A cop needs to remain neutral in many relationships. I can admit that over the years, I have sometimes enjoyed my time with suspects far more than the time I spent with the victims of crime.
I’ve had multiple conversations with extremely competent police officers. Among them were those who would state an intense hatred for those who had committed heinous criminal acts. Hating the act but finding redeemable qualities in the actor allowed me to be much more successful regarding meaningful conversations that might bring the case to an acceptable conclusion for the victims.
My standard line for new investigators was to implore them to find something likable in every suspect. Some shunned my advice. Some embraced it. Those who embraced it were usually rewarded with a higher confession rate, thus bringing a higher conviction rate in a court of law.
Police work is not rocket science. As much as crime scene investigative television programming wants you to believe that science is the end all to solving crime, it all comes down to relationships and conversations. I stand by that.
I learned something each time I encountered a person of interest. It was essential to treat them with respect, pay attention to where they came from; I don’t mean that in a regional sense, understand their interests, and keep in mind their internal demons that could be uncovered during communication.
Victims want you to side with them in their disdain for those who committed crimes against them. As an investigator, you cannot afford to deplore the criminal. Deplore the act, not the actor.
I met Ricky after being assigned a simple burglary at a downtown convenience store. It just took me a while to find him.
I was new in the detective division. With that ‘new guy’ designation, you pick up all the cases that the seasoned investigators do not want. The stolen items read like a shopping list written by someone setting up a new apartment: cleaning products, toothpaste, toilet paper, and deodorant topped the list.
The simplest explanation is most often the correct explanation. I am a simple guy. I was looking for a person with a criminal background who recently moved into new digs. Most new apartment dwellers go shopping, and a burglar doesn’t. Not in the strict sense of the word.
I can tell you that the suspect was good at their job. He understood the getting-ins and getting-outs of a successful ‘shopping’ session. Remaining unnoticed is one of the signs of an accomplished burglar. Ricky was all of that.
I am sure he probably hit a few places where the owners never knew he had been there; he’s good.
However, when he broke into the home of a lovely couple and cleaned them out, I caught that case too. Not to minimize the importance of clearing commercial burglaries, but a home burglary involving outstanding and hard-working citizens suddenly causes your desk phone to ring; it’s usually the chief.
My old motto is “The squeaky wheels get the chief.” Many have eschewed my use of maxims in simplifying my life’s work, but I like them.
My partner and I did our legwork. Ricky stole the folk’s car and used it to transport rugs, furniture, household appliances, jewelry, and clothing.
We discovered the car—abandoned and undamaged—over on the east side of Bangor. Not too far from where a recently released prisoner had rented a new apartment, walking distance. Probation records confirmed the rumor that we picked up while canvassing the neighborhood. It was long before Ring cameras caught every pedestrian walking down a street. So, it was old-fashioned legwork.
Confronting a suspect about a suspicion is much better when you are holding undeniable evidence; my partner, Beaulieu, and I waited until the garbage pick-up day. We always laughed a bit when we picked up garage bags. We were required to wear ties, so we could only imagine what other apartment dwellers would think when they saw two guys in cheap suits driving a black Chevy Lumina while removing a week’s worth of Glad-bagged refuse. We grabbed all of it and stuffed it into our trunk. Some went in the backseat.
We emptied the worn-out sedan of trash, and after a few minutes of stinky work, we found some cheap costume jewelry that had been reported stolen. Ricky knew the difference between good stuff and not-so-good stuff. We also found identifiers in the bag that connected it to Ricky’s apartment and, thus, Ricky.
We secured a search warrant based on all our information, and we set off one evening to search Rick’s apartment. He answered the door, and from the get-go, I found him to be an excellent conversationalist, kind, pleasant, and extremely polite. He was a far cry from the burglars I had run into before and since.
Contrary to the belief that an immediate arrest is necessary to bring a case to closure, we did not arrest him that night. The moment you place a suspect into custody is when they stop talking about the crime(s). We had other burglaries we were working on, and we wanted to speak with him again without the shackles that immediate ‘custody’ places on good communication.
I learned more about burglary from Ricky than I could have gleaned from any expensive textbook. The life of a convict on probation is tough. He wanted to change, but change comes hard. Turning the page is even more complicated if you are a convicted felon with a skill set that can be employed anywhere in the world without punching a clock. It’s not glamorous or the right thing to do, but it was Ricky’s trade. Addictions play a considerable part in the difficulty of reform and a man’s choice of occupation.
I also discovered that Ricky’s past included navigating roads much rockier than my own. Our time in conversations both outside and inside the jail was enlightening. My concern for his long-term survival was vital for him to hear and feel.
Ricky helped me be a better investigator; true story. I also learned— again— that treating people the right way is complex because many people around you don’t believe those ‘types’ deserve human kindness.
Being true to your core is better, trust me. If people question you, remain true to your beliefs. It matters later on. Most detractors won’t come around, so I let them sail away from my thoughts and consideration.
Ricky’s sentence included nine more years in prison. He’s done other stints as well. Over the last decade and a half, I have often thought about how Ricky was doing. Cops don’t go to prison to visit inmates. It would be unsafe for the inmate.
He’s been out almost two years now. Ricky found me again at one of my book signings. With the help of a couple of his close friends, he showed up in a downtown Bangor bookstore. It was great to see him. I know he has had a tough run, and the fact that he sought me out gave me the feeling of my own redemption in some small way.
It reminded me of a Bob Seger song, only from Ricky’s perspective. Seeking out a guy who put you in prison for a significant percentage of your life must be highly emotional. I still try to see things through the eyes of others.
I am sharing a note that I received from Rick a few days post-meeting.
I truly enjoyed seeing you after all the years that have gone by. You looked very happy and at ease in your retirement.
I have also thought of you many times over the years. It seems that from the first time I met you, I felt a deep sense of respect for you.
I also, believe it or not, respect law enforcement. You folks “Protect and Serve.”
There is a certain admiration for what you all are doing to help people and maybe even a little envy on some level. (okay, maybe a little more than a little).
I respect you and the way you have always treated me. (as though there is a redeeming quality somewhere in me and others who have gone errant ).
Thank you for your warm welcome. And for treating me as a friend, not an ex-con. It created a little more respect and admiration for you.
I hope that we see each other again in the future. Of course, more than just once or twice.
Much respect and sincerity,
That brought me to Bob Seger, who has always had better words than I do. I wish I could write music, but Seger does it for me; he is a master of his own occupation.
Maybe Ricky can put this excerpt in his quiver and stay on his current path. I hope so, while believing the same-
“My hands were steady
My eyes were clear and bright
My walk had purpose
My steps were quick and light
And I held firmly
To what I felt was right
Like a rock
Like a rock, I was strong as I could be
Like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me
Like a rock, I was something to see
Like a rock
And I stood arrow straight
Unencumbered by the weight
Of all these hustlers and their schemes
I stood proud. I stood tall
High above it all
I still believed in my dreams…” (From “Like a Rock”-Songwriter Bob Seger)