Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Welcome Mat Wednesdays Introduces...


Kenneth Hoss who is a former police officer, turned mystery writer.  He's agreed to answer some questions about the time he worked as an officer to provide us insight into that life.

A Look Behind the Badge

Where did you serve?
El Cajon, California. It’s a small suburb east of San Diego. (Well, maybe small is over simplified, perhaps medium sized.) However, that I was in the late ‘80’s and I moved away in 1996.


Why did you become a cop?
Being a “cop” to me was more of a calling, something I felt I needed to do. I got the opportunity to help people, to “Serve and Protect”. Of course, not everyone I met appreciated my “assistance”, mostly the “bad” guys.


How long were you assigned to a training officer (TO), and what was that experience like?
I started off with a training officer for my first 6 months before I got to ride solo. He was a grizzled veteran and why he was a training officer I still can't figure out to this day. I recall one night as we drove around our patrol area, he decided there was nothing really happening and he pulled into a 7-11 parking lot. He informed me that we were just going to "stay put" until our shift was almost over. Then he got out, walked into the store, got a couple of coffees and some pastries and we sat there the rest of the night. (It was the graveyard, middle of the week if I remember right.) Of course on the weekends we always seemed to stay busy, which is the way I liked it. (Got the adrenalin pumping.)


Describe a shift on the weekend that ‘got the adrenalin pumping’.
I would have to say it was one weekend that we were busting crack houses. One that we busted had three suspects in the house, along with two “customers”. I was at the rear of the house along with two other officers while several other officers took positions out front. When the officers in front announced, the suspects began shooting. One suspect dove out a rear window and came up holding a Mac 10, and it was pointed in my direction. I had my weapon drawn, but before I had a chance to fire, one of the other officers shot the suspect. Afterward my heart must have been beating 90 miles a minute. (Yes, the suspect survived to serve a nice long term after he got out of the hospital.) That weekend we busted eight drug houses.


What are different nicknames assigned to rookies, to superiors, to detectives?  (I read recently in a David Baldacci book the cops term them “eggs” – basically the training officers sit on them and wait for them to hatch.)
Mine always just called me “Rookie”. Heck, I was a “rookie” my entire first year on the job. As for my T.O., I usually referred to him as “jackass” when comparing notes with other rookies. Detectives were “suits”.


What is the relationship like between officers and detectives? 
It depended on the Detective. I knew a couple of detectives in Special Investigations, or S.I.U. They handled gang, narcotics, vice and fugitive investigations. (They were with us when we made the bust on the crack houses.) Nice enough guys, though they didn’t really “socialize” with “Uniforms”. (Except when we would hit the bars on our days off, and if any happened to be there, then it was okay to socialize.)


What was the scariest call you went on?
I would have to say a domestic disturbance call. We always went in with back up on these calls because you never knew what was going to happen. My backup and I got the couple apart and he had the husband in the living room while I had the wife in the kitchen. Everything appeared to be under control as the yelling and screaming had stopped. The wife wanted her husband arrested, and there were definite signs that he had hit her. My backup, Officer Morgan, told me to call it in. (He had been on the job for just over five years.) I left the wife in the kitchen and was on my way to the front to call it in. Before I reached the door, the wife ran out of the kitchen and hit Officer Morgan in the back of the head with a 3” spiked heel. Before I could react, he was lying on the floor holding his head, blood everywhere. I immediately restrained the wife and cuffed her. Luckily, the heel didn’t go through his skull and after an extended LOA (leave of absence), he was back on full duty. (He had to have more than 80 stitches.) The husband spent the night in jail, however, his wife spent a lot longer for assaulting a police officer. (She got 1 year in County.)


Were you ever first on scene for a suspicious death that turned out to be a murder case?
Unfortunately, no. I was on plenty of scenes with DB’s, and several were “suspicious”.


How would you describe the feeling of being at a call where there's a body?
My first DB was an old man who lived alone. He had apparently died in his sleep. He had no living relatives and so no one to check on him. One of his neighbors called to have us check on him after they hadn’t seen him in several days. When I walked into the house the smell was overpowering, and there is only one way to describe it, “putrid”. I got out as fast as I could and called it in. After they hauled the body off, I asked one of the guys if they could tell how long he had been dead. Turned out the guy had been rotting inside his house, in the middle of summer, for over two weeks! And the answer is yes, I blew chunks.


Did you pull your gun?  How did you feel in that moment?
See above. Adrenaline rush! (And scared shi*less.) Never shot anyone though. That’s when you know you’re doing your job right.


What were the common calls you went on? Ex. Drunk and disorderly.
Bar fights, domestic violence, neighbor disputes, armed robberies, assaults, stolen vehicles, serving warrants, etc.


Were you ever in the morgue?  Describe feeling the feeling there.
Yes, several times in the L.A. County Coroner’s office when I was in school and the S.D. County Morgue a few times. It never bothered me, and I watched a few autopsies. The only thing that bugged me was the smell of the Phisohex. (sp?) A lot of people thought it was the smell of embalming fluid, and that was wrong, as M.E.’s don’t use that. The Phisohex was used to clean the bodies after autopsy. (It’s like Phisoderm, but a little stronger.) I remember after one autopsy we all went out for Mexican food over on Olvera Street in Los Angeles. Oh, and to be a Coroner/M.E. I think it’s a prerequisite to have a macabre sense of humor.


What type of detectives are the most revered among cops?  Is it Homicide?
Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d have to say the ones I “revered”, which is a strong word, would have to be the S.I.U. guys. They caught a lot of heavy-duty bad guys, dealt with gangs, fugitives and a lot of things a patrol officer could only dream about doing. To me they were “real” cops.


Describe in one word your experience as a cop.
One word?  Really? Okay, if I have to keep it to one word it would have to be… Sorry, I can’t do it in just one word. Two or three words maybe, but not one. I suppose I would have to say that is was Life Changing.


Is it true brothers of blue stick together?
Cops don't like other cops who snitch. It’s an unwritten code; you always have each other’s back. Yes, cops definitely stick together. (Unless they’re in IA*, and no one likes IA.) * Internal Affairs, or as we referred to it, Infernal Affairs. There was one “incident” that I recall where an off-duty CHP officer made an illegal turn at a red light and one of our “rookies” pulled him over. Now as a courtesy, he should have just been informed of his infraction. Instead, the gung ho rookie wrote him a ticket. That little incident caused a territorial battle between the CHP and my department. (They told our department that if we had a chase go onto the Interstate we were not to pursue, we had to call them in to continue after the suspect.)


Why did you leave being a cop?
I found out through a friend on the San Diego PD, a detective, that the Chief and Deputy Chief were being investigated for taking bribes from some local drug dealers. I didn’t want to be associated with that.

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Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with us, Ken.  I found it quite interesting because sometimes the misconception is that officers are ticket givers, and not much more.  Speaking with you has really proven that theory far from the truth.