The Outside Observer

The following is an excerpt from my first self published book, The Outside Observer, available as a Kindle Single on Amazon. The Outside Observer is a recorded history of life at sea and the slow decline to insanity. The Outside Observer chronicles the antics and stupid mistakes that arise from the mundane routine of life at sea. The Outside Observer follows the crew inside the Combat Information Center during the USS Momsen’s initial deployment to Southeast Asia in support of Expanded Maritime Interdiction Operations in 2006.

Over the years sailors have kept records of the shortcomings and errors of their crew. These records have come to be known as rock logs and are usually kept in the open for everyone to share. The Outside Observer was such a rock log maintained by OI Division within the Combat Information Center, onboard the USS Momsen DDG-92, during her maiden deployment in support of expanded maritime interception operations throughout Southeast Asia from April to October of 2006.

The Outside Observer was kept in the open and available for anyone within CIC who had knowledge of it to both read and contribute. Many of the entries do not cite specific authors and are often made up of multiple recordings. An effort has been made to preserve these differences through either italicized or bold texts. Because the majority of contributors were unable to be determined it is impossible to give them credit for their entry. Much of what made the Outside Observer last throughout the deployment was the undeniable boost of morale it provided for the watch-standers in the CIC.

My own short lived naval career ended within weeks of the deployment and the last entry within the Outside Observer. In the following years since my departure I have had many request for copies of the book. I attempted to scan photocopies or create a .pdf of the book, but the binding crease on the pages as well as the wear and tear from passing through so many readers made these attempts futile. I have edited the entries as little as possible throughout the book in order to preserve the original postings. I have limited my editing to spelling and severe grammatical errors. You will also find footnotes throughout this edition of the Outside Observer that were made five years after the book was first written in an attempt to explain some of the seemingly absurd things sailors take for granted as part of their life aboard a ship at sea.

I have redacted the full names of the subjects leaving only their last name and title. Titles and positions change over the years and sometimes even last names. It was in no way my intention to embarrass anyone who appeared in the Outside Observer or further my own self-deprecation. Nothing has appeared in this book that the subjects themselves have not already seen. It should be noted that none of the stories contained within should be taken as absolute fact. Often the insignificant events that made the Outside Observer had done so because they were taken out of context, part of an ongoing inside joke, or completely unsubstantiated.

For more information about The Outside Observer check out the facebook page: The Outside Observer.

Never a Policeman

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of The Guardian, Volume 42 issue 9.

In one of Sgt. Joe Friday’s classic monologues he says, “It’s awkward having a policeman around the house. Friends drop in, a man with a badge answers the door, the temperature drops twenty degrees.” Friday is interrogating rookie Officer Jim Reed, in one of his crossover roles from Adam-12, an undercover officer mistakenly accused of stealing money. Friday leans in as he continues his stern lecture. “All at once you lost your first name. You’re a cop, a flatfoot, a bull, a dick, John Law. You’re the fuzz, the heat, you’re poison, you’re trouble, you’re bad news. They call you everything, but never a policeman.”
Police Officer colloquialisms come and go. Seattle even had it’s own term, one time. One time, because if you did a double take it might get the officer’s attention. One time was made famous by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “One Time’s Got No Case” in 1992. These days you’ll almost never hear anyone warning their cohorts, “Look out it’s the fuzz” or “psst it’s the heat”. Though our terms of endearment have been minimized to the whoops and whistles of the Central District or Rainier Valley early warning systems, one term, cop has outlasted them all. Its origins may not be what you thought they were.
When Sir Robert Peel helped lay the foundation for modern policing in 1829 his police force was initially called Peelers and eventually Bobbies, a term still in use today, which is short for Robert. Bobbies were subjected to a strict standard of living. Bobbies, who had to be at least six feet tall, worked seven days a week with five unpaid holidays per year. In order to look more like citizens as opposed to the British red coats, Bobbies wore blue coats and carried a night stick, a set of handcuffs and a whistle to sound the alarm. Bobbies required special permission to marry or even share a meal with a civilian. Because of an overwhelming fear of the citizenry being spied on, Bobbies were required to wear their uniforms even while off duty.
Early American law enforcement efforts were created in the mid seventeenth century. The New York’s Sheriff’s Office was founded in 1626. The term sheriff comes from the Old English term “shire reeve” or literally land or county keepers of the peace on behalf of the crown. The first modern police department in America was the Boston Police Department, founded in 1838. The Seattle Police Department by comparison was formed in 1886, just 18 years after the city’s incorporation and 3 years before Washington gained statehood.
American policeman have long been referred to as cops. Some suggest cop is an acronym for constable or citizen on patrol. Acronyms however, did not gain popularity until the twentieth century. The term cop has always had a derogatory connotation to it. It is rumored that cop derives from the copper buttons worn by the early municipal police departments on the East Coast. There is a lack of evidence to support this theory as most law enforcement buttons have typically been silver in color. In all likely hood the term cop stems from its latin origin capere or “to seize”. Not to be confused with the modern term caper which derives from the Latin meaning of a capricious escapade or an illegal or questionable act. Records indicate the slang term cop meaning “to catch, or grab” came in use during the 18th century, as early as 1704. The term is still used today as in “cop a feel”, “cop an attitude”, or “cop out”. In the mid 1800’s street thieves were known as coppers, as they were the ones who took or grabbed things from people. When the thieves were apprehended or copped, the police, who copped the criminals, eventually came to be known as the coppers or cops themselves.
In the scene from Dragnet’s 1967 episode Internal Affairs: DR-20, Sgt. Friday is on the verge of breaking young Officer Reed’s spirit, through his bleak portrayal of the life of a cop in which he insists “you’re going to rub elbows with all the elite– pimps, addicts, thieves, bums, winos, girls who can’t keep an address and men who don’t care. Liars, cheats, con men– the class of Skid Row.” Just before Reed is cleared of any wrong doing, Friday reassures him, “there’s also this: there are over five thousand men in this city, who know that being a policeman is an endless, glamour less, thankless job that’s gotta be done. I know it too and I’m damn glad to be one of them.”

Still a Need For a Traffic Cop and Whistle

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of The Guardian, Volume 42 issue 8.

Summer in Seattle brings parades, marches, races, and special events on any given weekend. Construction also pops up throughout the city altering familiar routes on many arterial roads. Drivers trying to navigate the downtown core when it is broken into somewhat impassable sections become frustrated and often try to force their way through an officer’s traffic post. It’s all too familiar for an officer to nearly be run over because a driver, “needs to go this way” or “always goes that way”. Disobeying an officer, firefighter, or flagger could earn a driver a mandatory appearance before a judge.
The canyon walls of the city’s high-rise buildings echo with the whistles of traffic cops standing post, waving their arms. The whistle chirps are reminiscent of early traffic signals in the city, two short blasts for stop and one prolonged for go. The Washington State Certification for Flaggers requires an eight hour class and the certification lasts three years. Currently the Basic Law Enforcement Academy does not train their students how to safely and effectively direct traffic. If new officers throughout the state are not being trained in the basics of traffic control, it’s likely most of the drivers on the road won’t know what to do despite an officer’s best efforts. Traffic frustration is nothing new for officers or drivers alike.
In the early days of the automobile, the busiest intersections throughout the city were controlled by police officers using arm gestures and their whistles. Eventually officers used a type of semaphore to direct traffic. The signal was essentially four paddles; two that said STOP and two that said GO. The officer would manually rotate the semaphore. At night the signs would be illuminated with a flood light. Once the officer left their traffic post the streets reportedly turned to chaos almost immediately.
The first traffic lights in the city were installed in 1924 at three of the city’s busiest intersections; 4th Ave S and S Jackson St, 4th Avenue and Pike St, and at Roy St and Westlake Ave. The initial trial period used the lights between 7am and 10pm. It was estimated that nearly 24,000 vehicles passed through 4th and Jackson, the city’s busiest intersection, during that time. A four page report from the Traffic Subcommittee of the Board of Public Works published on June 6th, 1924 described the need for new signal lights due to an increasing traffic problem during rush hour. Peak rush hour lasted as long as two hours. “If all drivers were careful and particular, traffic might move smoothly of its own accord, without any regulation other than courtesy, but there seems to be a human weakness of “Beating the other fellow to it” which leads us into trouble.” The report goes on to describe the average American as “pretty self-reliant” with the tendency to “get their first strong in us all”.
Traffic signals had been around for around ten years when they first appeared in Seattle. The first electric traffic signal was installed in 1914 on the corner of Euclid Ave and E 105th St in Cleveland, Ohio. The first traffic signals were red and green with a buzzer to indicate the signal change. The first three color traffic signal as we know today was created by Detroit Police Officer, William Potts in 1920 and was utilized on the corner of Woodward and Michigan Ave in Detroit.
The new traffic lights could be manually controlled by officers but it was soon realized the automated light cycles of roughly 30 seconds worked more efficiently. The new traffic lights were a huge success. There were some difficulties with the first traffic signals, most notably seeing the green light during sunset hours. To provide better visibility and offset the low angle sunset glare on the west facing lights, shades were added.
The first traffic signals cost $685.00 each. Today LED traffic signals costs roughly $300 per fixture and less than $125 per bulb. There are currently more than 975 traffic lights in the city of Seattle. Traffic signals have fundamentally remained the same over the past eight decades, but are now integrated and far more automated, using calculate timing to meet the needs of traffic flow. Technology continues and adapts to meet our needs. LED traffic lights are cheaper to maintain and use less energy but are not hot enough to melt snow. Highway smart lanes do not recognize gridlock in inclement weather and still suggest sixty miles per hour in white out conditions. Toll lanes do not work with other regional passes and bike boxes add to urban congestion when right turns at busy intersections are no longer allowed. Despite all of the traffic safety advances and quirks yet to be worked out, there will always be a need for a traffic cop and his whistle.

History Lives in Our Ironwood Sticks

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of The Guardian, Volume 42 issue 7.

There are a lot of transplants in this area. Many of the department’s officers have traveled here from other regions of the country. For those interested in the city’s past, there are great books out there covering different niche’s and historical aspects of the city’s roots, decline, and for better or worse, rebirth. An anarchist recently told officers in the East Precinct that they were, “on the wrong side of history.” Less than a block from his house is a tagging of a burning police officer and the words, “History is Made on the Streets.” An easy statement to make from the sidelines. There is a lot of history here and because so many came from somewhere else there is a lot of unknown history.
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MS Ride 150

What is MS?
Having multiple sclerosis means that you may suddenly have blurry vision. Or that your memory will fail you for no apparent reason. Or that you may not always be able to walk, let alone ride a bike. The symptoms of MS are different for everyone – the only certainty is that it will affect yet another person every hour of every day.

Why I Ride
When I first became interested in law enforcement one of the things that drew me to urban police work was the desire to join a bike patrol squad. I had only attempted to ride a bicycle a few times as an adult. Growing up on the flat terrain of south east Michigan, the concept of shifting gears on hills did not come naturally to me. It wasn?t until I was eligible to attend our department?s bike training that I seriously got into cycling. My Field Training Officer told me if I was ever at all interested in riding, I should take the training if it were available. ?I thought I knew how to ride a bicycle? he told me, ?but they teach you to do things I?ve never done before and it will make you a more confident rider.?

The class follows the International Police Mountain Bike Association standards. It is a weeklong; includes class room lessons, skill course riding, tactics, and long training rides. During the course of the week we had spent 20-30 hours on a bike and had ridden roughly 60 miles. My longest ride until then was a 5 mile round trip to Dairy Queen on a three speed Schwinn. The class was intended to make us competent patrol riders in an urban environment, not teach us how to ride. We were asked to be strong proficient riders before starting the course. A few months before the class I bought what I thought was a decent bike, despite being told by the guys at the bike shop I would quickly outgrow it. I learned to ride on a hybrid bicycle, commuting to work and mastered shifting on the east/west glacier carved hills of Bainbridge Island. Eventually I passed the class and took to riding in a way that I did not expect. I split my commute time between my motorcycle and bicycle. When my rear motorcycle tire got a punctured flat I put off fixing it because it forced me to get out and cycle, even when the weather was less than desirable. I eventually upgraded to a road bike and began riding harder, faster and farther. My longest ride to date is 35 miles. This past February I rode through rain and snow during the annual Chilly Hilly. I had a blast.

I have spent the past two years as a den leader for my son?s Cub Scout Pack. Recently the mother of one scout?s in our group was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My only knowledge of MS was from an elementary school assembly I attended decades earlier and the ?Is it the soil?? billboard campaign throughout the region. Her husband and I had talked off and on about riding. He impressed me by participating in the MS ride last year. It sounded challenging and fun. As our conversations continued and my skills and passion for riding increased, I was asked to join their team during the 2011 MS Ride. I am honored to be a part of their team and look forward to the many miles we?ll cover in preparation for September. Please join me in supporting the fight against Multiple Sclerosis by sponsoring me in this ride.

Why You Should Sponsor Me
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society will use funds collected from the Bike MS Ride to not only support research for a cure tomorrow, but also to provide programs which address the needs of people living with MS today. Because we can fight this disease by simply riding a bike, because we have chosen to help thousands of people through a contribution to the Bike MS Ride, we are now getting closer to the hour when no one will have to hear the words, “You have MS.”

I am trying to raise $500 by the end of summer. Please consider sponsoring me: here

Tragedy and Empathy

One of the best lines I have read so far in Moby Dick, is at the end of Chapter 68 – The Blanket. “Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”
So to is it in police work. The juxtaposition between the streets I patrol at night and the wooded isle I inhabit by day is stark and deliberate. Over the past ten years, in the course of my twenties, by body has endured two branches of servitude and a third uniformed profession, submersed in the carnal chaos I tend to thrive. During that time, in moments of existential clarity, I take note and question my growing cynicism. In reading this Psychology Today article, Don’t Harden Your Heart, the following lines are all too familiar. “I can’t do anything about it; so I don’t care.”

About six years ago after reading Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint, while I struggled with my own involvement in a larger movement I questioned more and more, I came to the conclusion that there is so much information both classified and free, disseminating from regions of conflict. No matter how much you read, no matter how well informed you are, there existed a separate world, one in which we can only absorb even when participating at the cutting edge. Compartmentalization and resiliency go hand in hand. Recognizing the need to cultivate empathy when days have been filled constantly surrounded by mental illness, drug abuse, violence, and the worst of human behavior while people are enduring the worst of times, it sometimes takes an effort to recognize the rest of the world or even the city is not as bad as I perceive it, not to mention the rotting bodies decomposing for days and weeks on end, the unmistakable smell of death, brain matter leaking from an ear as we attempt to breath life into a crepitated soul, eyes wide with a flutter pulse. A paremedic once described such resiliency as detatched empathy and the need to exist in the realm between empathy and overwhelming anxiety stemming from our emotional compassion.

At times it is better to remember that no matter how much you may love this job, the job will never love you and more often it isn’t what you do for a living but how it allows you to spend your free time that matters most.

Commercial Burglary

Creative non-fiction

The first time I could appreciate the Indian summer night was when I stepped out of my patrol car along the edge of downtown. The humidity reminded me of the midwestern nights I had left behind so many years ago. A call came in as a commercial burglary alarm at a storage facility. According to the alarm company it was tripped ten minutes earlier. I vaguely recalled the location, which is out of my sector, as a four to five story self storage place. I pulled my car to the curb and turned my headlights off, leaving only my parking lights illuminated for other units to see should they need to find us quickly. I stepped up onto the broken curb. I contemplated whether or not to bring my shotgun.
The radio crackled, “For the units on the alarm, the owner is en route. Estimate drive time of ten to fifteen minutes. Will be arriving in a red pick-up truck.”
My partner keyed his shoulder mic as he stepped out of his car, which was parked ahead of me. “Edward Twenty-One, received.”
My partner and I checked the front door. It was locked. There were two transients sitting on the steps. One of them was wearing a tattered overcoat, too warm for the evening. “Why are you guys harassing us?” He muttered, his speech slurred from the two dollar bottle of Sherry he kept in his coat pocket.
“Knock it off.” My partner snapped back, “Have you guys seen anything suspicious?
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? We’re just sittin’ here is all.” I could tell by my partner’s inflection that he didn’t think these two were involved and was probably just contacting them because he wouldn’t be doing his job otherwise.
The alarm was on the other side of the lot. My partner advised radio the building appeared to be secure. I heard the soft metal clanging of a chain link fence scraping against the ground as someone climbed over it. I looked down into the parking lot and saw a shadowy figure running away from us. We quickly moved around the corner and closed on the suspect. We turned the corner and saw the shadowy figure jump a second fence and run to a nearby truck. The man got into the passenger side. My partner, who was the primary officer told me he wanted to stop the car. We approached the car head on in the alley from behind the cover of a couple of dumpsters along the curb. The light from our flashlights lit up the cab of the truck. There were two people inside and the driver just turned the ignition. My gun found its way to my hand. I was holding it at the low ready; down at a forty-five degree angle, finger indexed and safely off the trigger. For an instant I was aware of the automaton my training had instilled in me. The truck lurched forward. The lights quickly turned on and immediately went dark as they realized they were facing the police. We got closer. I started to make out the color of the dark truck. It was red. This might have been the key holder but his actions seemed otherwise, running around and climbing fences in the middle of the night. I radioed in the plate. We contacted the suspect. He turned out to be the key holder. Radio informed me the plate of the red truck I had ran belonged to him as well.
I’m not sure why someone who knew the police were on their way to a possible burglary at their place would show up and run around in the shadows of the back parking lot and hop fences. Most alarms turn out to be false and most key holders take much longer to respond. This is the first time I’ve had a key holder take the investigation upon themselves, which from their point of view might be understandable. Even now I am reminded of a scenario very much like this at the academy over two years ago. I hope when my house gets burglarized, should it ever happen, and I tell the call taker I will be waiting outside in my car, that I will have the foresight to stay there and not suspiciously run around my place looking for bad guys when my own local police arrive.