An Indianapolis PD Officer conducts a murder investigation after a routine traffic stop led to the discovery of bloody clothes and bedding. Photo AP/Michael Conroy
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Pull a U-turn, there's Sartellie! Teddy Sartellie was a well-known heroin user. He was reaching for the door of a brand new Ford I knew he didn't own. In a tight turn, Nick swung around our unmarked police car. The wheels squealed. Sartellie abruptly stopped reaching for the vehicle and stepped quickly to the sidewalk.
We popped out of our car and ordered him to stop. Where did you get the new car, Teddy? Nick asked as we walked rapidly toward him. He responded, What car?
This one; the one you were about to get in, I said. He denied knowing anything, so we knew something was going on. We made sure he had no weapons and put him in the back seat of the squad.
I queried our police information system. The license plate came back clean, with no wants or warrants, and Sartellie smiled. But when the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registration data appeared on the screen, it described a much older car registered to Sartellie than the one in front of us. His smile immediately drooped to a Whoops, I m caught look. The car was stolen, connected to several burglaries, and had a trunk full of electronic equipment.
More to the Story
We were pretty excited about a good obs arrest. The tow truck quoted a 30-minute delay, so I went across the street to get some lunch while Nick interrogated our arrestee. I entered the caf and ordered some sandwiches. The bartender was friendly. He asked about our activity across the street and, being young and proud, I blabbed the details without hesitation. A few weeks later, I found out this same man was the fence (receiver of stolen property) Sartellie had been using. If I d looked behind the bar that day, I would ve seen other stolen property already delivered.
As a young officer assigned to a specialized unit, I was focused too focused. Being inexperienced and proud of that obs arrest, I didn t look at the big picture. Nick later revealed his suspicions about the businesses around the scene of the arrest. It was his investigation that eventually led to the bartender s arrest.
Eyes Wide Open
Another scenario: Two officers are working a specialized uniform accident investigation unit. They notice a vehicle involved in a collision they re investigating sitting unusually low. They carefully establish probable cause to look in the trunk of the car and find four manhole covers. There has been a rash of manhole covers stolen throughout the city. The driver is arrested for suspicion of grand theft.
For a short time, I served as lieutenant watch commander of such a specialized traffic unit. There were several officers in my unit who regularly made a number of similar arrests each month. These arrests were unrelated to their traffic specialty, but were part of the department s overall responsibilities. They worked hard at not developing tunnel vision. They were outstanding traffic investigators, but they kept their eyes opened to the big picture. They saw themselves as members of a bigger team.
Here are a few examples of keeping the big picture in mind and your eyes wide open while on specialized duty:
- You chase a thief who bailed from a stolen car you ve been following. In his attempt to escape, he runs through a barbershop and out the back door. As you run through the back room of the barbershop, you see a large round table with a green felt cloth like those used in commercial gambling card games. After catching the car thief, you prepare a brief report of your observations and present it to the officers charged with gambling enforcement.
- While working a special DUI enforcement at a roadside checkpoint, a driver displays her operator s license, and you observe symptoms that cause you to place her under arrest for DUI. As she is putting her operator s license back in her purse, she drops a small packet of more than a dozen credit cards wrapped with a rubber band. In retrieving them you notice the cards have a variety of names on them. You seize them as possible evidence of identity theft and alert detectives.
- A suspect is placed under arrest for selling contraband to an undercover officer. During this drug enforcement bust, a search of the suspect reveals one small photo depicting child pornography. As you execute a search warrant for drugs in his apartment, you discover three tripods, video cameras and several lighting devices in one of the bedrooms. You immediately notify detectives who investigate this type of crime.
Specialization is often necessary to develop expertise, focus and effectiveness. But officers working those units or agencies must remember that we all work in unison to bring about a stable society. The more specialized we become, the more teamwork is required. We are all law officers—on point.