Saturday, November 14, 2009

On the beat with the CRU

This was the first story I ever consciously attempted to hammer a story into a the fictional structure. My wife and I had been watching a bunch of Battlestar Galactica and there were three episodes in a row where they started at the end of the story and jumped back to the beginning. When I sat down to write this I guess that's where my mind was at.

Published March 17, 2006, in the Keizertimes

Guns drawn, officers Jeff Isham, Jeff Johnson and David Zavala rush a sedan that just came to an abrupt halt on Broadway Street Northeast.

In unmarked cars, the three officers boxed the driver in on the side of the road. The suspect, with three guns suddenly pointed at him, is wide-eyed and bewildered but offers no resistance.

As he is removed from the car, $300 in cash drops to the pavement.

"That's our money," says Isham, a sergeant for Keizer police department and lead officer of the Community Response Unit (CRU, pronounced crew).

It's 7:02 p.m. Tuesday, March 7.

Earlier that day

Maureen, a police informant, is picked up by a Keizer patrol officer on an outstanding warrant.

A few days ago she was arrested with her boyfriend who was dealing meth.

"She has a no-contact order with him, because they get together and deal. A warrant was issued later because of the violation and the patrol officer saw her and picked her up," said Isham.

Maureen is taken to Marion County Correctional Facility where she is cited and released. In the meantime, officers from the CRU contact her probation officer.

Later that afternoon she reports back to the Keizer police to make a controlled drug buy.

"She buys heroin for an elderly guy she's lived with for about a year and a half," Isham said.

This isn't her first contact with the CRU, she's had a handful of encounters with the officers for both dealing and frequenting places where drugs are being used and sold. She's helped the CRU set up "buy–busts" on other occasions.

Maureen agrees to help out again in exchange for a "good word" to the Marion County District Attorney's Office.

A buy-bust is the most frequent type of arrest the officers of the CRU make.

"It usually just isn't worth it to put the man hours into long investigations in hopes of catching the dealers with a big score. Most of they time we can arrest them in a buy-bust and get just as much product as we would with a longer investigation," Isham said.

The CRU has made the headlines with increasing frequency over the last several months. When a trio of teens spent Halloween weekend 2005 smashing pumpkins and damaging private property throughout the city, the CRU solved the case. They also played a pivotal role in bringing to justice an armed robber who made a habit of victimizing businesses on River Road.

The CRU's position in the department is somewhat unique. Unlike most of the other Keizer cops, they work a swing shift that allows them to focus on their two main assignments, drug and gang activity. But the officers are able to take on other assignments like the pumpkin and robbery cases because they aren't tied to a desk or responding to incoming calls for service that patrol officers are responsible for handling.

Doper time: 6 p.m.

Maureen enters a six-by-eight room in the Keizer Police Station with Officer Chris Nelson, the fourth member of the CRU.

The room is sound-proofed to the best of the department's ability with gray, carpeted walls, but the custodial staff treads lightly as they pass making their rounds with brooms, mops and trash cans on wheels.

"She's making calls to suppliers trying to find someone who will deliver heroin. What happens next depends on the dealers," Isham said.

The CRU is now on "doper time."

From this point until the arrest is made, the dealer will control much of the action. Isham calls the dealers "unreliable" at best, which is why it's called doper time.

In addition to listening in on Maureen's calls, Nelson makes decisions about Maureen's credibility and that of her dealer.

"I have to make decision like that while listening to the conversation because we can't act on information that might put us or someone else in jeopardy," Nelson said.

The CRU pushes for certain locations they know well or that have little civilian activity, but they can't always get what they want.

Tonight is one of those nights.

Prep work

Maureen is inside for 25 minutes before finding someone with the product. The supplier wants to meet in half an hour, but the location is not of the CRU's choosing.

The officers in their police uniforms change into civilian clothing with kevlar padding underneath.

As Isham straps on his protective vest, Maureen approaches him and admits she's scared.

"What are you scared of?" he asks.

She says she doesn't want to get shot.

Isham asks if the supplier usually carries a gun. She doesn't know.

Later, Isham says, "She's the kind of person who would tell us if she knew."

The four CRU members gather in their office and Johnson picks up a marker and draws a map of the site on a whiteboard.

Each CRU officer will be in a different unmarked car. Nelson will drop off Maureen at the site while Johnson and Zavala watch from nearby vantage points. Isham will be across the street in another parking lot.

It isn't until he's in his car en route to the buy location that Isham confesses Maureen's statements about the getting shot are "worrying."

One last hitch

At 6:50 p.m. Nelson drops off Maureen at the buy location giving her $300 dollars as she exits his vehicle.

Since leaving the station, the officers communicate via two-way radios because many of the dealers are "scanner junkies."

An order has been issued for marked police vehicles to stay out of the area so as not to scare off the dealer who's supposed to be arriving in a white sedan.

At 6:55, a pewter-colored sedan enters the parking lot and begins to slowly circle the lot like a shark feeling out it's prey.

He pulls up to Maureen who gets in the car, something she's not supposed to do.

The pair continue to slowly meander through the parking lot in the sedan, just as the dealer is about to leave the lot, Maureen exits the car and the man drives off.

Maureen bends down to tie her shoe and the game is afoot.

A chase

Isham pulls into position to follow the man and as the dealer passes in front of the headlights he looks directly into Isham's vehicle.

His face turns white in the halogen headlights like that of a man being haunted. Even if he doesn't know it yet.

The dealer drives quickly away from the scene. He doesn't seem to know he's being followed, but he's not taking any chances. The unmarked vehicles strain to keep pace as the officers try to create a box to trap him.

The dealer makes a right turn onto Broadway Street Northeast where the posted speed limit is slower. It's all the opening the CRU needs.

Zavala pulls ahead of the sedan, Isham alongside and Johnson brings up the rear.

The man comes to a stop and the three officers rush the car. Isham picks up the money off the street.

The sedan is an expensive luxury vehicle.

"Drug dealing doesn't know any bounds," says Johnson.


Nelson took Maureen back home after spiriting her away from the buy location.

She'll be back again tomorrow to help the CRU set up a methamphetamine deal.

Zavala interviews the man they arrested, now known as "Grandpa" because of his age. He is joined by Isham as they try to encourage him into turning on his product sources.

He agrees, but he can't do it tonight.

"He says that heroin is a daytime gig and anyone he called tonight would immediately know something was up," Isham says.

He's agreed to help them out the next day though. If all goes well, the CRU will make at least two more busts in the next 24 hours stemming directly from the activity this day.

When asked how the bust went, Johnson replies, "There is no good or bad. There's just the question whether everyone is safe. Tonight they are."

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