THE POLICE DEPARTMENT DIVIDES SAN Antonio into nine sections which are themselves divided into 98 districts. Each district is permanently assigned to one patrolman, the district officer.
The same officers man these districts every day, except on relief days when the districts mayor may not be filled by each section’s two or three relief officers. At any given time at least 85 districts will be filled. The others are left open; the neighboring district men take up the slack.
Fewer men are assigned to the daylight shift, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., when there are fewer drunks and fewer family disturbances. The workhorse shift is the afternoon tour, the 3 to 11. They do it all, and more of it: from accidents to robberies and murder to lost children and stolen bicycles. The peak load spills over into the dog watch (11 at night to 7 in the morning), stretching until sometime between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., depending on what part of town and the day of the week. The shifts rotate every two months.
Whatever the shift, the scene at roll call is much the same. The police station is in downtown San Antonio. In the basement is the large assembly room with the neat rows of classroom desks bolted to the floor. Gallon tin cans with the lids missing sit by each desk in unpainted imitation of the Army’s omnipresent butt cans. They are frequently kicked and overturned by careless or restless feet. The room is full of bitching and laughter. There is a sense of kinship that binds even the cynics. Brotherhood is an unspoken rule and only violated with extreme caution.
After roll call, the men leave the gas pump area, where they relieve the shift just coming off duty, and head out to their respective districts. Due to an overworked garage, there is frequently a car shortage and occasionally the men are forced to double up, two district men to one car. The brass dislike this; they say it is an inefficient use of manpower.
At night an off-duty officer rides with the district man in about 20 districts pin-pointed as “high-incident patrol areas” by the city’s computers. Police wives forced the City Council into ordering two men to a car after the third officer in less than two years had been killed on duty. The overtime program is merely a stopgap measure. As of this writing, the department’s leadership has been slow to carry out the politically popular directive, although rumors persist that they will soon do so.
For the most part, then, the men are alone in the car. They listen to the radio, and answer it when called. Cadets currently ride for a month with another officer after graduating from the police academy. Then they are put alone in the car, like everyone else.
Incident on Commerce Street
HIS VOICE IS LIKE HEAVY gravel banging down a tin chute, and is predictably deep. He is 61 years old, and a hulk of a man over six feet tall. It is his belly you notice first—a swollen river of fat, it pushes and pulls at his belt as he walks, overflowing here and there in rolling, five-pound wrinkles. He is a policeman’s policeman, he is fond of saying. He belongs to the past.
He cleared his throat, breaking into a spasm of coughing, and pounded the speaker’s stand in front of him once with a white fist. Common knowledge has it only the job is keeping him alive. He boasts that the day he retires will be the day they bury him, but many of his men doubt this, saying the sonofabitch is too mean to die.
“Men, I got a call today. I won’t say from who. But I been given to understand that Keith Anthony Brown will be driving round downtown and the East Side today in a 65 Olds four door. It’s supposed to be a real dirty white.”
The murky assembly room was full of a blue-gray haze, and the isolated non-smokers waved irritably at the drifting clouds of smoke. It was roll call for the 3-11 shift, the old man’s shift. He was the senior uniform captain.
The interested men were intently writing down the description of the car. A low murmur of conversation mingled discreetly with the smoke, as some ignored the old man, but they were careful to speak without moving their lips. The old man loved grudges almost as much as he hated blacks. And Keith Anthony Brown was black and the captain’s latest project. The robbery detectives thought Brown might be the young suspect who had recently held up a number of supermarkets.
“Now, men, if you happen to see that car today, I want you to stop it and hold all occupants for me personal. Use a little caution with this punk and his friends, cause he’s supposed to think he’s pretty bad. He shot a couple of times at the manager of the last store he hit.”
After roll call, the patrol car left the station and drove through the downtown area, heading for the near East Side where the two men were assigned. One man was a veteran and the other was a rookie. It was the third day they had been together and they were still feeling each other out. It was a delicate period for the new man. He was very eager.
They would ride together for 30 days, then he would be on his own. He welcomed the opportunity of working the East Side with its high crime rate and violence, but the black culture was alien and threatening. He had always hated the thought of being weak and was unwilling to ever admit being afraid. He was only a week out of the academy. His name was Tom Ewell, and he was driving.
The other policeman was sitting relaxed on the other side of the front seat, watching the pedestrians and shoppers on the sidewalks. It was a windy day and he was waiting for a particularly good mini-skirt. His name was