Foot Patrol Rules!
My first assignment fresh out of police academy was that of a Downtown Foot Patrol officer. I didn’t know this at the time, but the personnel assigned to the foot patrol were there under a Federal Grant. Later on as a supervisor, I became more familiar with how the city tried to attain Federal Grants to reduce their financial responsibilities with every conceivable aspect of policing within the parameters of the particular grants available. Maybe, within rural law enforcement agencies, this was not a normal practice as with major, metropolitan departments.
Back then, in the early 70s, Atlanta PD had two, foot patrol shifts covering the downtown business district with the appropriate number of supervisors to handle the day to day supervisory demands of the unit. The day shift worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the evening group covering 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. We had about forty or so officers and three supervisors on the day shift. The evening shift’s personnel numbers were somewhat less, as you would expect. Naturally, the primary need downtown for the foot patrol was an ample presence during the periods of the most activity… the day shift
As I look back and evaluate the various assignments I had, the internal question arises–which one was the best. It became apparent in pursuit of the answer that with every new assignment given, in some manner, it became the best to date. This may sound wishy-washy to you but not really. After seven years or so as a police officer of no rank, I was fortunate enough to begin ascending the ladder of supervision. With the new ranks came different assignments but with other added responsibilities. This partially explains my answer.
But, if pressed to provide a definitive response to this, I’d have to go back to the beginning, and report that the Downtown Foot Patrol years were tops.
Atlanta is a vibrant International city with a central business district that reflects the diversity of a great metropolis, and yes, I consider Atlanta to be such a city.
This duty was a dream come true. There was rarely a dull moment while walking the foot beat. Things were usually popping off there. You name it and it happened downtown. Street thieves, druggies, derelicts, pimps, prostitutes, street preachers, political activists, doctors, lawyers, beggars, college students, professors, intellectuals, the insane, blue collar workers, white collar swells, business owners, bankers, robbers, pickpockets, and all actors in-between, intermingled like the ingredients contained in vegetable soup. The pot simmered every shift while pounding out a beat on foot.
It’d be impossible to say for sure how many miles I walked patrolling the streets of Atlanta. A few of us decided to speculate how far we walked in an eight-hour shift. The consensus was that we traveled from six to ten miles every day at work. We literally walked everywhere after driving to our beats and parking our personal vehicles. Needless to say, as Miss Donna would attest, I wore shoes out like her baked brownies when she let her guard down.
I loved it!
This was what policing was all about. Daily you touched people’s lives. You were able to perform the job in a highly personal way. We came to know many of the regulars on our beats and that included those citizens that worked inside the high-rise buildings. Everyone came outside sooner or later.
There was plenty of police business for us there, as in locking folks up. Criminals in numbers were literally on every corner. I made more arrests as a downtown foot beat officer than all of my other assignments combined. That’s a fact. The cases ran the gamut also from the most heinous felonies to the simple drunk charges. That’s who occupied a large part of our duty time… alcoholics and other drug users. You couldn’t let your guard down on foot patrol.
We had a damned ball while performing an important service to tens of thousands of honest citizens daily in Atlanta.
There were visitors all over downtown from around the globe. The major hotels in the business district stayed as busy as you can imagine. The older ‘dive’ hotels in other parts of the area were filled with a melting-pot of folks FROM down on their luck to just plain lawless.
This ENTIRE area was a thief’s dream, and we were there to nab the jerks before they got into your pocket. We tried, but as usual, the thugs had us at a big disadvantage. We had rules to play by, and they didn’t. As well, we were outnumbered.
There were two major bus station depots a long block from the main artery street that divided central downtown east and west, and that is Peachtree Street. Both bus depots, situated side by side, were hubs for activity, including crimes.
I grew up not a half-mile from downtown Atlanta, and I was raised to be comfortable like one of the wharf rats that knew what was what within the gutters of Atlanta. This area was my ‘briar patch’ as a child, and now, I was wearing a loaded gun and a badge and trying my hardest to apprehend as many of the bad rats, as possible.
I’m in no way stretching this, but we saw every type of crime you can imagine while working foot patrol… crimes from murders, rapes, robberies, car thefts, suicides (not crimes), aggravated assaults, assaults, thefts of every variety, fights, spousal and child abuse, to simple alcoholics and more. The joint was always hopping. It took four to six officers alone just to handle the daily arrests from all the shopping stores downtown. This was primarily what duty they performed for eight hours. They’d go back and forth from store to store and handle the incarceration process of shoplifters up and down the main corridor.
You could write as many parking violation tickets as you wanted. For a few this was their priority one. It was never mine. I sought the big game… real criminals.
We walked our beat in twos, with a partner. We needed this on foot patrol. Officers were killed on duty in Downtown Atlanta, and serious criminals were amongst us and the law-abiding of the city.
The area was also a magnet to every nut freshly fallen from the tree. I met more memorable characters working downtown than anywhere else while on the department.
A few such characters come to mind.
There was this street preacher who was out ministering every day… all day long right smack dab in the center of the central business district. I’ll spare you his name, but he had a common one. Preacher yelled his sermon as loudly as allowed non-stop for hours at a time. He had a following of somewhat suspect street urchins. These flock members were actually in need of mental help by professionals, but by and large, they were harmless.
One day, the preacher was gone. He wasn’t seen or more importantly heard for a few days, and the regular citizens within the entire area breathed a huge sigh of ocular relief. several of us in blue became a little worried about him… an ‘only curious’ kind of concern. Most of us had answered dozens of complaint calls about him over the months. He was generally exercising his free speech rights within the law, but at times, he pushed the borders of legality.
It was too good to be true. My partner and I, one day during the lunch period, were approached by two ‘suits,’ obviously, law enforcement and well-dressed guys like FBI or other Federals. Then, the IDs came out in unison, The United States Secret Service. They were actively searching for the missing street preacher.
Agent A stated, “Mr. X, whom you know as Preacher Y, is actually Mr. Z, and he’s made credible threats in writing to the safety of The President of The United States of America.” To which my partner said, “What the…” as I finished his statement and exclaimed, “Get the fudge outta here… Preacher Y?”
“Yes, men, that is correct, Mr. Z. Here’s his picture. Is this the man you know as Preacher Y?”
I answered for us, “Yep, that’s him.”
“Would you men come with us? Our vehicle is parked around the corner. Hopefully, you can help us locate this individual before he can act on his threats. We’ve been advised by your superiors that you would be able to locate him for us,” Agent B said, as he closed their case folder.
We climbed into their vehicle, and in about ten minutes, we had located the street preacher about five miles from his usual Bible-thumping spot. He had used this location in the past, as well as a few others around the area. We knew the previously-preached-from places to check.
The preacher was literally standing on the sidewalk outside the Federal Building where the Secret Service Agents worked. These guys must have walked or driven past him, as they exited their building. We snagged him, walked into their building and then, upstairs to their offices.
The preacher was gone for a long while, but months later, he returned to his usual pulpit. It took a while longer to gather his regular flock back. Evidently, he wasn’t too much of a credible threat. It was understandable that he had added another evil to preach against after his release, and that, was the Federal Government and the POTUS… Jimmy Carter.
Then there were the alcoholics… Nah, drunks. They were all over downtown begging everyone wearing clothing as well as a few drunk’s we snagged while begging the naked for some pocket change. They rode to jail together. Yep, more than few folks downtown loved to get naked amongst the crowds… under the day sky, as well as sometimes inside businesses.
We kept the city jail busy with these street dwellers who drank anything with a hint of alcohol contained within it. They begged for money from all, including us. I had several who I loaned money to, and these would always pay me back.
These guys and gals were something else. There were the fighters that wanted to kick butt whether drunk, drinking or sober. Then, there were those that fought and resisted us only if they were drunk. Fighting amongst themselves was routine, and when they took us on, well, know that they got thumped hard every time. Some we had to fight each time they were arrested.
We had regular drunks that were: PHDs, architects, ex-lawyers, doctors, teachers, college professors, a retired Major League Baseball star of the Dodgers and Mets, murderers (ex and current), past ( with some leaning toward active) robbers, rapists, burglars, con men, grifters, drifters, transients, old school hobo-types, pastors, knaves, and thieves.
More than a few had some of the saddest life stories you could imagine. We had tons of Veterans of wars that daily drank themselves senseless. Men and women that had lost their entire families in tragic events. It was not only depressing, but also heartbreaking.
More than a few of the regulars, and there were many of them, turned up dead from natural causes, their addiction, extreme weather conditions (frozen), killed by accident, or outright murdered for any number of ridiculous reasons.
Many of the alcoholics wanted to be sent to the City of Atlanta prison farm to serve a stretch to attempt to go sober for a while. These men or women would beg us for it as well as the judge if we had arrested them.
Then, there were those who had tuberculosis. It was as personally frightening as you might imagine having to deal close-up on the street with people suffering from active TB. After handling them, you usually learned weeks or months later that they had active TB, and then, your tests at the hospital would begin. The same thing was true of AIDS and our contact with those who had full-blown, at that time, deadly disease or other communicable diseases like STDs. The AIDS threat exploded in the late 70s and early 80s. The threat from accidental injection contact from used needles was constant with every prisoner we had to thoroughly search.
With all of this in mind, these years remain some of my best on the APD. I met many fine people working a foot beat downtown. Some of them are friends to this day. It was an excellent assignment to have a positive impact on the lives of folks from the gutter to the CEO Chambers. This was real police work and more fun than red-eye gravy on buttered-grits.