The Hot Prowl

One of the first things a rookie cop learns is not to ignore a citizen’s report,
no matter how weird.

Back when I was a rookie cop on the San Diego force, my partner (even more of a rookie) and I were working graveyards in Pacific Beach, a funky ocean side neighborhood that draws college students, homeless, psychotics, alcoholics, sex-crazed teens, and anti-authoritarian types from all over the country.

One night we were called to the scene of a hot prowl burglary. The victim was a 40-something male, living in a small (and I mean, small) studio apartment right on the beach.

Basically, the victim's story was that he was lying in bed, dozing off, when the front door opened and this young guy walked right in. The victim stayed in bed with the covers pulled up to his chin, but now he was obviously wide awake. The young guy walked around the room, took some money off of the dresser, said "Hi" to the victim who was cowering in his bed, and left.

Now to me, this sounded totally unbelievable. The victim didn't yell, jump up, do anything to scare this guy off, or challenge him in any way? And the supposed burglar just walked in, sauntered around the room scooping up cash off the dresser, knowing that the victim was wide awake and watching him? I had my doubts. But then, I hadn't worked the Beach very long.

I was thinking to myself, "This guy is a few fries short of a combo meal." But I figured it was better not to argue, just take the report and get out.

The victim gave me a description of the suspect: white male, brown hair, wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt. Uh-huh, uh-huh. I finished the report in record time. I was worried the guy was going to cop to being the second gunman on the Grassy Knoll.

Finishing my notes, I told the victim that a detective would call him in the morning. (Now I was telling tall tales.) He was really spooked and asked us to walk him down to the underground parking lot. "Sure, no problem, happy to oblige," I said in my best servant-of-the-people voice.

We rode the elevator down to the parking lot. The doors opened, and there about 10 feet away was a white male, brown hair, and, sure enough, a blue-and-white striped shirt, who was breaking into a parked car. "That's him," the victim said in a matter-of-fact tone, as if he expected the dude to be standing there all along.

Of course, the magic burglar was as shocked to see two cops and his former victim standing there as we were to see him. He ran. We chased.

He had a head start and made it up the stairs to (it figures) the dark alleyway. We ran him down the alley for two blocks. We were right behind him the whole way but lost him around the corner. Crummy little duplexes lined both sides of the next alley.

All of a sudden, a helpful citizen threw open the door to his place and called over to us. It seems our burglar was crouched down behind a bush, tapping on the window, hoping the guy would let him in.

The bad guy jumped up from behind the bush and tried to scramble over a fence. My partner grabbed him and literally threw him to the ground. We then dog piled on this guy like he was a fumble on the 10-yard line.

We were all out of breath. I had the suspect's left wrist; my partner had his right. And believe me, he wasn't going anywhere with about 400 pounds of rookie cops and city-issued equipment on top of him.

As we started to cuff him, I felt something sharp pressing against my side but I ignored it for the moment. I then lifted up as I was bringing the suspect's hand behind his back and sticking out of his back pocket was a huge butcher's knife.

We got his hands behind his back and cuffed. And I took custody of the knife. My partner and I exchanged looks. We were both thinking the same thing.

This call could've gotten deadly a dozen different ways, starting with the victim being murdered in his bed and ending with one or both of us bleeding to death in a back alley. I learned a lesson about police work that night. No matter how unbelievable a citizen's report of a crime, absolutely anything is possible.

Especially in the Beach...

George Eliseo served 11 years as a patrol officer for the San Diego Police Department before retiring in 2000.

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