Last week I received a "Friends" request on Facebook from a man who was on the Flint Police Department special operations unit during my many years as the night police reporter. Of course, I added this man as a friend and immediately recalled one of the oddest nights of my police reporting career.
Before the Journal got all nervous and antsy (thank you, lawyers) about reporters riding along with police officers on duty, I spent many shifts, and parts of shifts, riding with both uniformed and plainclothes police officers.
Prostitution stings, drug stings, street corner drug enforcement and raids were a steady diet for me during those days. It worked to help me develop long lasting and deep sources within the department and was great fodder for stories in the paper.
This particular story that I recalled last week was a night that this officer, who happens to be African-American, another female officer, who happens to be white, invited me along to ride in the backseat of an unmarked police car while they played the decoy in an undercover drug operation.
In the early 1990s, street corner drug sales were common. Dope dealers hung around on corners waiting for customers to pull up and arrange a buy. The dope sellers were not so stupid to have the drugs on them, but would size up the customers (making sure they were not police) and then with a $20 bill in hand from the drive-up customers would head to a nearby house, purchase the crack and return to the car with the dope.
So that night, I showed up with my slacks, white shirt and tie, and took up the offer to sit in the back seat of a two-door Camaro (which had been seized from a drug dealer) and ride along to observe. First, the officers told me to lose the tie, which I did.
We drove around some of the worst neighborhoods of Flint and would drive up to the dealers. Once the transaction was made, other officers would swoop in, bust the street corner dealer and then get a warrant for the house that the drugs came from.
It was a summer night, it was still light (about 8 p.m.) when we pulled up to a gaunt young man standing on a corner. The male officer opened a conversation about purchasing some 'rock' and the verbal dance began. Most street corner dealers were hinky and knew the police were out there looking for them.
The dope dealer suddenly took a couple steps back and said, "I know you, you're a cop."
My life flashed before my eyes thinking we might all got shot. But the male officer kept as cool as my basement in winter and began arguing with the man that he was mistaken. He even got angry with the dealer for accusing him of being a police officer.
"I'm sure you are the guy who arrested me," the man protested. Again the officer argued, but came up with a slightly different explanation for the confusion.
"You may be thinking of my cousin, he's an officer and he looks a lot like me," the officer told the dealer. Slowly the argument turned in the officer's favor and the man changed his mind and agreed to purchase "our" crack cocaine.
As he left to purchase our drugs, the officer turned to me with a big smile and told me that the dealer was right, that the officer had arrested him just months earlier for the same thing.
"Why would he go ahead and buy drugs for you then?," I asked.
Because, the officer said, that his story about the cousin had confused the guy, he was a little high, and probably desperate to make a sale and get more drugs for himself.
Of course when he returned with the 'crack' we took off and the other officers moved in and arrested him. We returned as he was being handcuffed and he looked at the officer and with a small smile, said, "I knew you were a cop."
There are many memories like that and as they come to me, I'll put them here.
Next up: The drug raid where a man, in trying to hide in the attic, accidentally fell through the ceiling drywall as he tried to balance on the studs in the ceiling. His legs were hanging down in the living room the drug team (with me in tow) entered it. A Journal photographer was also with me for that one.