Tales from the Blue Line 25

Thirty years plus – the amount of time I spent as a police officer – can seem like an eternity, to borrow from an old cliché. But then so can thirty seconds, given the right conditions. Some who study time and space say that it’s proof that there really is no time in the traditional sense, that there are only events by which we measure and change our lives. Some predict that each of us will come to know the difference; to know the truth, in our own time and in our own way. Well, those are muddy waters for us folks stuck in the physical realm.

Grasping for higher meanings aside, things can get especially twisted for we who were/are cops. Especially after thirty years, the amount of time that I and one particularly good friend were Police officers together. Cops constantly deal with unbelievably negative and horrible events. Often the officers have no idea how everything is going to end; they just do their part and get on with their lives. That’s at least partly where the notorious dark humor, often called called “gallows humor,” comes from. It’s the need to have an ending, even if it’s just an offbeat joke, whether it’s funny – or even true – or not. We law enforcement types at least do it in our own minds. It’s a way of getting the last word; of feeling as though you’ve somehow won in an unwinnable situation.

There are some almost magical types who always do win. They always put the period or exclamation point or whatever at the end of a situation – in the case of a cop, an investigation – even if it ended as a cold case matter. That’s because they always properly do whatever they are supposed to do, without fail, and then so be it. No hissy fits. No life consuming obsessions lasting forever, warping their personalities. I never got to attend such an “event,” as it were. Actually, such events ultimately don’t even matter: Only Truth does.

There is a small handful of people who seem to always be the last one standing, even though it’s really just a good act. An illusion. The one to whom I refer, and ultimately the most impressive of them, was a man who I worked undercover with on the narcotics squad. At that time there were several gangs of drug dealers and pimps who’d been extremely successful for many years working in the inner city. Their “Godfather” leaders had gotten older – into their thirties and forties, which is very old for a lifelong, felonious criminal who is still on the streets – and had freely and easily gotten away with their nefarious activities.

They happened to be African Americans, which is ultimately pointless, but in this case their skin color gave them an advantage: They’d chosen only to deal in the streets with others of their race. And they used the easily observed difference in appearances to become relatively wealthy people. They owned beautiful homes, several new and luxurious automobiles. They had women catering to their every whim, providing everything they wanted, when they wanted it – especially sexual favors.

Possible interlopers of another race had no chance. The city of Milwaukee had no one on the department who could capture anyone but low level gang members who only handled small amounts of product.

Then came the talented and mind bendingly courageous undercover officer I previously described. He was of the same race as the targeted suspects, had all the street smarts necessary, and felt good about taking down some of the worst criminals in Milwaukee’s history.

It was in the middle 1970s, and he’d spent part of his youth witnessing, and even personally knowing, people who dealt with drugs in Milwaukee’s inner city. You didn’t have to be an active participant to have a personal connection to people who were involved with murdering themselves with drugs and dehumanizing helpless women by turning them out as prostitutes. The man had lived in a different city before his early teenaged years, and he’d chosen to be part of the law abiding, well educated part of his neighborhood – so the bad guys did not know his story.

He was hip and had the ice cold nerves and slick skills of a Navy Seal. He was recruited to work undercover with the specific hope that he could infiltrate the out-of-control drug and pimp crowd in Milwaukee’s inner city. And by drugs I mean heroin and cocaine; the two most dangerous substances to be found on the streets in those days.

In virtually no time, he infiltrated their hangouts and made major drug cases against them all – the heads of nine separate groups. He purchased heroin and cocaine many times from them, in increasingly large amounts. They were all subsequently arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Their “businesses” were annihilated.

I happened to be working undercover myself at the time, and eventually worked with him. We became close friends. I later became a detective and he was promoted to uniformed patrol sergeant. He was subsequently promoted to lieutenant of police. In the late 1990s he was assigned to supervise in an area of the city where there are relatively few African Americans. The precinct also had few non-Caucasian officers. But the good lieutenant became one of the most beloved supervisors who’d ever worked in the area.

He had earned his Master’s Degree and became involved with police department and city politics, as well as an instructor of police science in more than one local university. He subsequently ran for alderman. The officers at his precinct held a surprise fundraiser at a small tavern that was owned by a former Milwaukee police officer. After the uproarious beginning of the party when he arrived, another officer who was his close friend noticed tears of gratitude welling in his eyes.. He leaned close to the lieutenant and asked if he’d ever believed that something like this could happen to him.

He’d been born in the violently racist South in the early 1950s; moved to Milwaukee in the 1960s; became one the most renowned and respected Milwaukee officers ever, especially for his single-handed take-down of the cities most notorious and violent criminal gang at the time; he went from sergeant-to-lieutenant, and was now running for a public, political office:

“No one outside the Milwaukee Police Department would ever believe this,” was his reply.

Sadly, he did not win election to the city council. But he had quietly and peacefully accomplished things that he himself had never believed possible.

He’d arrived at his enlightened place in his own time, and in his own way.


ROb2This is number 25 in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.

Rob is published by Orange Hat Press

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