fingerprint processing, just like special agent Adam Deem is demonstrating, to countering drug trafficking, insurgent explosive devices and gang activities. (USAF)
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is often considered to be the FBI of the Air Force. Their roles in investigating crimes around the world ranges from fingerprint processing, just like special agent Adam Deem is demonstrating, to countering drug trafficking, insurgent explosive devices and gang activities. (USAF)

 

Brothers In Blue Times Two

[su_heading]Rocky Mountains Deputies Dan And Mike Coyle[/su_heading]

STORY BY TROY TAYSOM • PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAN AND MIKE COYLE

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.

Deputy Dan and Mike Coyle have 25 years of law enforcement experience between them.
Deputy Dan and Mike Coyle have 25 years of law enforcement experience between them.

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.

Law enforcement often sees the worst of society, but the Coyle brothers always maintain kindness and respect for everyone they meet.
Law enforcement often sees the worst of society, but the Coyle brothers always maintain kindness and respect for everyone they meet.

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

The Bloodhound Whisperer: Bob Cameron

[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]SAR Veteran, Bloodhound Trainer Bob Cameron Has Spent A Lifetime Helping Locate The Lost[/su_heading]

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]C[/su_dropcap]all 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.

Bob Cameron - Bloodhound WhispererCameron’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.

Bob Cameron's Bloodhound Radar
Radar was an unexpected addition to Cameron’s life and changed it forever.

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!

Bob Cameron's Story - the bloodhound Whisperer
Radar found this man who had been lost for two days.

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.

Bob Cameron - Bloodhound Whisperer
Radar and Cameron found the remains of a kidnapped two-year-old girl in the Clearwater River, in the southern panhandle of Idaho.

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.

Deputy Bob Herring and his bloodhound Montana - 1985
Deputy Bob Herring and his bloodhound Montana featured in 1985 The Sheriff’s Review in Fresno, Calif.

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.”

Bob Cameron - The bloodhound whisperer
Bob Cameron (in cowboy hat) with a boy and his Doberman who were lost for five days in eastern Idaho and eventually found, thanks to bloodhound Radar.

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!”

Whistles For LIfe
Whistles For Life offers emergency whistles capable of 120 decibels, perfect for outdoorsmen and -women, as well as children and people who need a powerful signalling device. (TROY TAYSOM)


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.

Whistles For Life

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.

Bob Cameron - Bloodhound Whisperer
Bob Cameron has spent most of his life working with and for law enforcement departments, and is considered an expert in search and rescue and bloodhound capabilities.

PHOTO CAPTIONS

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.

The Official Body-camera Policy Standards Are Out

[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]Somebody’s Watching Me[/su_heading]

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]echnology 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.

Body Camera Rules Are Out
The race for the best body camera is on, and so are the regulations that will govern these little devices and how they are used. (REVEAL MEDIA)

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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.

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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.

Body Camera intelligence
The advanced software, such as the algorithm created by VIEVU, automatically redacts people’s faces and other objects from the video.

PHOTO Redaction

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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.

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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.

Body camera policies for cops
Body cameras, like this VIEVU, can be a great solution for recording what is happening, but these devices cannot see and sense all the activity happening around the officer. (SAFARILAND GROUP)

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.

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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.

Here are just a few of the many policy recommendations from the IACP:

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.

Body camera policies for cops are out
Body cameras come in many different styles as demonstrated by TASER International’s Axon glass-mounted camera. The high priority for law enforcement is determining when a body camera should be on or off. Sensitive situations such as sexual assaults or those dealing with children may not be appropriate for the public viewing. (TASER INTERNATIONAL)

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

Body camera rules for cops
Not only is the privacy of the public in question, so is personal space of the officer themselves. These decisions have an impact on when the camera should be on or off. (SAFARILAND GROUP)

The Good Guys – ATF Laws

[su_heading size=”22″ margin=”0″]The Good Guys[/su_heading]

Navigating The ATF’s Labyrinth Of Laws

 

Story by Alex Kincaid • Photographs by Oleg Volk 

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”4″]T[/su_dropcap]he Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE, or more commonly referred to as the ATF) is going the extra mile to win your enthusiasm. Check out the agency’s Internet K-9 page, portraying the playful side of the dogs that are responsible for sniffing out the next bomber. You’ll be greeted by a cute and fluffy retriever holding an ATF ball, and while you’re there, click the link to go to the Kids Page with pictures to color and word games. This reminder of your own family is just a click away from pages showing the grim truth of what can happen when firearms wind up in the hands of murderers and drug dealers. The message is clear: It’s a wonderful world – but everything you deem precious could be taken away. The ATF wants you to believe its agents are here to help.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 implemented the first tax on machine guns (like this Browning 1917 machine gun), short-barreled shotguns and suppressors (silencers).
The National Firearms Act of 1934
implemented the first tax on machine
guns (like this Browning 1917 machine
gun), short-barreled shotguns and
suppressors.

Despite the failings and negative media exploitation of the ATF as a whole (Waco, Ruby Ridge, Operation Fast & Furious, ammo bans, new gun-trust rules and the enforcement of numerous executive orders come to mind), the individual agents who process our National Firearms Act (NFA) and Federal Firearms License (FFL) paperwork are usually kind, helpful and often sympathetic human beings. Many of them are not anti-gun. I know ATF agents who have served our country through military service, or have operated their own gun-related businesses.

 

The enlightened gun owner must remember that it was not the ATF that passed the tax act in 1789, or the NFA in 1934, or even the GCA in 1968; Congress did.

 

The truth is, many gun owners loathe the ATF. Gun business owners fear they will fail to dot an “i” or cross a “t,” and lose their livelihood. Gun owners unabashedly abhor the unrelenting infringement on our constitutional protections by our own government, and many fear they will accidentally commit a felony and face prosecution for their ignorance. One of the ATF’s assistant directors suggested that no matter what side you are on, we can all agree that we do not want the bad guy to have a gun. If we can agree on that, then we’re working together.

The problem, of course, is the law’s ever-expanding definition of bad guy, and what, exactly, constitutes public safety. In the 1920s, public safety meant not allowing hardworking Americans to enjoy a beer at five o’clock. A tax on alcohol in 1789, rather than any criminal activity, gave birth to the agency and it was nestled under the Department of Treasury. While prohibition ended in 1933, the NFA passed Congress in 1934, implementing America’s first tax on firearms and giving this tax-enforcement agency another reason to exist. At that time the NFA imposed an outrageous $200 tax – the equivalent of over $3,526 in today’s value – on gangsters’ favorite firearms: machine guns, shortbarreled shotguns and suppressors (silencers).

A CZ Scorpion with a Sig Arms brace. One of the latest controversial components on the market is an arm brace for an AR-style pistol. However, if used as a shoulder mount, as seen here, that might turn your simple pistol into a potentially illegal short-barreled rifle, according to the ATF.
A CZ Scorpion with a Sig Arms brace. One of the latest
controversial components on the market is an arm brace for
an AR-style pistol. However, if used as a shoulder mount, as
seen here, that might turn your simple pistol into a potentially
illegal short-barreled rifle, according to the ATF.

Rather than expect the criminals to obey the law and register firearms – which no one actually expected would happen – Congress intended to remove these weapons from circulation amongst the citizenry by taxing them into infinity. If citizens could not afford them, they could not buy them; if they could not buy them, they could not get into criminal hands. By passing the NFA, our government officially allowed criminals to dictate the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, and concurrently targeted the firearms possessed by responsible gun owners in a severely misguided effort at crime control.

National Firearms Act Rules NFA

Today, nothing sends chills down the backs of law abiding gun owners quite like a federal law-enforcement agency specifically trained to spot and apprehend people for violating firearms laws. This chill is not because these gun owners intend to commit crimes – it is because they do not.

Firearms laws are not like speed limits where there are clear signs posted along the highway to tell you what the limitations are and when you might be facing a violation. Instead, gun owners are left to their own devices to sort through the many levels of federal, state and local laws, as well as the ever-expanding interpretations of those laws by the ATF and judges who do not always agree.

The American gun owner suffers from the affliction of so many laws, and most have little, if any, comprehension of all the ways they can run afoul of the imbroglio comprising America’s gun law system. There is no cure for criminal conduct. Once you have violated the law, accidentally or not, you cannot simply undo the criminal behavior. In other words, you cannot give a gun back to the person who sold it to you in another state without using an FFL, and make things OK. I have posed this question to ATF agents, who confirmed that there is no way to undo criminal behavior and make it right. While firearms prohibitionists cannot understand how a person could accidentally commit a crime, it is actually pretty easy to transgress in the world of gun laws and face imprisonment or a hefty fine.

 

Do you think you own an ordinary pistol? 

Take your ordinary pistol (less than 26 inches in length) and add an angled foregrip. You still legally own a pistol. Add a bipod, and you still legally own a pistol.

Add a vertical foregrip, and you have suddenly manufactured a firearm subject to the NFA – which is subject to enforcement by the ATF – that exposes the accidental transgressor to federal felony punishments.

You now own a firearm known as an AOW, or any other weapon. Because the firearm is now subject to the NFA, the gun’s lower receiver must first be registered, or serial stamped and recorded, as an AOW. Registration requires payment of a $5 tax and ATF approval.

Possession of an unregistered AOW is a felony punishable by 10 years in federal prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

If you take the same pistol, but add a full stock to it so it is hen designed to shoot from the shoulder, you have unlawfully manufactured a short-barreled rifle, or SBR. SBRs are NFA firearms as well. The SBR’s receiver must be registered as an SBR, a $200 tax must be paid and ATF approval must be issued before the rifle is manufactured. Possession of an unregistered SBR is also a felony punishable by 10 years in federal prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Another hot topic is the Sig Arms brace, a device that looks similar to a buttstock, but operates solely as an arm brace, based on the design. Wrap it around your forearm for stability, and you have an ordinary pistol; use it to shoot from your shoulder, and you may have an SBR, according to the ATF.

 

Did you inherit a collection from your grandfather?

If grandpa brought something back from the war, such as a fully automatic rifle, and never registered that rifle with the ATF, you are in unlawful possession of an NFA firearm.

Even though Hirim Maxim designed numerous sound suppressors for all types of industrial equipment, only the suppressor designed for use with a firearm has been subject to an extra tax and approval by the ATF since 1934.
Even though Hirim Maxim designed numerous sound suppressors for
all types of industrial equipment, only the suppressor designed for use with a firearm has been subject to an extra tax and approval by the ATF since 1934.

Do you think you know whether you possess a machine gun? Did you know that Congress changed the definition of machine gun when it passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) in 1986? Since then, you own a machine gun if you simply own a part “designed and intended solely and exclusively” to convert a weapon into a machine gun. This has come as a shock to some of my clients who have been greeted by ATF agents asking to collect their machine guns. You see, until the 1980s, it was fairly common to purchase a part known as a drop-in auto sear (DIAS), which, when installed into certain AR-style rifles with M16 internal components, would convert the rifle into a fully automatic firearm. Up until 1998, the ATF’s position was that any DIAS manufactured before 1981 was not subject to the NFA. In 1998, however, a federal judge decided that the ATF does not have the authority to make such an exception to the law, and that all firearms dealers “would do well to assume” that any transfers of DIASs are subject to the NFA, regardless of when they were manufactured (United States versus Cash, 149 F.3d 706, CA7 1998).

The AR-15 and M16 rifles are almost identical except for one minor detail: the M16 comes standard with an auto sear, making it an automatic rifle, and subject to rules of the NFA.
The AR-15 and M16 rifles are almost identical except for one minor detail: the M16 comes standard with an auto sear, making it an automatic rifle, and subject to rules of the NFA.

The problem does not stop with simply having too many laws. It is one task to decipher thousands and thousands of laws that regulate firearms, many of which defy common sense, but it is a completely different task to have to battle the amorphous beast that is the ever-changing American gun-law system. The ATF may make a decision one day and change it the next. This is the same with federal court. A federal court on one side of the country may decide a case one way, and a federal judge in another district may decide differently with a very similar set of facts.

It is no wonder that when most people think about the ATF, they think about rules, restrictions, enforcement of rules against people who didn’t mean to break the law and iron-fisted enforcement of rules that make no sense. If you have the sense that the gun laws that apply to individual gun owners are daunting, think about all the rules, regulations and penalties that apply to gun businesses.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congress passed another federal law that I frequently see folks unintentionally violate: the Gun Control Act, or GCA. This law imposed stricter licensing and regulations on the firearms industry, established new categories of firearms offenses and prohibited the sale of firearms and ammunition to felons and certain other persons. This law prevents young soldiers who may sacrifice their lives for our country from purchasing a handgun from a gun shop to defend their own families until they reach the age of 21. It also prevents a gun owner from transferring firearms across state lines without using a dealer. There is no exception for family. If you want to give a firearm to your brother who lives in another state, you must send it to an FFL in his state instead of handing it to him at the Christmas family dinner. If you don’t, you have committed a felony, and so has he.

Gun owners frequently ask if ATF agents actually pursue such cases. The answer is: it depends. Many times, either no one is the wiser or ATF has more important things to do. However, I have been told by ATF agents that they will pursue cases against people who ignorantly violate the law. History also tells us that the ATF has been known to go after the unsuspecting gun owner or gun business owner. After the passage of GCA in 1968, a Senate subcommittee in 1982 concluded that 75 percent of ATF prosecutions “were aimed at ordinary citizens who had neither criminal intent nor knowledge, but were enticed by agents into unknowing technical violations.” The subcommittee’s report supported the passage of the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act in 1986. Compromises to the proposed new law led to some harsh outcomes for gun owners, such as the ban on post-1986-made civilian machine gun sales. This ban was passed despite the fact that over 175,000 machine guns were registered with the ATF at the time, and not a single one had been used in a crime.

Under federal law, the federal government is not supposed to maintain a registry of gun owners. In fact, the FBI is required to destroy background check records for gun purchasers before the start of the next business day. The truth is, the federal government still has several hundred million records of gun owners, including multiple sales reports, trace records and the records of dealers who have gone out of business.

When I asked a former director of industry operations about her opinion of the ATF’s reputation, she explained that the ATF has a difficult job. People are trying to do the right thing, but too often, there are misunderstandings about the laws.

This former director confirmed that people are “on their own” to figure out how to correct gun-law violations. Having sat through my own FFL licensing inspection meeting, I can confirm that it is impossible, in a few hours, for an agent to thoroughly review and educate new gun dealers on the laws. They hit the highlights, ask if you have any questions – questions which most people won’t even know to ask – and check the boxes that they went over a particular law with you and that you had no questions about it.

She also recognized that based on her prior experience working for the ATF, very few people actually intend to break the laws, but there are too many rules and regulations, especially for dealers and manufacturers, to do things perfectly on a daily basis.

I entirely agree with this point. It has been my experience as both a prosecutor and a civil-law attorney that most lawabiding gun owners who have run afoul of the law did so not because they were attacked and had to defend their lives, but because they violated a law they didn’t know existed. The gun laws affecting most gun owners every day are those that pertain to how a person can carry (open, concealed, loaded, unloaded), where they can carry (illegal in a guided federal park cave tour but legal in the open park area), who can

possess a firearm (age restrictions, state law restrictions, permitting restrictions), and how they can transfer a firearm (in state, across states, sale, inheritance) without committing an accidental felony.

kincaid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the day, the ATF is charged with public safety and helping gun owners and gun businesses comply with the laws. Many of the agents who work for the ATF try to do just that. The Department of Justice’s direction to the agency, à la Operation Choke Point, an initiative that investigated US banks and the businesses believed to be a high risk for fraud and money laundering, or Operation Fast & Furious, where the ATF purposely allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel, has recently left a growing section of the public who are disquieted by the motives, character and actions of ATF. The recent proposals for more gun control and the country’s great divide on the protection to be afforded by the 2nd Amendment further enhances this distrust, and keeps the pro-gun community on the defensive.

The enlightened gun owner must remember that it was not the ATF that passed the tax act in 1789, or the NFA in 1934, or even the GCA in 1968; Congress did. If we could just agree on one more thing – what that little word “infringed” really means – we might gain an agency that could focus entirely on its intended purpose, and protect the law-abiding citizens from the true criminals. ASJ

InfringedAlex Kincaid is not only a nationally renowned gun-law attorney, she is also the author of Infringedwhere her years of expertise and working with our nation’s laws come together.

 

 

 

Officer Tommy Norman Raises A Community

[su_heading size=”25″ margin=”0″]It Takes An officer[/su_heading]

Story by Troy Taysom

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]T[/su_dropcap]ommy Norman grew up in North Little Rock, Ark., a medium-sized town north of Arkansas’s capital city of Little Rock. Like many, Norman didn’t have any direction or burgeoning career aspirations at the time. He worked as a hospital orderly and provided the basics for his small family. Service was always a part of what Norman did. Long before he became a police officer, Norman volunteered with Big Brothers, Meals-on-Wheels and any other group that helped and looked out for the underserved part of his community.

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.

Officer Tommy Norman
Seventeen years after graduating from the law enforcement academy, Norman still works on a patrol unit, and says he never wants to 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.

Hamilton Boys and Girls Club in North Little Rock.

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 Tommy Norman
On weekday mornings, you can find Officer Norman at school bus stops, where kids wait for him with anticipation.

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.

Officer Tommy Norman
It’s images like these that have inspired a nation to follow Norman on social media.

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.

Officer Norman visits with children at the Wetherington Boys and Girls Club in North Little Rock.
Kids, adults and senior citizens alike trust Norman and know they can count on him to be there for them. 

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.”

Officer Tommy Norman
Tim Tim and his brothers needed a bit of help when they first arrived in Norman’s community. People who followed Norman’s posts sent shoes and clothing for them as a gift. 

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.

tnorman3He 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.

Tommy Noman and King
Honorary officer King Jennings is ready to back up Norman on his next call. 

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
the pictures.

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 Tommy Norman
Norman takes the time to read to kids in an effort to inspire them to be educated.

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.

 

Officer Tommy Norman
Tommy Norman is a patrol officer who spends a great deal of time on and off duty with the community he serves. Images like this one he’s posted on social media pages have gone viral. 

 

Hearts & Minds, Sights & Sounds

[su_heading size=”27″ margin=”0″]How Officer Reyes Is Protecting Those With Autism[/su_heading]

Story by Troy Taysom • Photographs by Laurie Reyes

[su_note note_color=”#454b7b” text_color=”#ffffff” radius=”2″]

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

• Autism Spectrum – Autism is not a single disorder, but a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. Every individual on the autism spectrum has problems to some degree with social skills, empathy, communication and flexible behavior.
• Intellectual Development Disability – A disability characterized by limitations with intellectual functioning and difficulties with a variety of everyday social and practical skills.[/su_note]

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]P[/su_dropcap]olice 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.

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Officer Laurie Reyes of the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department with husband Tarik.

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.

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Officer Reyes designed T-shirts and bracelets for people and children with autism so they can be readily identified.

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.”

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Chief J. Thomas Manger, Officer Reyes, Jake Edwards and Jake’s mom Jenn Lynn celebrate Jake’s public speech.

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.

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Jake Edwards, who has autism, giving his speech during the MCPD’s Autism Night Out.

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.

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Laurie Reyes’ parents Roger and Dee Nelson during an Autism Night Out event.

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.