Some police officers are always looking for the big arrest out in the streets: rolling stolen vehicles, drug dealers in the middle of a sale, an armed robbery in progress. They try to avoid the unimportant radio calls so they can be free for a Code-3 dispatch, and the rush of a lights and siren response. They are "big game hunters." Only felonies need apply. Misdemeanors or infractions are not important enough for them.
Unfortunately, the big game hunter spends so much time waiting for the big arrest that lots of good and equally important enforcement duties are missed. And that could have dire consequences. Consider the following fictional story.
Seth, a 24-year-old neo-Nazi, wanted to make a difference in restoring America's "racial purity." For several weeks, he had been parking his van on Georgetown Avenue, facing the northern runways of Los Angeles International Airport, and planning his path to glory. He would become an inspiration to thousands of patriots within neo-Nazi groups by shooting down a China Airways 747.
Seth parked his van on the same spot on Georgetown Avenue, right next to one of the many posted signs that warned drivers that this was a "No Stopping Anytime-Tow- Away" zone. What a laugh! If and when the police officer (whose job it was to ensure the security of all passengers traveling into or out of LAX) came by his location, he wouldn't even stop and warn the many cars that parked there daily in defiance of the posted signs. Seth studied police culture and more often than not, officers in L.A. were "big game hunters." That meant they wouldn't bother enforcing silly parking violations.
His van's rectangular rear window had been removed, and a wooden platform had been built over the rear seats that was strong enough to hold a .50 caliber semi-automatic rifle. The .50 was chosen because it could fire a 650-grain bullet over three-and-a-half miles. With a 10-power telescope and human eyesight, the maximum distance for an absolute master was approximately 2,000 yards. Seth was no master, but he was good enough to hit the target at approximately 700 to 1,000 feet away.
He couldn't believe it. In Los Angeles, a person could park his car in a tow-away zone by the international airport's perimeter fence and be within spitting distance of a jetliner.
Seth set up the rifle and everything was ready. Soon, he would send a tracer round (or two) the size of a large cigar into the fuel tank of a 747-400 on a take-off run. He calculated that given the large plane's heavy load for the long transoceanic trip, the plane would be just about getting off the ground, with its four engines at full throttle, at a point just perpendicular to his location. Seth would become a hero to his cause today, thanks to the big game hunters patrolling our streets.
The "big game hunter" is easy to identify. He is the officer who doesn't carry parking citation books because he's not a meter maid. He is the officer who hates responding to domestic violence calls because he's no social worker. He hates responding to landlord/tenant disputes because it's a waste of his time and keeps him from catching armed robbers or getting into a pursuit. You know, the real important stuff.
But what the "big game hunter" doesn't know is that the officer who pays attention to the little things on his beat will make much bigger arrests. Such an officer would have been interested in a van parked in a tow-away zone, and such an officer would have investigated its presence. Such an officer might have caught Seth in the planning stages of his terrorist act, and saved the lives of hundreds of people.
Don't believe me? Timothy McVeigh was arrested by a trooper investigating a license plate violation.
Police supervisors need to recognize the officers who do the everyday "little things" out on patrol. The officers who don't always get the big arrests are doing just as important a job stopping cars for simple traffic violations. That driver might just be a serial killer wanted for several murders.
Sgt. André Belotto is a 14-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. Belotto currently supervises a Special Enforcement Unit tasked with investigating and arresting career criminals. His experience includes patrol, bike detail, and field training.