FACS (six): Deputy’s “handles”

As the title of the first Ro Delahanty novel, “Ro’s Handle,” obviously implies, it revolves around the fact that Fort Armstrong deputies all have “handles” or nicknames and how Ro acquires hers.

It’s a tradition that goes back many decades: The handles are “assigned” informally by other deputies; someone will start being referred to by something other than his or her name and eventually it sticks. Sometimes it only takes a short while; sometimes months.

Getting a handle is a big deal in the department as it is a sign of acceptance; only deputies use the handles to refer to other deputies. Here are some examples…

Sergeant Cyril Waters is called “Pops” because he is the new deputies’ training officer, acting not only as their instructor, but their mentor and father figure; it is very much meant to reflect respect.

Except Pops wasn’t always known by that handle. When he first joined the force in 1963, after serving in Vietnam with the Marines, he became known as “Grunt,” because when someone asked him what he did in the service, he would just say, “I was a grunt.” In the mid-70s, after becoming a sergeant, he began to work with the new deputies; it took a few years, but by the early-80s most deputies knew him as Pops rather than Grunt.

Terry Didian, a second shift patrol deputy, is called “Garth” because it’s known he likes to do Garth Brooks covers on karaoke.

Sgt. Ray “Buzz” Horton simply retained his childhood nickname when he joined the department.

Ro’s friend and fellow third shift patrol deputy, Rick Matero, was raised in Texas and is a big fan of the Cowboys – he even has a Cowboys bumper sticker on his car – so, quite naturally, his handle became “Cowboy.”

Another fellow third shift deputy, Corporal Mel Schreiber, is known as “Cue,” short for “Cueball” because he shaves his head.

Ro almost got a handle she definitely would not have liked: Soon after she became a deputy, Pops Waters overhead two deputies refer to her as “Three B’s.” When he asked what it meant, he was told “boots, buckles and boobs.” Pops laid an arm across each deputy’s shoulder, and very quietly explained, “If I ever hear that handle again, you two will be the first ones I’ll see get written-up for sexual harassment. Got it?” They did; the offensive handle was never heard again.

Ro got her handle a few weeks after being involved in a shootout in which she also saved Pops Waters life. Teaser alert: The handle had something to do with one of her favorite movies, James Cameron’s “Aliens.”

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

FACS (five): Patrols during the day

By preference, Ro’s regular duty shift is what cops call the “dog watch,” 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. In other words, she mostly gets to know her patrol area as various shades of gray and black, however…

If a deputy calls in sick or takes a vacation, the shift commander can’t just call up a temp agency and say, “Hey, send us over someone qualified to patrol the highways and byways of the county and who, by the way, can carry a powerful sidearm.”

So, the sheriff’s department instead uses its existing officers to cover for absent deputies…

Their first option is to ask if a volunteer from the preceding shift is willing to work an extra four hours to cover the first half of the absent officer’s shift, and then if someone from the following shift will come in early to cover the second half, with overtime pay, of course.

If that doesn’t work they will temporarily transfer a deputy from a different shift, again using volunteers whenever possible.

So, whenever one of those opportunities presents itself, Ro is always among those that volunteers.

She does it for two reasons – the overtime pay, though nice, is not one of them.

First, it’s just plain fun to her to see the landscape in full color and in the kind of exquisite detail that, of course, is invisible at night.

But the more important reason is it is a chance to get to know “her” county better − and yes, Ro Delahanty does think of it as “her” county, not in a jealous guarding her turf from another deputy way, but rather like protecting her people in the same way a mother instinctively protects her kids − because that will, in turn, make her a more effective cop.

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Finding just the right shade of…

“Style means the right word. The rest matters little.”

—Pierre-Jules Renard (1864-1910)

Just as artists torment themselves over their palette of paint colors, writers agonize over their palette of word connotations…

FACS (four): Patrol Deputies (continued)

Ro’s assigned patrol area is roughly the western third of Fort Armstrong County, an area a little over twenty miles north to south and not quite nine miles east to west. It is bordered on the south by the Mississippi River (picture the top of the big Illinois bulge, where the river actually runs east to west), on the north by the Pincatauwee River, on the east by the western city limits of Lee’s Landing and on the west by County Line Road, the common border with Makuakeeta County.

It is the ruggedest section of the county, shaped into a series of hills and valleys by the headwaters of more than half-a-dozen creeks, as well as a pair of unique geological features; the spectacular rock palisades overlooking the Mississippi in Five Falls State Park in the southeast corner of the county, and a more than two-mile long “hill” – really a narrow esker left over from the last glacier – known locally as Rickett’s Ridge in the northern part of the county.

There are nearly two-hundred miles of roads in her patrol area, about half of which are paved and half of which are gravel, plus half-a-dozen unincorporated towns, for her to cover, or try to cover each night.

Ro once bumped into a quote attributed to the great aerialist Karl Wallenda: “Life is on the wire; the rest is just waiting.” Her variation might go something like, “Life is in my patrol car; everything else is just getting ready.”

Every night as she climbs behind the wheel of her black-and-white Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor she has the feeling, though not necessarily consciously, but nonetheless there: “I’m home.”

Ro Delahanty loves being a cop. As such, when she pulls out of her apartment’s parking lot to begin her patrol, always in the back of her mind, again not necessarily consciously, but nonetheless there, are these driving goals:

– Visit all sections of the county at least once a night…
– …be as visible as possible throughout her assigned area.
– Avoid any predictable patterns that bad guys might detect and take advantage of.
– Be ever diligent; always check-out anything unusual, however small.
– Engage informally with citizens whenever possible.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

FACS (three): Patrol Deputies

Ro Delahanty becomes a deputy sheriff with the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department in July of 2003. Her first couple of months on the job are the focus of “Ro’s Handle,” the debut Ro novel. While a little of this information is in that book, in this a post I wanted to share some further background context for Ro’s job.

The Sheriff’s Department, at just over a hundred employees, is the county’s largest by far; Public Works, which includes county road and highway maintenance, is the next largest with almost seventy people.

The department has not quite fifty deputies, including two dozen regular patrol deputies – “street cops” like Ro − plain clothes detectives, deputies assigned to prisoner transport at the county jail and to courthouse security, and the department’s command officers.

Of course, there are patrol deputies on duty twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year.

The department’s general practice is to have at least four, and preferably five deputies on duty on all shifts; three are assigned to regularly patrol specific areas of the county, while the other two work the entire county, concentrating on major highways and freeways and serving as back-up for when there is any kind of incident, like an accident or a disturbance (bar fight, domestic dispute).

Ro works third shift – 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Her assigned patrol area is roughly the western third of the county.

To be continued…

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Unassigned chapters

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”

— Annie Dillard (1945- )

I have no idea what she’s talking about − just because I have more than a dozen drafts in a Word folder called “unassigned chapters…”

FACS (two): Sheriff Mark Ballard

Mark Ballard is the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff that hires Ro Delahanty first as a dispatcher in 2001 and then as a sworn deputy in 2003; her first few weeks as a rookie deputy are the focus of “Ro’s Handle.” He will continue to be a major character in future Ro Delahanty novels I have in the works While there is a bit of background on him in “Ro’s Handle,” here is the more detailed stuff I didn’t have space for…

Ballard was born in Syracuse and attended one of the New York state colleges on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. After graduating in 1967 he received advanced training as an officer with the Air Police and from 1968 to 1970 was assigned as a young lieutenant to the Criminal Investigation Division – the Air Force’s equivalent of a detective bureau – at the sprawling Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he headed-up a unit looking into on-base drug activity. In 1970 he did a tour in Vietnam in charge of a security unit for the Air Force’s section of Tan San Nhut Air Base, and from there was deployed to Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, where he commanded the base security unit.

While at Chanute he started his master’s degree in law enforcement at nearby Illinois State University, where he met a girl from Lee’s Landing that he eventually married. In 1972, when she graduated and he left the service, they moved to Lee’s Landing where he joined the city police department, eventually becoming a captain.

Ballard ran for Fort Armstrong County sheriff in the fall of 1992; he was re-elected for a second term in 1996; and a third term in 2000. There is a chapter in “Ro’s Handle” where he announces he will run for a fourth term in 2004, for which he will be unopposed. Early in 2008, though he announces he will not seek a fifth term that fall − but that’s a chapter for a future Ro Delahanty novel.

At six-four, Ballard is always a presence, not dominant, but commanding. He has the distinguished long face of his English heritage, which can be dour-looking in repose, but can also break into a ready smile – picture the actor Liam Neeson. He wears his medium brown hair mid-length; when Ro becomes a deputy 2003 he is in his late-fifties and showing lots of gray at the temples.

While previous sheriffs generally wore suits or cowboy-inspired outfits, to be supportive of his deputies Ballard always wore the same uniform as theirs, right down to the departmental issue Sig-Sauer P 229 sidearm, except his dark brown shoulder epaulets simply said “Sheriff” in gold letters. He also drove a regular patrol car, although it was one of the older cars in the fleet.

Ballard generally favored a collegial “we’re all in this together” management style but could be tough when needed. Where many law enforcement agencies adopted some variation of the famous Los Angeles Police Department motto “To protect and to serve” for public consumption, Ballard instead had a motto for internal use only: “Pride and Professionalism.”

Throughout his sixteen-year tenure as sheriff he is a champion of innovation. For example, one of the first changes he makes as the new sheriff was to have every patrol car equipped with a mobile data terminal (MDT) connected to a central computer at the department’s headquarters. This, in turn, led to patrol deputies taking their patrol cars home; instead of having to spend half-an-hour or more coming to headquarters for a daily beginning-of-shift roll call, they simply logged-in for any necessary updates and immediately started their patrols from home.

Where his predecessor had been experimenting with “stealth cars,” unmarked vehicles in neutral colors and with no visible lightbar, Ballard went in the opposite direction, insisting that all patrol vehicles be in the traditional black and white paint scheme, have prominent door decals identifying them as sheriff’s cars, and conspicuous roof-top light bars. He liked to say: “It’s not about trying to fool the bad guys; it’s about being visible to the folks we’re supposed to be protecting.”

Similarly, he abstained from having a so-called “community officer” whose sole job was do school visits, make presentations to clubs and organizations, and recruit and train neighborhood watch projects. He argued that every one of his deputies needed to currently be, or in the past should have been, a “street cop” (done regular patrol duty), and that these were the folks who ought to be talking with the community.

Over his sixteen years as sheriff – the longest tenure of any Fort Armstrong County sheriff – Ballard was named Chief of the Year three times by the Iowa Association of Law Enforcement Officers.

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Life’s ambiguity

“Life is ambiguous; there are many right answers − all depending on what you are looking for.”

– Roger von Oech (1948- )

As has probably become obvious if you’re at all following these posts, I collect quotes. This one from Roger von Oech, the author and presenter on creativity, is one of my favorites. While it might not seem to be about the topic of writing, which my quotes tend to focus on, I think it does have something to say about what we do as writers: We live and breathe in that world of ambiguity, it’s what allows each of us to say something unique as an author and allows each of our readers to find something meaningful to them in our books…without it, as writers we would have nothing to say.

FACS (one): Iowa’s Oldest Law Enforcement Agency

This is the first of several posts on the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department (FACS), where Ro Delahanty first worked as a dispatcher and later became a sworn deputy.

In the early 1800s there were several settlements along the Mississippi River on the eastern edge of what would later become Iowa; Burlington to the south, Lee’s Landing in the central section, and Dubuque near the northern end. Most consisted of little more than a trading post, several saloons, a hotel, one or two churches and a cluster of cabins.

By 1838 Lee’s Landing had become the larger of the settlements, although not by much, and had hired a sheriff, but who it was understood was also responsible for keeping order in the surrounding rural areas, since Lee’s Landing was not yet officially a city. Fort Armstrong County was chartered in 1846, along with a half-dozen others, at the same time Iowa became a state. One of the first things the fledgling county did was add the existing sheriff to its payroll. When Lee’s Landing did finally incorporate as a city in 1852 it formed its own constabulary (police department), but the sheriff that had already been on the job for nearly fifteen years continued to serve the burgeoning farms and small towns in the county outside of town.

While Burlington had a town constable as early as 1836, that position was abandoned when a new county sheriff was established in 1846; the City of Burlington did not establish its own police department until the 1850s.

Similarly, in the late 1820s Dubuque had a constable hired by one of the lead mining companies in the area, but whose duties focused on security and property protection rather than local law enforcement. That “job” only lasted about fifteen years, until the mid-1840s, when the City of Dubuque and Dubuque County each established their own law enforcement agencies.

Which is why the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department official seal carries the legend “Iowa’s Oldest Law Enforcement Agency.”

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Chapter 27 – Neshnala’s Saga: Neesh-na-ha-a-la

Ro glanced at Frank, her expression a mixture of an accusatory “why didn’t you warn me about this?” and incredulity. Frank winked, as if to say, “She’s something special, isn’t she?”

Recovering a little, Ro asked, “What in the world am I doing up there with those… Those giants?”

“I’ve got the article about you winning that shooting championship last year. I thought it was so cool that you out shot all those guys…” – Ro remembered Frank telling her essentially the same thing on their first date – “…and the article about how you took down those bad guys last summer. You’re the first real, live hero I’ve ever met.”

Always uncomfortable with what she thought of as “the hero thing,” Ro shrugged, “I was just doing my job.”

“R-i-g-h-t,” Missy said, drawing the word out as if to say, “I’m not really buying that.”

But then, noticing Ro’s uneasiness, added, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to embarrass you. It’s like… I can have all these heroines I’ll never get to meet up on my bulletin board, but you’re here and I’m getting to hang out with you. That’s so cool.”

“Oh… Then… Well, I’m glad to be hanging out with you, too,” Ro said.

On the drive from Lee’s Landing Ro had conjured up all kinds of daunting scenarios of how terribly wrong this first meeting with her new boyfriend’s daughter might go, from Missy being resentful because Ro was an intruder on her life with her father to the girl being the cliché of a teenager, lots of giggles and empty babble about pop stars that Ro had never heard of. This was not going the way Ro had thought it would, which was turning out to be a good thing.

Abruptly changing subject, Missy said, “Dad says you have a thing for Neesh-na-ha-a-la.”

Ro shook her head, confused by the strange juxtaposition of ideas. “Yes, ever since I was a kid I’ve had ‘a thing’ for… What did you call it, Neesh-na-ha-a-la? Is that how it’s supposed to be pronounced?”

“Yep,” Missy said, then, bending over, lifted-up a large canvas shoulder bag, after rummaging in it for a moment she produced a file folder with a dozen pages inside. She handed it to Ro.

“These are copies of a chapter from a 1918 doctoral dissertation by a University of Iowa history student named Marvin Distant Thunder – isn’t that a wonderful name, Distant Thunder? I found it online when I was researching the tree. For his dissertation Dr. Distant Thunder interviewed descendants of the native Americans of eastern Iowa,” she said, clearly excited about sharing information she thought would be important to Ro, like she was seeking if not her approval, at least a connection.

One of the things Ro had always liked about Frank was his child-like sense of wonder, which she was now seeing reflected in his daughter. “I could like this kid,” Ro thought, which both reassured her and at the same time frightened her.

“According to him they pronounced the tree’s name as Neesh-na-ha-a-la. Us lazy white folks are the ones who contracted it to just Neshnala, and mistakenly – as usual – translated it as the Tree of Knowledge. But Dr. Distant Thunder claims the literal translation is ‘the tree that knows things,’ which he said has a connotation of spiritual rather than practical things.”

Ro knew exactly what Missy and Dr. Distant Thunder were talking about. When Frank had given her the opportunity to touch Neesh-na-ha-a-la last fall it had indeed been a spiritual experience that she was still coming to understand.

“And he argued the tree is at least 300 years old; he said even the Cheyenne in Minnesota and the Lakota Sioux on the Great Plains knew about it as far back as the early part of the 1700s.”
Ro took the sheaf of papers. “Thank you, Missy. That was very thoughtful of you,” then, taking a chance, added, “and really nerdy,” hoping the girl would take it as the compliment she meant it to be.

Beaming, Missy Reyner did.

(This is the final chapter in the Neshnala Saga. Later this week I’ll begin several posts of background on the Fort Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department.)

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

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