Monday, May 9, 2011

Good, Bad and Murderous - a look ahead

A murderer turns good, a cop turns bad, a remorseless assassin turns on a man tracking him down. That in brief is Good, Bad and Murderous, the second Sid Chance mystery/thriller. It starts with a young black man getting out of prison at twenty-five for a murder committed at age twelve. When he's accused of another homicide, his grandmother hires PI Sid Chance to find the real killer. Sid's sometimes-associate Jaz LeMieux helps out on the case, and things get dicey when a woman who accused her of making racially disparaging remarks turns up dead. Do a pair of homicide detectives have an agenda of their own? Sid must navigate a maze of lawlessness involving drugs and Medicare fraud and contract murder that leaves him and Jaz in mortal peril.

That's the plot blurb for the new Sid Chance book that's nearing completion. When I started working on the plot, I decided to deal with Medicare fraud. I had seen a piece on CBS about FBI agents in Miami hitting store front operations that bill Medicare for thousands of dollars for durable medical equipment, then disappear. I did a lot of research on the subject and learned that new regulations provided tighter requirements for firms that  bill Medicare. However, some scammers still get around them, as my fictional company does.

Starting the story with a young black man being charged again with murder came out of a newspaper's coverage of what happens to child killers. The focus of the stories was on Nashville's youngest murderer, who had  been out of prison a couple of years after spending most of his life behind bars. I based my character on his experience. He had shot a man during a late night drug sale while he was twelve years old. Despite his age, he was tried in Criminal Court as an adult and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Efforts have been under way to have such juveniles go to Juvenile Court and serve their sentences in a correction program designed for youths.

As with the young man in the newspaper stories, my character came out of prison determined to change his life and become a productive citizen. However, a month or so after the newspaper article, the real former prisoner wound  up in jail for beating up a girl friend. My guy is more reliable.

Jaz LeMieux became a popular character with readers of the first book, The Surest Poison. She's a fun character to write, a young woman who overcame the odds and took over as board chairman of a national chain of travel centers. To give her a bit of a problem with this story, I had her accused of making racially disparaging remarks to a black company employee. When the woman is found dead, the tension ratchets up.

You'll have to read the book (hopefully it'll be out early this fall) to find out what else happens. I should have a cover to show shortly. Stay turned.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Cop's Night at the Office

I got a good look at what cops face on a daily basis when I did my ride-along (as a member of the Metro Nashville Citizen Police Academy) last Thursday on the second shift, 2:30 to 10:30 p.m. I was assigned to North Precinct Patrol Officer Joshua Mauzy. On the job I only heard him called Mauzy as cops refer to each other by last name. Around thirty, married with children, he was Officer of the Month in the precinct for February after chasing down a burglar.

We drew an old car (Chevrolet Impala) which was not as jazzily appointed as the newer models. Its computer didn't want to work at first, but Mauzy coaxed it into action. The radio channel with the dispatcher came from a speaker around the computer, while the officer talked with his colleagues on another channel using a mike attached at his shoulder. I presume cops, at least the younger ones, aren't too good at housekeeping as the floor on the passenger side was covered with papers and an  empty drink cup. Having experienced that sort of thing with my stepson, I wasn't all that surprised.

During roll call, the lieutenant assigned duties and car numbers. We were Car 12. Our assignment was not to a particular zone but was called Enforcement. Basically we were driving around looking for trouble. We also served as backup when somebody else found it first. As it turned out, that happened on our first call. We had just pulled out of the parking lot and stopped for the traffic light when an ambulance roared past on Clarksville Pike. After it had headed across the Cumberland River bridge, Mauzy said, "We have to follow that ambulance."

He hit his lights and siren and swung out onto the street, which was five lanes wide, including a turn lane. He didn't believe in slowing much, if any, for cross streets. We swung in and out of lanes, but almost came to a stop at one intersection with a traffic light and two cars in the turn lane. The blaring siren convinced them to move out of the way.

We finally arrived at the scene where an ambulance and fire truck sat with another police car already there. The paramedics were bandaging a woman's leg as she lay in the front yard of a house. She told the officers three teenagers had thrown bottles at her. One broke and cut her leg. The ambulance crew said it was a deep cut. She claimed to have run from a street almost a mile away. We left her to be transported to the hospital. The two cops agreed it didn't likely happen as she reported. The first officer on scene would send in a report and let the detectives follow up.

Although Mauzy didn't have to file the detailed report, he pulled out his clipboard box and wrote an IR, Incident Report, giving the basic details of time and place and result of stop. This was required for everything we did.

We were assigned to generally patrol  the County Hospital Road area. As we drove back in that direction, a car ahead of us at a stop sign had darkly tinted windows. Tennessee law requires side windows to allow at least 35 percent of visible light to pass through. On windshields, only a small strip at the top can be tinted. After the car pulled across the intersection, Mauzy hit his lights and siren and the car turned into a parking area.

He approached the car slowly from the back, remaining to the rear of the driver's window, which is standard practice. He checked the window tint with his light meter and found it on the dark side. He asked the woman for her driver's license and  brought it back to the patrol car. Entering the details into the computer, he brought up her record. The license was valid, no outstanding warrants. He let her go with a warning.

When I told my thirteen-year-old grandson about that stop, he said, "Tinted windows are cool. I'd never stop anybody for that." For a cop on the lookout for trouble, there are two good reasons. One, darkly tinted windows are a threat to an officer who has to approach a car. He needs to see if anyone inside is armed. The two most dangerous situations for a cop are traffic stops and domestic violence calls. The second reason is that experience shows if a driver violates one law, he's probably violated others as well. Traffic stops are the main source of catching criminals. In a large percentage of traffic stops in Nashville, the driver has no license or a revoked license.

Whenever an officer makes a stop or answers a call, he reports it on the radio. If one of his fellow officers in the area is free, he heads for the location as a backup. We pulled in behind another cop on one occasion where the car he'd stopped had three people inside. The driver had a previous arrest for marijuana possession. Nobody in the car had a driver's license. You'd think somebody would go to jail, but not so. Because of the leniency of the local court system, you can be caught a couple of times without a license and get only a warning or a ticket.

We did one backup that resulted in sitting at an intersection for about fifteen minutes, listening to the radio and watching traffic pass by. Another officer had reported a fight in the block ahead, but we saw nothing. They finally decided the fight had ended or moved on. Mauzy filled out his IR and we took up our roving patrol. If you see a police car sitting alone at the side of the street, sometimes with the blue lights on if he doesn't bother to switch them off, the cop is likely filling out his paperwork.

Each time we would finish a task and find nothing of interest where we were driving, Mauzy would pull up the list of  outstanding calls on the computer. They were listed with the time, location, and type of incident. Clicking on one would bring up the details. At one point there were twenty-seven 911 calls outstanding in North's territory. The precinct covers the entire north side of the county. Metro's total area is 526 square miles, so North's officers cover a lot of real estate. Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County includes several smaller municipalities, but MNPD has jurisdiction over the whole county.

We took one call involving a suspicious SUV in a driveway, but by the time we got there it was long gone. Another call involved a burglar alarm that went off. It indicated a back door involved. When Mauzy checked he found a man there who said the house belonged to his sister. Mauzy brought his driver's license back and looked him up on the computer. He had the same last name as the home owner and no criminal record, so we moved on.

We stopped for a dinner break at a Taco Bell not far from the precinct headquarters with five other officers, including a Tennessee State University campus cop. TSU is located in the North Nashville section which is the highest crime area for the precinct. The mealtime conversation covered peculiar people or incidents they had encountered. Officers enjoy chatting with each other. In our wanderings we occasionally came up on a patrol or an unmarked car sitting at the curb. Mauzy would pause by the window and say something to the officer.

As the evening wore on, the list of outstanding calls shrunk, and we took a recent one involving a man cursing fellow tenants at an apartment. The location was a one-story strip apartment more like a motel, across the street from a low-rent housing project. Mauzy had been there before on a complaint about the same tenant. He checked with the on-site manager and a woman standing outside, then knocked on the offender's door. It was a large black man who sounded fairly well educated but quite agitated at everyone who, he claimed, gave him no respect, accused him of all sorts or things, and called him names. Mauzy talked to him for twenty or thirty minutes, calming him down, advising him to forget what other people thought. Leave them alone, he said, and just mind your own business. The guy finally agreed that's what he'd do, and we headed back to Car 12.

It was getting close to the end of the shift when we turned onto Rosa Parks Blvd. behind the precinct headquarters and saw a car with its brake lights on. It turned onto Mainstream Drive, the brake lights still burning. Mauzy switched on the blue lights and siren. The car stopped at the curb and we pulled in behind it. Another patrolman arrived about the time Mauzy approached the driver, his flashlight probing the inside of the car. When he told the man about his brake lights, the driver said he'd been having trouble with a connection. But as Mauzy moved closer to hear him better, he smelled a strong odor of pot.

The driver admitted having smoked a "joint" but claimed it had been several hours before. The other cop said, "No way, man. That odor is too strong." They searched him, including stripping beside the road (about the only vehicles that passed were trucks or other commercial vehicles). He had enough "roaches" (marijuana cigarette butts) to make more than an ounce, which Mauzy dropped into an evidence bag. The man said he was on his way to work at a TV station nearby. Mauzy gave him a citation arrest, requiring him to turn himself in within three weeks for fingerprinting and booking. He put the guy in the secured rear seat while he did some of the car search and got on the computer to fill out all the information for the citation. Using a small printer that sat like an arm rest between the front seats, he printed out two copies, about two feet long, one for the arrestee and one for the file. The whole process took about an hour, while I sat in the car with the blue lights flashing.

 It was an interesting day that concluded around 10:45 p.m. at the station, where I thanked Sgt. John Henry and Officer Mauzy for the experience. My driver was facing an extra shift on Saturday for the Music City Marathon. As I left, he said, "Come on back on a weekend and we'll have some fun."