TALES FROM THE BLUE LINE 10

1975, Rob and crew ready for Summerfest

1975, Rob and crew ready for Summerfest

Some called him Le Roy, others called him Elroy. I called him both names, depending upon my mood and state of sobriety. But being called more than one name suited him: Le Roy/Elroy was a multiple kind of guy, who’d go anywhere and do anything

By the way, neither name was his real one.

But we settled on Le Roy and the bosses loved to give him assignments. He didn’t wait to get informants, he’d go out and hit on dopers and drug dealers wherever he found them. (There were times when we didn’t want to know.) And he made lots of cases. It was personality, not police work, but it didn’t matter. He locked ’em up.

He locked four of them up one time, and it made national news. It was one of the most amazing and unbelievable things I ever saw, and anyone who has spent significant time as a police officer – especially in a major city like Milwaukee, or New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles – is a bona fide, certified observer of amazing and unbelievable things. It was a major pain for one of America’s top pop singers in the 1970s, but she had to stand back and watch it all unfold.

Classic stoner

Classic stoner

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Without a doubt the most dangerous and wild-assed assignment I ever had as a police officer was working undercover on narcotics at Milwaukee’s Summerfest celebration, which occurs every summer in July. I’m talking old-days Summerfests, when the festival was first being set up. There was a learning curve with all things, and controlling people who’d sneak illegal drugs into the eleven-day-long-party by the shores of Lake Michigan was among the first and largest headaches those in charge ever saw.

It should hereby be noted that I’m writing of a time more than thirty-five years ago. The problem has long since been addressed and resolved. Summerfest is a first class, beautiful and fun festival for the whole family. People come from across the nation to visit Milwaukee during its time each July. The biggest, most well-known musical bands in the country do concerts at Summerfest every year, and its reputation as a safe, clean place is second to none of its kind anywhere. I personally know that this is a fact.

But the day to which I’m referring was during the before time. A time when having a hairy, raggedy looking crew of free-spirited and basically fearless people (yes, women were involved also) at their disposal was a heaven send to the people most concerned, from the then-Mayor Henry Maier, to then-Police Chief Harold Breier, and the entire city council.

typical stoner

typical stoner

It was still light out, and festival goers were filing into the grounds, anticipating the performances of a number of rock ‘n roll bands, from local groups to nationally known ones, with hit records on their resumes. Our “group,” facetiously nick-named “The Rat Patrol,” had spent the day in court processing arrests made for using and selling all manner of illegal inebrients the previous day. By early evening we’d check in to the command post at Summerfest, and had begun to walk the grounds; to get a feel of the crowd.

As always, we made a few arrests even during the quiet time of the fest, processed them, and returned to the grounds. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan, which was fortified by huge, stone boulders, to protect people from the sometimes fierce waves that could pound the shore. Didn’t want the waves pounding on people, of course. In those days the main stage, where all the rock and pop big shots played their concerts, was on the north end of the grounds. The entire area, including the stage itself, the dressing trailers in the back, and the long rows of boards upon which the fortunate (and sometimes unfortunate people – a truly long story) sat.

The place was empty when we all walked together to the fenced in area at the back, where the trailers were. Starting time was nigh, and the place was filling up with audience members. We saw a couple of uniformed officers whom we knew at the rear gate, and walked over to say “hi.” We chatted amiably: The weather was nice, the band that night was nice (not like some of the hard core street bands, the names of which I shall not write), and everyone was in good spirits.

Except Le Roy. Le Roy trundled off on his own toward the lake shore’s edge. The high, sturdy fence stretched to the water line. No one could get past it. Except uniformed cops, and a scraggly gang of undercover cops who looked more drugged and rugged than some of the people who ended up being their targets for arrest.

“Hey,” Le Roy shouted, running back to the rest of the group. “Look behind those dressing room trailers.”

We looked. We saw nothing at first. Then a young, average looking man walked from one of the trailers to the line of boulders at the shoreline, and then down to the shoreline.

We all laughed. Heartily. The space between the water and the rocks was where we made the great majority of our arrests.

“See!” Le Roy yelled. “I been watching. Couple a guys been goin’ back and forth from the trailers to the rocks. What do ya think they’re doin’?” He laughed, bending at the waist for emphasis of his joy.

“Same place we’re going,” I remember saying.

The “rocks “were a cozy place for dopers at that time of night. No one could see them, and these particular guys were protected by a big, high fence. No one could get to them. Except a group of not-suspicious looking dudes who obviously had business back there – you know, because of the concert and all that – and we were welcomed to join them.

Well, Le Roy was welcomed, he was the first to approach, while we held back. Didn’t want to seem impolite while ganging up and asking if we could party with them. Le Roy went down among them after they gleefully invited him in, he being fellow beater of the “Buddha bush,” as marijuana was sometimes referred to by the hipsters. It was a forgone ritual among dopers to share a bowl with a well-mannered stranger.

We waited a few minutes. Another of our guys walked closer, to get a better look. He suddenly turned and waved to us. Le Roy had done it again! He’d ruined the drug party of a bunch of, well, druggies.

The young men quickly caught on that they were at least being shagged away, and they got up to leave. Le Roy grabbed a bag of pot from one of them, and another undercover officer placed a handcuff on his wrist. Whoops! The fun was really over with, and they began to run. We stormed them. They ran away. Trouble was, there was only one “way,” and that was toward the chilling blue waters of Lake Michigan.

As we later learned, they’d all been sharing pot with Le Roy, so they all knew they were being arrested. Le Roy’s head bobbed in the water, next to the other unfortunates, as they tried swimming.
“Help” Le Roy yelled, and a couple of our other guys (notably, not me!) jumped into the lake. One guy punched Le Roy in the face. Le Roy tried hitting him back. He could not, with the water interferring. He swan out a short distance and recovered a floating, almost-sinking bag of dope. All of the violators knew they could not escape, and they gave up.

All four of the men were summarily arrested. They’d all smoked the killer weed and they were all carrying more of it. Soaking wet doesn’t adequately describe them. It doesn’t adequately describe Le Roy and the two other undercovers who came out of the water.

By this time uniformed officers knew what was going on and a nearby police prisoner wagon drove up to the area.

“What about the concert?” one of them said.

They looked at each other and at us and one of them said, “Can we still play the concert?”

Uh-oh.

Before we could answer, a young-ish, attractive woman in a bath robe was descending the stairs of one of the trailers. She was screaming. At the top of her lungs, as the old saying goes.

“Where are you taking my drummer?” She shrieked. “And my guitar players! What the f*** is going on here?!”

She walked up to one officer who was holding the arm of her drummer and tried pulling the drummer away.

“Get your ass back up those stairs and into that goddamn trailer,” one of my partners said to her.

Well, he yelled it to her.

The woman turned and ran. She reached the stairs and stumbled more than once while running up to the trailer door, and disappearing within.

The lead officer of our group looked at the soaking wet, handcuffed prisoners, and said, “Don’t tell me.”

He told us. They were members of the band scheduled to go on in five minutes. Trust me, we laughed. I mean, we laughed long and heartily. Not the band members, just us scruffy, trouble making undercovers.

Needless to say, the concert was delayed. We all rode together in the van. Many fans knew who we were and shouted the most awful, unrepeatable things at us. We laughed all the harder..

The concert did finally go on, as the Captain on the grounds allowed the players to play their concert, and be processed afterward.

Every now and then the tune and the refrain, “I am woman!” tweets in my mind., and I picture an angry woman singing on the Summerfest stage, and a soaking wet group of band members behind her.
ROb2This is the 10th 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.