My motorist assist wasn't going very well. What had looked like a standard assist with two fellows having a problem towing a vehicle had turned "hinky."
Their answers just didn't ring true, and they kept trying to get me in between them.
Backing out and telling them I was letting them handle their problem after I threw out a couple of flares, I got back to the radio and called for a backup ASAP.
Radio advised the plates had come back "negative" and a tac unit was en route. I breathed a sigh of relief and, as I exited my vehicle, my backup was already pulling up.
The door of the unmarked unit swung open and a giant of a man pulled himself out of the car. Fran Karn was no stranger to this rookie. He had been my PT and DT instructor in the academy, and even though he had tried to be the "drill instructor" type his humor and informal leadership skills made him not only our favorite instructor but the one who we all hoped to become.
Everything Fran did, he did well. When he left the academy, he went right into Tucson's tactical unit, which worked special assignments and surveillances as well as acted as assisted patrol with any major arrest or crime.
So this night Fran walked by me watching the suspicious vehicle and subjects as I began talking about how weird these two dudes were acting and, without taking his eyes off the vehicles and subjects, walked to the rear of the towed vehicle, reached down to the license plate, and picked it up. It wasn't even attached and worse, it was a front plate covered with bugs! "Yep," he said, "I'd call this suspicious."
After the two suspects confessed to stealing the towed vehicle from a repair shop and were sent off to the county in a transport unit, Fran patiently explained the signs of a stolen vehicle. He never criticized me, he only encouraged me.
A couple of years later I was sitting with Fran in a tac car, and we were doing surveillance. I must confess I had chosen that path because it was one Fran had chosen.
Eventually, we both went our separate ways. Fran went to a special anti-drug organization and I went to work for the Arizona DPS. I assumed our paths would only pass again by coincidence. In early 1987, I was given a marvelous squad of agents in the Southern Region based in Tucson. Much to my delight Fran Karn had been brought into our unit.
Again, it was my turn to marvel at this man who never took a sergeant's test, but ran every unit he was ever in with natural informal leadership abilities. I was the Sergeant, but he was "The Man."
Fran loved police work and cared for everyone he worked with. He was and is the best cop I ever knew. He always reminded everyone of officer safety and was always willing to be "the key" on any locked door we came upon in a warrant entry. His great mass turned many a door into matchsticks, but it was his unhesitating courage that really led us into harm's way.
If you are truly lucky you will have someone like this in your department, man or woman, you automatically think of when someone says, "a hail-fellow-well-met."
He called my house just the other day. He is retired now and living with his wonderful wife in Yuma, so he can spend his days with his grandkids. We laughed over old times and good friends and when we hung up I thought how lucky I had been to have a man like him in my life that I tried to model the best I could.
Dave Smith is the creator and star of the "Buck Savage" series and a former law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the Lead Instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival Seminar.