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Departments : The Beat

Jake and the Snake

Police work isn’t for the faint of heart…or for those impossible to locate on duty.

May 01, 2005  |  by Frank Thornburgh

 During the mid-1980s I worked in the department of public safety for a large private senior citizen community of several thousand residents. We were their private police department, composed of retired police officers or former police officers like myself.

All 20 or so of us were over 50 except for the dispatchers and Jake, who was in his late 20s. Jake was a fairly big bodybuilder, with a questionable IQ. He was also a champion goof off who frequently could not be found and often did not answer his radio for assignments. The rest of the department was constantly burdened by having to take his calls when he could not be located.

Word got around that when he disappeared he was usually down in our squad room doing bodybuilding exercises. The guys also said that his locker door was usually left open with smelly clothes hanging out of it. I did not use the locker room, but decided to look in to see what they were talking about for future
reference.

I doubt that I was the only one thinking of ways to do something about Jake, considering he was such a liability and a pain to work with.

A short time later I heard that he was afraid of snakes. You can probably guess what sorts of ideas came into my head. I passed the word around that if any snake calls came in while I was on duty I wanted to take them. Summertime meant we might get a snake call every two weeks. Finally, I got a snake call when Jake and I were on duty together.

I went out and caught this juvenile rattlesnake and put it in a clear plastic bag with a few small holes in it for air. I drove around to make sure Jake was not in the squad room. Then I put the bagged snake in the only smelly locker with the door standing open.

After I was back on patrol for an hour or so, I started to worry why no one had heard from Jake. I drove to the dispatch office and asked the dispatcher and shift commander if they knew where Jake was. The answer was, “No, he’s probably hiding out in the squad room.” This started to concern me a little since some people when confronted with a snake, even bodybuilders, could have cardiac arrest.

I drove to the squad room building and walked up on the porch as out the door flew Jake. His face was sort of purple. He had a little foam on both corners of his mouth and he was stuttering half out of breath, “I…I…kn…know it…w…was you, Thornburgh…it…it…had…t…to be you.” I gave him plenty of room while acting innocent as he ran out to his patrol car and drove off. At least he was alive.

I went in, got the snake, took it out to some open space, and turned it loose, so as to leave no evidence.

The next time the chief was in, he asked me about it with sort of a straight face and I told him the bare facts with sort of a straight face. That was that. Jake quit a short time later. The snake and I were smiling.

Frank Thornburgh grew up in Indiana before moving to California to become a police officer. He now works as a freelance magazine writer.

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