Macias has served as a patrolman with the San Antonio Police Department for the past seven years. He works the shift that runs from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. (known as the “dog watch”) and is based out of the Central Substation, which oversees downtown and its surrounding area.
A police officer is the first stopgap against crime. We patrol areas with high levels of illegal activity, and we write tickets—lots of them. These are often for minor offenses, but they are the first measure when we can’t, say, catch a drug dealer in the act. Our citations enable investigators to build a case that allows for a raid. I have friends, for instance, who go out to the areas known for being rife with drugs. They keep busting the same people, helping narcotics detectives zero in on who’s selling and who’s buying.
I oversee the shallow West Side of San Antonio, which officers used to call the “wild, wild West” back in the day. The area has calmed down, but it remains one of the rougher parts of the Alamo City. In my square, where Guadalupe Street crosses South Sabinas, there’s a lot of prostitution. There are several closed-off roads where guys go to pick up the prostitutes. Even though I have probable cause to stop all of them for being there, and I know what they’re doing, I can’t always arrest them for prostitution. It’s difficult to prove. So I bust them for other things, such as walking in the street or other traffic violations. I try to keep these women and their johns away from the neighborhoods, but there are a lot of narrow alleys and empty lots, and these people are pretty unashamed. The tickets I issue pile up for the frequent offenders, and detectives—say, on the vice unit—can later break up the larger sex rings.
It does get frustrating, seeing the same people you put away back on the streets. You realize jail or rehab is only a temporary fix. I could write someone up for carrying a couple grams of cocaine, which is considered a felony and is a big quantity for your average arrest, and yet that person could post bond that night. I’ll end up running into the same guy on my next shift. Then there are the girls, getting in and out of suspicious cars every night. After our constant citations for small violations, eventually they’re taken into custody. But they always come back. I’ve been a police officer in this city for the past seven years, and there is this one woman I’ve seen since I started. Every once in a while she’ll disappear. And when she comes back to the street, she’ll look real good because she has been off the heroin, has been eating three square meals, has been sleeping. But she keeps bad company, and it won’t be long before I have to stop her again. It’s hard not to be cynical.
Still, I believe in justice and in helping people. I was a graphic designer for an Austin company that made class rings before this. I worked on marketing and advertising materials, mainly for the sports department. But when the high-tech industry in the city tanked, I lost my job and needed to find a way to support my family. The first position I found was as a detention officer at the Travis County jail. I thought I handled myself well there; it was the first time I’d come face-to-face with criminals, and I saw a lot of fights. I wanted to see how well I’d do on the streets, so I applied to the police department in San Antonio and went through police academy training.
I’ve learned a lot about power and how not to abuse it. What’s that saying? “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s certainly true out here. It’s a greater problem among the younger officers, because you get out of training and suddenly you have the ability to put people in jail. It gets to some people’s heads, and we all get a bad rap for it. A lot of criminals try to push your buttons. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a guy cursing at me, yelling at me to hit him. He wants to get beaten up by a cop so he can get his payday. But that’s easy trouble. You have to be careful and watch your temper. It’s hard, but I remind myself that most of the time, the people causing the ruckus aren’t in their right mind. They are usually drunk or have something else wrong with them, because most clearheaded people simply respond with “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.”
We do deal with a lot of dumb criminals, or the ones who get caught. There are plenty to go around, and typically the stupidest stuff involves alcohol. People just do stupid things when they’re drunk. We don’t get too many calls for petty thefts or shoplifting on the night beat; that’s more during daylight hours. We respond more to assaults, burglaries, and sadly, a lot of family violence. One of the worst fights I ever had was at a family reunion where everyone had been drinking. One guy was causing a disturbance, and as I tried to help my fellow officer arrest him, he made a grab for my shirt. Then he grabbed me again. “Oh, you are not going to get me!” he yelled, as another man grabbed at me too. I had to chase the first guy into the kitchen and tackle him. That’s the night I discovered I like pepper spray, though I’ll say that about 80 percent of police officers, me included, hate its effects. Everyone calmed down after I took out that little bottle.
Other incidents are worse. The first murder scene I witnessed was a drug deal gone bad, and the man had been shot three times in the head. His van was still running, and there was a trail of blood zigzagging down the street. Just a few days ago, at around 3 a.m., I responded to reports of a shooting downtown and found two men bloodied and curled up on the sidewalk. One was struggling to get up. People ask me all the time if I’m afraid of getting shot on the job. Of course I’m concerned, but I take the proper measures. I am actually more afraid of being hit by a drunk driver. One good friend and officer, Stephanie Brown, was killed en route to a call in March when her vehicle was struck by another car going the wrong way. The other driver died too. We miss Stephanie. She was always ready for a laugh.
So you never really know what kind of night you’re going to have. But that’s the beauty of it. The main thing I enjoy is the freedom. I’ve held office jobs before, but out here, my car is my office. I get to set up my own routine and not follow a strict structure. And I still get home in time to eat breakfast with my daughter before she leaves for school.