FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
November 2018 (3)
October 2018 (4)
September 2018 (3)
August 2018 (6)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (3)
April 2018 (1)
March 2018 (2)
January 2018 (1)
September 2017 (1)
August 2017 (1)
May 2017 (1)
April 2017 (1)
January 2017 (1)
November 2016 (1)
September 2016 (1)
June 2016 (2)
May 2016 (3)
April 2016 (2)
March 2016 (1)
February 2016 (3)
January 2016 (1)
December 2015 (1)
November 2015 (5)
October 2015 (1)
September 2015 (3)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (6)
June 2015 (3)
May 2015 (2)
April 2015 (3)
March 2015 (5)
February 2015 (1)
January 2015 (1)
December 2014 (9)
October 2014 (2)
September 2014 (2)
August 2014 (2)
July 2014 (1)
June 2014 (2)
May 2014 (2)
April 2014 (4)
March 2014 (2)
February 2014 (3)
January 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (3)
September 2013 (5)
August 2013 (3)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (5)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (3)
December 2012 (5)
November 2012 (2)
October 2012 (4)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (4)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (5)
April 2012 (6)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (5)
December 2011 (5)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (3)
September 2011 (3)
August 2011 (2)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (4)
April 2011 (3)
March 2011 (5)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (3)
December 2010 (2)
November 2010 (4)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (5)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (4)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (3)
March 2010 (3)
February 2010 (1)
January 2010 (3)
December 2009 (4)
November 2009 (4)
October 2009 (2)
September 2009 (3)
August 2009 (4)
July 2009 (5)
June 2009 (3)
May 2009 (5)
April 2009 (4)
March 2009 (4)
February 2009 (3)
January 2009 (2)
December 2008 (4)
November 2008 (3)
October 2008 (3)
September 2008 (3)
August 2008 (2)
July 2008 (3)
June 2008 (4)
May 2008 (5)
April 2008 (5)
March 2008 (4)
February 2008 (5)
January 2008 (3)
December 2007 (2)
November 2007 (5)
October 2007 (4)
September 2007 (4)
August 2007 (5)
July 2007 (4)
June 2007 (4)
May 2007 (5)

Don't Discount Info From Inmates

Getting it straight from the horse's mouth (or other orifices) can provide great intel.

May 13, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Photo via PeachTea (Flickr)

I processed for both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. While both were similar in size, I saw each as having pluses and minuses.

To the world at large, LAPD had the prestige and name recognition, but you'd always be confined to working the city limits: Good luck finding something commuter friendly if you wanted to live elsewhere.

As the largest sheriff's department in the world, LASD had an excellent reputation for its innovations, and the odds of finding a substation close to home were pretty good. But unlike LAPD, you had to work custody before going to patrol.

LASD called first, and so I found myself starting my career at the Hall of Justice Jail. If I didn't like the thought of working custody, I found the reality was worse. The jails had a ridiculous ratio of inmates to deputies and many of the facilities were little more than architectural Petri dishes. (Rumor had it that a study group came in and discovered 30 previously unknown bacteria in the Men's Central Jail ventilation system.)

Also, the high concentration of crass illiterates saw my own vocabulary falling quickly down to their level. Talking like a sailor proved the best way to get my point across.

I decided to make the best of what I perceived to be a bad situation and follow the advice of an old timer who told me to talk to the inmates and pick their brains. The smart-ass in me wanted to say, "I'd have a hard time locating any gray matter in one of their heads, let alone pick at it."

But the fact was many of the inmates proved notoriously inventive in fashioning everything from make-up to shanks. I marveled at what many might have accomplished if they'd used their imaginations for some legitimate enterprise.

To my surprise I also found many weren't above talking with me, and it was while working the jail that I had an opportunity to do something most of my LAPD peers didn't: acquire intel straight from the source before getting up close and personal with them on the street.

Often, they were the ones initiating conversation, always with some agenda in mind: more phone time, double-ups on food, "Can we watch something aside from 'T.J. Hooker'?" (No), etc.

I may not have been around that many hardened criminals before, but I didn't want anyone exploiting my naivete. So I'd establish a credibility baseline by asking questions I already knew the answers to in a bid to make sure I wasn't getting jerked around on the stuff I wanted to find out about later.

Sometimes this BS detector was oriented around general knowledge, such as what constituted a hype kit, or what they were in for. Other times, it was about things I'd heard them say while I listened in the pipechase behind their cells when they'd be talking shit about old ladies, homies, and us.

I found myself steeped in a new idiom where a "green light" had fatal implications, and neither "jerking off" nor "horning" had nothing to do with lusty pursuits, but a "hood rat" did. I learned that you didn't want to be "bumping titties" or going "tits up."

It was edifying to discover that "speedballs" and "8 balls" had nothing to do with sports, and what my perceptions of PCP would be like ("It smells like a cross between ether and nail polish...and you'll probably get a contact-high headache"—a description that I found particularly apt, particularly if I made the mistake of driving back to the station with the windows up and some duster in the backseat).

They taught me the tricks of their respective trades. How to hotwire cars, and what cars were easiest to steal. I was told that "booster bags" weren't NASA-logoed handbags, and that a Sherm had nothing to do with my boss, Sherman Block, but quite a bit to do with "super cools."

They told me how they did their shit, where they their shit, and how they hid it.

They gave me insight as to the ins and outs of getting fake IDs and where they'd piecemeal their counterfeit currency (dark bars and strip clubs).

I learned the significance of their tattoos (e.g., the teardrop), and how to discriminate between jail tats and those of parlors.

These were custodial interrogations in the most literal sense but without the usual legal ramifications, and throughout them I made a point of listening with some sort of empathy for where they were coming from. Ultimately, we all want to be heard by a sympathetic audience, and when you've got nothing but time you'll sometimes settle for some surprising audiences. With me, they at least knew I was paying attention.

Eventually, a vast majority of these people would be back on the streets; I dealt with more than a few of them later. Of those that I did, the rapport I'd developed on the inside often helped on the outside (but not always).

So if you're not already in the habit of doing so, might I suggest that you put aside the Kindle or DS player you're passing the time with and walk back to your jail or court lock-up. See if there's someone who's not above shooting the shit with you.

Just make sure that the shit they're shooting isn't of a bovine nature.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Joe Glen @ 5/13/2010 8:43 PM

Dean: You are right on the money. I am a parole agent, and have worked OT inside the facility. Once I was searching for an abscond parolee on warrant status. I came to work in the prison that evening, his homie told me the address where he was. I called the gang unit LEO who put out a stake out. We effected a successful capture, and solved two car thefts in the process. All because of prison information. I still find it strange why his homie would do him like that, but they snitch each other out all the time. Thanks.

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Recharging Your Batteries: The Benefits of "Unplugging"
There is certainly benefit to being current on events involving the people you consider...
Speaking on the Unspeakable: Ending the Pandemic of Police Officer Suicide
I've talked with officers who have lost a colleague to suicide—as well as many widows of...

Police Magazine