The Precinct bustled with activity at the start of the workweek. Captain McCullough pulled in every available officer for a morning training session, due to kick off in half an hour. Kaz hit the gym set up on the second floor, leaving Chris on the operations floor alone.
He sat at one of the few available computers filling out a soft-copy document with the details of the Friday patrol and the encounter with Mister Shuttlesworth. The report already reflected the seeming racial bias behind Kazsinski’s methods when conducting a traffic stop. But the main incident description held Chris’s attention.
Intentionally drew weapon on unarmed non-threatening civilian.
Chris deleted “intentionally” and tapped the desk. I need a word with less blame, maybe. I don’t want to crucify the guy. I just want to make sure he learns the lesson.
He highlighted the text for later revision and moved on.
One of the boxes read, ‘Video clip media number.’ Chris paused and looked for a veteran for guidance. “Hey O’Neill, how do I track down a cut of body cam footage?”
O’Neill laughed. “You gotta talk to Hannigan up in Records. If any of the footage is marked to save, he’ll have it.”
“Thanks.” Chris saved the document, pulled his access card, and headed for the second floor. If any of it is saved? What does that mean?
He found Hannigan behind a desk in the Records office, wasting time on his computer until the training session. Cat videos? Are you kidding me?
“Hey man, I need to get a media number for a clip from our patrol on Friday.”
Hannigan glanced at Mason and returned to his computer. “New guy? I don’t take requests from new guys. Tell Kaz to come by himself if he wants something.”
“Come on, this is serious. I need to file an incident report, so I need the footage number.”
“Incident report? What are you talkin’ about? Wasn’t no incidents on Friday.”
I don’t need Hannigan looking into this. Better watch my mouth. “Look, I just need to see what you’ve got off our body cams from Friday morning.” Chris paused. Maybe I can play it off as rookie hazing to get him to cooperate.
“Kaz has me doing a stack of paperwork before we go on patrol today. New cops push papers, he says. I’ve been at it for two hours now,” Chris lied. “It’s killing me.”
Hannigan smiled wide, his sadistic streak apparently satisfied. “In that case, I’ll help you out with something. Kaz sent you on a wild goose chase, kid. He does that with all-a you scrubs. You shoulda seen the crap his first partner gave him when he was a rookie. Oh man, it was good times.” Hannigan chuckled. “Anyway, ain’t no video recordings from Friday.”
Chris didn’t have to fake a look of shock. “So what happens to all the footage from the body cams? What’s the point of them?”
“Every day, end of the day, we purge the previous day’s videos if they ain’t marked to save. Jeez, few dozen officers all wearin’ cameras on patrol, can you imagine the storage space that would fill up on the network drive?”
Hannigan shook his head and added, “If somethin’ bad happens and we really need the video, we’ll know about it before it gets purged, right? No reason to keep a bunch of clips of driving down streets for hours.”
Chris fumbled for a response. I have no proof of what I’m accusing Kaz of doing.
“Besides,” Hannigan said with a shrug, “a lot of the guys, they don’t want someone listening to their conversations. Lots of stuff you share with your partner that you wouldn’t prob’ly share with anyone else, y’know?” He laughed. “Well, you don’t know yet, but one day you will.”
“I see,” Chris said. “I guess I’m done here. Thank you for your time.”
“Yeah, man, you bet.”
Chris wandered down the hall past the gym. Several policemen worked with free weights, watching form in the numerous mirrors. Two guys took turns on the bench press, spotting for each other and adding plates. Kaz sat on an incline bench, pressing two thick dumbbells into the air above his chest. Do I talk to him about what happened? Do I still file the report, without any evidence to back up my claim?
“Quit checkin’ me out, scrub,” Kaz called from inside the gym. “Bad enough the Captain stuck me with a rookie, now I gotta worry my rookie partner’s a homo tryin’ to stick me too.”
The others laughed and sneered at Chris. He shook his head. “Dude, you’re ridiculous.” You’re also the only one who knows about Friday. And I doubt you’re going to help me request an incident review. No one’s going to believe a rookie.
A thought struck Chris. But would they believe a civilian, if a rookie corroborated his account?
Chris strode to the stairwell and checked the time. Five minutes until the training brief. He returned to the computer and brought the incident file back up. Then he looked through the record of traffic stops uploaded from the mobile computer in the police cruiser. He found the entry he needed, and copied details into his report.
Driver: Benjamin Shuttlesworth. 4215 West Garrison Street.
The Captain made an announcement and called everyone to the briefing room. Chris clicked save and logged off. I need to pay you a visit this week, Mister Shuttlesworth.
There was still time to do the right thing.
René waved goodbye and bounded up the sidewalk into Franklin Middle School. George pulled away from the curb and licked his lips, looking for words.
“Dad, I can walk,” Chris complained. “Do we really need to do this?”
“Do what? I’m just dropping you off at school.”
“You only do this when you want to talk,” Chris said. “But you already talked to me last night about Jamal and drugs and gangs and everything else. I’m not doin’ any of that, Dad.”
“I’m concerned, son.” George pulled the car away from Franklin and headed south. “I need to know you’re thinkin’ about what I said, what happened to Clarence, what you wanna do with your life.”
Chris stared out the window. “Jamal’s my friend, Dad. I ain’t gonna lie, he wants to get into some stupid stuff, dealing with the Kings. I told him that’s not me. I’m tryin’ to tell him that ain’t him either. You gotta believe me.”
George stared straight ahead, driving on subconscious autopilot. Hadn’t thought of that, you tryin’ to talk sense to your friend the way I feel like I need to talk to you. I want to believe you. I think I do. But I love you too much to ignore this.
They sat in silence. Say something, George told himself. Tell him you trust him. Tell him you’re proud. Anything.
George forced a joking tone. “Sometimes I think all them superhero stories goin’ to your head, son.” That the best you got? Come on, George, man up. Say somethin’ real.
Chris laughed once, but said nothing.
Pulaski High loomed ahead. You runnin’ out of time. George slowed the car to a stop along the sidewalk. Don’t be distant like Dad was to you. Most of these kids don’t got a father at home—your son does. So make sure that means something.
George parked the car near the corner of the school grounds. “Look, son, I trust you. I do. You got a good head on those shoulders. You’re smarter than I was at your age. You got a future, somethin’ to hope for. But it’s not gonna happen by itself. You need to strive for it. When all your friends cuttin’ class, smokin’ joints or gettin’ drunk or God knows whatever crazy stuff they get up to, you can’t go with them down that path. That path dead-ends right here in the Twenties.”
“I know, Dad,” Chris nodded. “I get it. You don’t have to tell me again. I gotta go.”
“Okay,” George said. He extended a fist toward Chris, but the teenager exited the car without noticing. Chris rushed toward the front door and disappeared into a crowd.
Was that Jamal next to Chris? George couldn’t make out the face among so many others. Then the teens entered the school. No telling now. Just gotta hope he listens.
George sighed and checked the clock on the dash. Need to get to work at Eastwick before they drop my contract. He left behind a cloud of smoke as he pulled away, headed for the Stapleton suburbs.
Chris glanced back through the crowd and saw the tell-tale fog of his father’s car. Jamal kept talking, and Chris tuned back in to the conversation.
“—three of them asked me to. So this afternoon, I’m gonna meet up with Lamar’s associates and store some of their product at my crib. My gramma’s old, she won’t have any idea what’s goin’ on, even if she find a brick under my bed.”
“This is bad mojo, man,” Chris said. “You come up with some plans over the years, J. Some of ’em been aight, but some of ’em just all the way dumb.”
“Bruh, I got this. No way this one goes wrong. An’ I told Lamar I was bringin’ you along.”
“You crazy, fool. I ain’t gettin’ involved in this.”
Jamal’s face twisted in rage. “Man, I’m lookin’ out for you. Hookin’ you up. I’m not sayin’ you gotta bring their stuff to your place. That’s the dumbest idea. Your mom and dad be all over you. So I’m storin’ all the product. That means I’m takin’ all the risk, stickin’ my neck out for you.”
He really is trying to do this smart, and he’s doing me a huge favor. Chris struggled at the thought of rejecting Jamal’s unexpected kindness. He’s doin’ this as a friend.
“You in or out, man? Or are you in, but you’re gonna choke again?”
If I say no, he’s not gonna listen to anything else I tell him. A small hope bloomed in his mind. Maybe I can still talk him out of this—but that’s only gonna work if I go with him.
“I’m not committing to anything, dawg,” Chris said. “But I’ll come along.”
“Yeah, boy!” Jamal bumped Chris’s fist. “That’s all I’m sayin’, give me a chance.”
“Sure, J. But you need to give me a chance too, listen to some reason. I don’t know what, but somethin’ botherin’ me about this—more than just the drugs and the gang.”
The bell rang, and teachers patrolling the halls started yelling at stragglers to get to class. “Gotta go man,” Chris said. “Can’t afford more detention.”
“Yeah, bruh.” Jamal laughed. “You got an appointment with me this afternoon you don’t want to miss.”
Chris turned and entered his classroom, his fledgling hope choked by dread. Maybe detention—and facing Mom afterward—would’ve been a better choice.
Ms. Stafford, a petite blonde in a business suit, moved about the briefing room, engaging the gathered officers. “If I asked what percentage of Stapleton’s population strongly agrees with the statement ‘I trust my local police force,’ what would you say? You there.” She leaned close to read his nametag. “Bridges.”
Bridges cocked his head and smirked. “I don’t know, twenty? Twenty-five?”
She smiled. “Lower. Who’s next?” The captain raised his hand, and she waved him off. “I can’t let you answer, sir. You’ve read the results of our polling. How about you, Whalen?”
He shrugged. “Sixteen?”
“Close. It’s six. If I lined up sixteen random civilians, odds are only one of them might strongly agree that you all have earned their trust.”
Outbursts of swearing or dismissal erupted throughout the room. Ms. Stafford raised her hands to calm everyone down. “To be fair, a majority of people answered ‘Agree’ on that one. Combine the two positive groups, and you’ve got a trust factor of sixty-four percent.”
Then she pointed to a map on her screen. “What do you think the trust factor is in the Twenties?”
“Who cares,” someone called from the back.
“You should,” Ms. Stafford said. “That’s your area with the highest crime, the highest incidence of drug use, and high rates of both unemployment and recidivism. You’re fighting the same battles there, week after week, and what do you have to show for it? They say doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So are you guys nuts?”
A light grumbling murmur spread through the crowd.
Ms. Stafford raised her voice. “We tried to get good survey results in the Twenties. Most folk slammed the door in our polling staff’s faces and told them to eff off.” She ignored the muffled laughter and continued. “So the results we have are only from the people who were willing to talk with us about their relationship to the police force. These stats I’m about to tell you? The reality is probably worse.”
She surveyed the room and repeated the question. “What’s the percentage of people in the Twenties who think their police force is fair and balanced in their approach?”
“The answer is less than thirty percent. You lose more than half of the trust others have earned just by driving past twenty-hundred east. And not one participant answered ‘Strongly Agree.’ Still don’t care?”
More outbursts sprang up throughout the gathered officers. Some blew off the speaker, some told off their peers. “Fair and balanced? We ain’t Fox News,” O’Neill shouted over the din. “We’re there to enforce the law, not to be their friends. They want better lives, they can stop doing illegal things.” Many officers nodded with him.
“I know, I know,” Ms. Stafford said. “Statistics can tell whatever story the speaker wants, right? Maybe I’m spinning all this to make things look worse than they really are. A girl’s gotta get paid, you know.
“But maybe I’m telling the truth, and I’m here to help you all see something easily overlooked about the nature of your relationship with the community.”
Captain McCullough cleared his throat and the murmuring ceased.
Ms. Stafford moved on to a new slide. “We know that an increasing unemployment rate and a surge of crime can sometimes be related. It’s no news that the rail yards shutting down years ago put this city—or at least the downtown part of this city—into a tailspin.”
She pointed at Mason. “You. Give me a guess. What’s the unemployment rate in this precinct?”
Chris fumbled for a number. “Uh… maybe twelve percent?”
“Try thirty to forty on average since the rail yards closed their doors. The numbers on paper look better because after a while, people get written off and no longer factor into the unemployment calculation. The rest of you, do you think it’s relevant that a third to almost one half of the community has no reliable, steady income? People need to eat; they still need clothing for themselves and their kids. That means making money somewhere, wherever they can in some cases. And despite what your teachers taught you, crime does pay.”
She clicked to the next slide. “Do you see how some of this is coming together? What many people are going to see is that it’s your job to stop them from getting money to survive. It’s your job to shut down whatever method they’ve got to put dinner in front of a hungry child. You can understand, perhaps, why you’re not welcomed with open arms on patrol.
“Let’s try one more question. What percentage of your populace in the Twenties have a nuclear family member who has been arrested and sent to jail for any length of time?”
“Not enough,” someone shouted, and laughter exploded in clusters around the room. Not everyone’s laughing, Chris noted. Most of the minority officers sat in silence watching the presentation. Sergeant Bristow, the shift scheduler, watched the reaction of her peers. Though her face remained calm, her eyes trapped a piercing anger behind her glasses. She glanced his way and their eyes met for an instant. She seemed pleased to note he wasn’t amused.
“Stop the wisecracks,” Captain McCullough ordered. “I called Ms. Stafford here because what we’re doing every day isn’t working. We’re fighting the same battles, and we’re not making headway. We break up a drug operation the Kings set up, and then the Disciples start a new one the next week. We seize a stash of guns on the north side, and they shoot each other up on the south side. We gotta do something different.”
Ms. Stafford nodded. “The body camera initiative last year was a step toward the progress your captain is talking about. Research on traffic stops with visible body cameras shows an increase in civility and a decrease in escalation toward violence—both by officers and by those stopped. It forces everyone to play nice.
“Today, we’re talking about why we need to play nice. Back to my question, who’d be willing to believe that one third of the population of the Twenties has had a nuclear relative spend time in jail?”
Several hands raised. Chris shrugged. Sure. Sounds possible. He raised his hand.
“What about one half?”
Most hands fell. Chris followed suit.
Ms. Stafford leaned forward. “It’s sixty eight percent. Two out of every three people have a family member you’ve put in jail for some length of time—or they’ve been there themselves. Do you get why you might be looked at as the enemy? Do you see why these people don’t believe you’re on their side?”
Mason raised his hand, and she paused for the question. “So, how do we change that?”
Ms. Stafford smiled. “Glad you asked. I’m in discussions with your Chief of Police about how best to proceed. My organization started working in New York City ten years ago and saw tremendous results—you can find those online, no need to toot our horn here. We built relationships with families, we started mentoring programs with individual kids. We challenged them to stay in school, or to go back and finish their education—Never too late to educate, that was our slogan. But those steps all involved long-term investment into the community. What I’m doing here right now, that’s how we change things in the short-term.
“In other words, officer, it starts with changing how you see others.”