Sometimes cops assume things are kosher when they're not, and vice versa. But as a profession, we generally do well by short-hand stereotypes.

Still, we can become too dependent on the obvious. Criminals count on as much. Some of the most prolific burglars and robbers in history would go out of their way to camouflage themselves as members of good standing. Decked out in business attire and carrying attaché cases - today, it'd no doubt be a notebook - they'd work their way into their building of preference and ply their trades. By mixing in, they were able to escape detection for years; some were never caught.

I've often wondered how many bad guys I missed through the years because I was fixated on looking for hypes wearing long-sleeved Pendleton shirts in summer. The first time I really considered the prospect was many years ago - and I wasn't even on duty at the time.

I was in Las Vegas playing blackjack and financing another wing to the MGM Grand when I found myself seated next to a middle-aged woman. She announced herself as an attendee to a Redken convention taking place next door. Everything about her makeup and attire suggested that she acquitted herself well in that capacity, and as she was prone to laugh whether she won or lost, she seemed nice enough. Definitely not the kind of person I'd normally be giving a second glance at when it came to the prospects of criminal endeavor.

But after a few minutes I found myself staring at her wrist. It wasn't the insanely expensive Luccien Piccard wristwatch that fixated my attention, but what I saw occupying the skin below and around it.

Needle marks.

The woman had more tracks than Union Pacific.

I couldn't believe it. While I don't imagine drug abuse to be wholly uncommon in the beauty industry, she was the best dressed hype I ever saw.

But it also got me thinking. What with all the billions of dollars of narcotics being brought into this country annually, we seem to catch the small fry tweakers more often than not.

Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum - the people so conspicuously on our radar that they somehow get lost in the shuffle.

Shortly after I transferred to Industry Station, I heard about a deputy whose physical appearance and manner suggested nothing so much as a textbook pedophile. Whenever some crime broadcast involving a pervert was read in briefing, all heads would swivel toward this particular deputy and he'd get razzed with "where were you?" inquiries. Throughout, he'd smile good-naturedly and nod his head in affected guilt to the bemusement of all.

The thing is, it turns out the guy really was a pervert.

When he was finally arrested for molesting children, investigators found in his locker journals of his crimes written on department crime report paper: He'd been chronicling his offenses at the very time that he'd been getting kidded about committing such crimes.

Later, a few of the guys admitted that they'd ultimately never taken seriously the possibility that the guy might really be a pedophile because he was a deputy sheriff. The fact that he was seemingly one of them trumped all.

There'll always be disputes about racial profiling and stereotypes. Sometimes the stereotypes are true. But my point is that if you become too dependent on the stereotypes, you may find yourself as apt to miss out on obvious offenders as you are the less conspicuous examples.

Sometimes, it takes something else to confirm your suspicions. In the case of the Redken riffler, I considered the possibility that maybe she just had an unconventional manner of treating her diabetes.

But then she split sixes against a 10.

And to do that, she had to be stoned.

Author

Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Dean Scoville

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio
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