Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Please Pass The Ammunition

Behind the thin blue line a polite society exists. This even applies to the conversations detectives have with gang members, particularly geared toward rank.

“Good morning sir.” One could expect to hear around HQ. Head Quarters is quite polite indeed, providing your just visiting. Anyone above Sargent is a politician. Some politicians care and work hard. The rest make sure someone else does that. Everyone in the department has a rank. I am a photographer III. I can tell subordinates what to do. For instance a request by me to a photographer one should be followed as an order, the same applies for another photographer III that I have seniority over. Even one day counts. I never give orders, I always listen to requests.

All together we help each other out. I have been on shootings where a brand new detective is used. They have, quite often, no idea of how to use me, I coach them through it, explain what I'm doing. I will label holes, show them camera angles, ask if more or less would help. Receptive respecting people get the most out of me. I clam up around the others.

More than once I have been in a situation where the scene goes 'tactical'. When I arrive, all the danger is supposed to be over. Sometimes it does not stay that way. I remember fumbling with my issued bullet proof vest for the first time, wanting to at least look like everyone else. It was obvious that it would take all night so a Lieutenant from SWAT came over with a Sargent and they helped me learn how to get the contraption on by myself, for future reference... I then observed the team regearing for more action. I thought about how polite they were. “Could you please pass me that ammunition, the less than lethal?” I overheard that, it was a striking contrast to the insipid portrayal of officers as gruff testosterone monkeys with guns.

Gang members also have rank. Someone really important is a lieutenant. They are known by their monikers; heavy boy, kiddo, you can look them up. I was told by a detective that gang members are quite honest. They will talk if allowed, especially if someone did something on their own. Gang members are supposed to follow orders. They can be turned out or worse if they cause the gang problems like bring down the heat. LAPD knows how to deliver heat, polity, see above.

I have a favorite pair of pants. I like 'em. I don't love 'em but I like 'em. They are made of a thin rip-stop nylon that keeps me cooler on hot days than a pair of blue jeans might. Made for hiking they remain comfortable during the miles of walking around I have to do. They have fewer belt loops in them and being the soft, flimsy style so made for easy movement they do not stay up unless aided by a belt, tape, suspenders, or glue. I have to carry around a rather heavy radio. The back pocket makes for ideal storage of it. This is a very bad idea when using a urinal. The wonderful porcelain replacement for a tree so popular in organized society. They require standing up, which helps get business done fast. I forgot about the radio and the flimsy pants went for the floor as I opened up my belt. I caught the whole deal by quickly raising my left knee up toward my chest. A detective walked in and took up residence in the next stall. He was polite enough not to say anything about me standing there one footed like a peeing stork. I could not stand the silence and asked if this ever happened to him. He said that yes and tactical pants were like that, pockets full of ammo made it worse.

I am not the least in the department in rank. I am grateful that those I have spent time with, including our current Chief, have made it a good place to work. I practice using the vest now and then. I remember to remove the radio from my back pocket before taking care of business.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Broken Down

It is what it is. That is the motto currant of my mechanic. I have break downs at work, some are physical.

This weird noise has been coming from my car when I drive. It's like a screaming hamster under the hood every time I make a tight turn. There is a burning smell, like a dead hamster roasting on the exhaust. They turn out to be related. The hamster is the rack and pinion steering that on my all wheel drive, seriously reliable car, is just as expensive in labor to replace as the parts. Poor hamster. So there goes the cost of about two car payments none of which I have made for three years. Screw the hamster, it is what it is. The owner of the shop gave me a ride home. His son had died some years ago, he had a fight with his wife last night. He wanted a break, I felt privileged to let him have one. We enjoyed my not yet finished property together, the view of the snow capped Southern California mountains is very good from here. We hung out with my rather sociable chickens and dog. We collected some eggs. He told me about the many things that had come together to give him some important answers, we were talking about my work, I always have something to say about how short life is. I live off the idea that if we have a choice, we can take a direction. A direction is a path we choose. A path goes somewhere. We live to travel, resting bloats the body and the mind.

Of the break downs at work. The mechanical ones are always covered by an 'extra'. There are spare lenses, camera bodies, batteries and helicopters. There are even extra people when I can't get there, sick or otherwise. I'm not spare, but the position, if there is a hole in the schedule can be filled. What can't be filled is the endless pit of self pity and woe is me some people seem to live for. They create drama and then come in as hero's to solve it. I don't get it. I do have to work with some whom I have seen 'excused from duty' in the 'real world' outside of 'civil service'. So many times I have had to reground myself and accept the steady pay check with the steady flow of poor judgment and attitudes. I really do like the core of what I do, it's what I focus on to get past the breakdowns.

I have a choice, that makes me alive, living really. If only being able to think and not get around how you like is the end of things for you, then please have a chat with Steven Hawking, if he can find the time for you. It is what it is. Please, go have a nice long walk down your path.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I'm surrounded by programming. It is in the miserable cheap aged computers I have to use. It is in the “protect our way at all costs” mentality that is called management. It is in the children I work with, allays abused and one day waiting to crash.

There are allways three things, times nine, plus leftovers for me to do when I get in. As a photographer III I am primarily responsible for the taking of photographs in the field for the purpose of documenting crime scenes. Otherwise I can take the images and process them so they are ready for pick up or delivery to an investigator. Part of that is storage and retrieval. Part of that is data locked up in a system that was cheap the day it was bought and updates are not helping. I have gotten into a relaxed pattern of finding the least wanted station, booting it, logging in, and putting out a fire if I find one. I work with people who don't get there place, get overwrought, and scream for validation in many passive-aggressive ways. I don't bother with demanding my bit of power, I don't have any, except when I need to be a pain in the ass.

Enter management. I do not work with what you might call leadership. The civilian side of my job tries to emulate the paramilitary side of the police department and gets it sore-fully wrong. They don't get the culture of solving problems at the lowest level first. I have been a part of investigations that could be billed for tens of thousands of dollars if they were done by an outside agency or billed by us to another. I have been a cog in them and their focus. They never come to much. I have never seen one that could not have been solved by some actual leadership. Once started they are taken to a conclusion that is shot down. Somewhere in the nine months it takes to so much as send someone home for a few days without pay there is a screw up in the paperwork. The system brings its self down, I don't even put in much effort, it is natural for a top heavy object to tip over.

Anything said or done with enough repetition becomes OK. One can be programmed into thinking abuse is normal. It's not, I still find miserable remnants to rip off the new me, the one I raise, with kindness and patience. I let them fly, let the sun rot them to ashes before they hit the ground. At the last moment of their physical state I ruin their future chance of return with a fat dose of forgiveness. I know the dead who started them, I know they regret not seeing the original impact of their put downs and lack of encouragement. It's the best way of keeping psychic litter from piling up, it's deprogramming, derezing.

Children don't know what they are getting into. That's why I would never let a ten year old start a fire with lighter fluid, or drive my car. Sharp objects, things that shoot? No. Somehow, multi hundred pound, multi decade aged people feel the need to dominate someone before they hit double digits in weight and age. I document that constantly. So many detectives have taught me the lesson of multigenerational abuse cycles. I hope to be gone in another career before I see it. Maybe I'll be a writer.

I was having a coffee near Brentwood CA. There were some pumpkin flavored items, cookies, cake, that I know a dear one just LOVES and wished I could buy one and take to her later. No, that day we are separated by schedule. In this place I saw some young boys having an informal tutoring session. They wore blazers with their school shield on them. They were now ten hours into a day of thorough programming. I thought about the real trail blazers and how they were all drop outs and hoped the boys would one day hit their own stride and do something really creative. I was being stared at while they ignored their tutor. I walked out to leave the sanguine scene alone, I was disturbing it.

It feels great to give your past the finger and drive off. Try it.

Dying on your feet

I want to affirm what being alive is. Most of us, me included die too much. How little we live.

Alive is choice. You choose so much. How much of what to eat. When to do anything. What route, scenic, or fast, to take. It is not true that you choose how you feel. Not at first. You can change how you deal with feelings for the long term but I think it best to let the big ones fly, and dilute, provided you don't scare the kids or dog. Examine how you got their later. I wonder how many killings could be prevented by people if they would just give themselves a break from their own standards.

Dying starts with regression. You can have a great job like, Crime Scene Photographer. This career could wear you down like any other if you let it. Trust me, a lot of crime scenes look alike and are hard to remember. I'm glad a person, special to me, encouraged my writing and specifically this blogging. It makes me feel like I have 'something else' going on. Regression starts with stagnation, I kill stagnation knowing that I can use what I go through to help others. A purpose, a higher calling breathes new life into a stagnant circumstance. Purpose kills the lingering death that is beset upon us to such a degree that many are dying on our feet.

I don't like picking weeds or overgrown grass. I have discovered that my chickens love the stuff. Where I had an acre of weeds and grass before I now see a food source for my birds who make the best eggs ever. Just the thought bouyes me in the effort to pick and clean up. I am running low on weeds now, the grass is getting farther away from the coop. Those silly birds have added purpose and motivation to my maintenance.

Instead of dying on your feet, give stagnation a kick in the ass, when it runs off you will see a clear path ahead.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The good. The bad. The really really stupid.

Some scenes I respond too are created by good people with the best of intentions. Most of what I respond too is caused by those who were born bad or otherwise and have decided to continue being evil. It does not take long to go through the three stages of regard considering the really really stupid.

There was the good young man working hard at a processing plant that made designer blue jeans. These are the kinds of jeans one buys that look wreaked already. Holes in the knees, heavily worn, nearly worn out fabric. Finally there is bedazzling or bead work that is stapled or riveted all over.

I would like to apologize now to the makers of the bedazzeler, I have no intention of making fun of your product that makes other crappy crappy products look good. You do in fact now own a brand that is a generic reference for making things like the aforementioned jeans something special and you deserve credit: Look up BeDazzeler.

Now, back to the scene: The young man was working with the machine that is like a rolling barrel with holes in it that fits just inside another barrel that is solid. The contraption is spun with a 440 volt motor connected by six belts, the kind you see under the hood of a car. The motor is so big you would need the space found under the hood of a truck. The machine jammed, he went to unjam it and was successful until his upper body jammed it again after being pulled in. The fire department had cut all the electrical and belts. I mean they cut the wires and made sure they stayed that way. The body was layed out on the floor, he was somewhat flat and long.

I think of him as being a good man. I saw a young lady crying with the kind of deep heaving one does when shock has not worn off yet. Coworkers were still gathered, sobbing, heads and eyes looking back and forth into the distance that would have been his future. I could tell he was well liked.

A gang banger represents reprehensible humanity. They are the kind that live for the moment and will knife or shoot someone over the slightest form of disrespect. One such cur ran from the police in a high speed chase. He ran his small lowered car into a large complex of town homes. There were children playing outside. One small girl who looked like my niece was trapped up against a short retaining wall by his car that was going sixty plus in an area that one would be driving briskly doing fifteen.

When I got to the hospital that had her body the Emergency Room nurse said; “brace your self, it's the worst I have seen.” I said; “I gotta get you out to some train wrecks.” I was serious about that, she was correct. It was bad, I'll skip the details.

The cur was laying on a gurney cuffed in place and had just come out of the radiology lab having had his neck cleared. Anyone in an accident is brought in on a board and their head secured with tape to prevent further damage. X-rays confirmed no broken neck. He refused to look at me so I could take an identification shot of his face. I don't speak spanish so I don't know what was said to him in terse tones but he slowly turned toward me, it looked like it hurt. I don't know if it was the sudden stop, or the hiding in a garbage can for three hours curled up. He was discovered by a police dog and still had rotten food smell all over him.

Some accidents caused by the really really stupid used to depress me, I felt sorry for them. Then I evolved into a bit of anger toward those who toss out their life with the same effort I toss my fast food left overs. Im not laughing but... Everyone and anyone is supposed to know that alcohol does not help you drive, operate machinery, or do high wire work. It does not help you run in a straight line. Nor is it really useful in helping you with judgements like, how far away is that truck coming from anyway? Lots of prescription meds have warnings on them that echo the same idea; don't....and don't... and really really don't.....

A chaloob with a sixty page wrap sheet dosed up on anti anxiety meds by washing them down with malt liqueur. He sprinted across a six lane street in the foothills of Sunland, the legal speed is fifty miles an hour. He did not do well when struck by a jeep that was outfitted for travel in the back country. Imagine a really huge bumper et et et. The jeep still ran and was quite drivable afterward. The guy would need a new hood.

There would not be a page sixty one.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Who gets killed

How would you decide? Who deserves it? What benefit would there be in making sure only the right ones die sooner than genetics plus lifestyle choices would dictate?

There have been times when I worked around a body or two a day. I got used to them in every configuration and point in decay. If I work at it I could remember most of the children, some of the young adults, a few adults. They have to be spectacular at this point to keep fresh in my mind.

Most of us who have to work around the constant carnage a city like Los Angeles can produce become somewhat detached from the scene. There are about four million people living here. They are all over the place in terms of demographics, and levels of selfishness versus responsibility. People are killed crossing the street. I get rashes of those, in one week there have been up to three.

There was the drunk flying like a gooney bird on his wobbly feet with a forty ounce bottle of malt liquor who ran himself into a moving fire truck. The closest crosswalk was a hundred yards away, not a close call, not an easy vehicle to ignore. At the right angle of view you could see the outline of the running man, outstretched hand, and place where the mostly emptied bottle had shattered on the truck, just below the windshield. I was caught smiling behind the camera having just noticed the embossed image made by the gooney running forty ounce relay runner. So, an older fireman came up wondering about me. I had him look through the camera. He turned around and said “ey cap, look-it this!” Soon there was a small crowd including the city's team that is in charge of such investigations. They figure out things like rolling speed, friction coefficient and lots of other rocket science I just nod in approval about and then try to get the shots they need.

So does that fella deserve to get killed or did he just earn it?

Picking up brains

Thought provoking? Which first, the right or left side? What was on his mind? Can I pick your brain?

The first time I saw brains in person was on a street in the valley. The valley covers what is north of Los Angeles proper, think north of the 101 freeway, west of the 170, going up to just north of the 118. You now have a tilted rectangle, two hundred sixty square miles in size, just over a million and a half people divergent in race, politics, and economic classes.

Rich peoples brains I find are normally out on a fine carpet or expensive bed. Self inflicted gunshot wound is a nice way of saying they aired out the noggin. Money does not equal happy. I really know that. The poor can and will do the same. The bed is more likely to be a rental or from a discount store. I would like to be there once when it is taken back.

The first time I saw them in person I was covering a fatal traffic collision, something we call an FTC. This was on a wide North, South street, three lanes per side. A motorcyclist riding a sport bike, known locally as a crotch rocket, was headed North bound. A young man, was driving a Mercedes Sport Utility Vehicle, SUV for short, Southbound. The crotch rocket driver was coming back from a beer run for a barbeque. I know this by the beer cans that were still in the now opened back pack, the rest were scattered just like the mind that did the following. He made a sharp left to go into his mothers driveway, the SUV clipped the back end of the bike and the front right tire pinned his foot to the street long enough for the man to be whip-lashed into the side of the SUV. His body was thrown the opposite way he was going, the SUV went into a spin, another SUV coming Northbound hit the Mercedes along it's drivers side raking open both doors causing the driver and his little nephew to be ejected.

The rocket driver was whipped into the SUV with such force his seven hundred dollar helmet split open at the top, his brains came out like stepping on a ketchup packet, more like jumping on it. I took photo's of what we thought were his heads former contents for the distance of one house front. There were gloms ranging in size up to a golf ball.

There were other scenes, mostly jumpers, where lots of internal contents were ejected and had to be retrieved. The coroner is responsible for picking up any body, or body pieces. Brains tend to be slimy. They are difficult to handle in small pieces. Often some scoop is improvised, a bit of cardboard or paper that can be made stiff to scoop up and then put into a biohazard bag.

Gallows humor is something shocking the first time you hear it. The last scene I was on where brains were out was a jumper. Every joke in the book and some combinations I have not heard before came out and a contest of who could top who was born. Finally a detective thought it humorous to suggest that I take a photo of the heads empty space after all it was never good for much. There was a large crack on the top. I look at the coroner who did not see the humor in time and complied by using both hands to open the crack. So, I stuck my camera in close enough, made sure the lighting was right and now all the detectives have a fine set of photo's of a cranium just as empty as their jokes were void of originality. I hope they get my humor.
There, that'l show em.... hehehe.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fifteen Minutes

I hope you are thinking about my bit of fame. No, this here is not about me being known for more than making quiche or raising chickens. It is about not being able to drive for more than fifteen minutes throughout Los Angeles proper without going past a place I distinctly remember working at on a crime scene.
Fifteen minutes of drive time in LA could be three miles or twenty two miles if you drive like Willie Ford used to or Joey does now. It is all about traffic and that is all about route and time of day.
When I first began my training to be a photographer III, the rank who's primary duty assignment is in the field, I was 'shown the ropes' by other field photographers. Deacon Willie B. Ford was most memorable. Everyone liked “Willie.” He knew his job and he was a paragon of kindness. He liked driving the van. It was the passenger type with a hefty V-8 motor. He only used the brakes to park it. It had drive, over drive and with the Deacon behind the wheel it had 'Willie Speed'.
We were north bound on La Brea above the ten freeway when he asked me what I would like for lunch.
I blurted out “Fried Chicken.”
“Pioneer OK?” He asked not looking over. He never used a GPS or electronic mapping system.
I was soo glad he at least kept looking ahead. 
“Sure.” I floated. Lucky for me the front seat was of the bucket type or I would have broad sided the passenger door ass first then head bump. His snap turn into the parking lot would have had me in his lap. He then began another story of crime.
“Oh, I remember the stair way right there. This girl caught her man cheating. She chased him down those stairs poking a knife into him every few steps. Lots of letters.” He trailed off.
Letters meant evidence not to be picked up, in this case the blood splatter and drippings. The idea of the little lady taking her revenge on the philandering fool got him laughing the way only Willie did. You could find his laugh in a large crowd of a comedy concert.
The stairway was across the street, I was in this odd lot planted Pioneer Chicken trying to ignore it. I don't need to any longer. Today it no longer ruins my appetite. I only smell blood when I want to, nothing prevents me from getting the sustenance needed to cover then next scene.
The time I spent learning from Willie, Tony, Bill, Robert, Gary, Gary, Gary, Jean, L'Keva, Kim, Ray and Renato was both priceless and ominous. Those times had me thinking of Los Angeles as a slaughterhouse. It's not, it's just LA like any other place.
Hey, enjoy life will you? You never know when your last fifteen minutes begins.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Crime happens everywhere. Bludgeoning seem to happen mostly in conditions and in houses I would not let my dog stay in.

I was chatting with a detective about some recent cases, the “remember the one...” conversation that often comes up. His first reaction was right. They all blend together. I have noticed that a scene where someone is beaten to death is often in the worst of neighborhoods in a house or apartment that might as well be the street. Actually a lot of streets are cleaner than the ones I am talking about.

I used to think it was a joke about bugs coming up out of everywhere until I went to a place where small roaches swarmed up the walls as we walked through the filth that only profound neglect creates. That scene was a mother beaten by her crack addled daughter. I just can not imagine the rage someone has to build up to do that.

I don't like having dishes waiting in the sink over night, it does happen. There was one scene at a million dollar home where the mother was so neglected by her family that the black water that filled one side had something moving in it. Human fecal splotches were evident over the expansive and once very expensive white carpet. The officer in charge of the scene managed to get one of the children on the phone, I overheard him saying “I would not let my dog live in here.” The smell has to be the worst. If you ever have to go through a house where people do drugs you will know what I mean. It's like rotting smoke. A burnt tire, old food, bad hygiene, out-house combination that sears the mind. You know the smell forever and recall it just looking at an unkempt front yard.

When I got home the other night my clothes went straight to the laundry, it was a cold walk from the garage back to the house. I finished the dishes the next morning, grateful to have dishes to do.