Sunday, February 12, 2012

Washington, D.C.

Among my many duties at the Frisco Police Department, I am a part of a team of humble grant writers. We have been relatively successful and have brought in about three million dollars to bring much needed training and equipment to the Department.

One of our U. S. Department of Justice grants we recently won was something called the Smart Policing Initiative. Our plan puts a dedicated walking beat officer into a large apartment complex where the officer works on-site with the management and the residents one-on-one and hopefully will reduce the occurrence of crime and reduce the fear of crime in that complex and the surrounding neighborhood. Sort of like being the Sheriff of the block. The project (and the money) is for two years and we think it will be a great template for future enforcement of similar developments in the years to come.

One of the requirements was for the project team to attend two to three meetings with the grant management group, CNA in Washington, D.C. Now, many of you of my Law Enforcement friends know we  refer to this as a “road trip”. My “road trip” mentor (and reader of this humble blog) is Dana Gassaway. Dana was, like me, a former Deputy Sheriff and retired District Attorney Investigator.  Dana was (and is today) a legend in our County for his ability to ferret out a road trip to anywhere on the planet on any given case. Whether it was to do the interview on the bartender in Nome, Alaska or the extradition of the most dangerous felon in his caseload from Miami Beach, Dana utilized the travel departments of both agencies like his personal travel consultants. I and many of my contemporaries often sought out Dana for his travel advice for our trips. He was on a first-name basis with the Finance Department too.

Thus I find myself, once again, harkening back to those days of my road trips and the cool places I have been to in my career (if you could call it that, some might not). Although we knew about the trip from writing the grant, we got the notification to travel just two weeks prior to the meeting in Alexandria, Virginia (that’s the Feds for you). Much of the hoopla had to do with the new DOJ rules about spending at grant related conferences.

Through President Obama’s “transparency” rules, many in the press made PIRs (public information requests) to the various Federal agencies to see how they were spending the infamous “stimulus money” Mr. Obama sent out to create jobs and move the economy forward. Well they came back with tall tales of “$15 dollar muffins” and some outrageous expenditures for training conferences and the like.

Like the “Tail Hook” convention days (and those pesky $50 dollar hammers), the press went crazy and labeled the whole “stimulus plan” as nothing but a boondoggle and an excuse by some to not spend the money the way it was intended. The President sent forth the message to thwart such spending and, as usual, used the shotgun method of discipline, everybody had to suffer the consequences. Luckily, dear readers, we were not guilty of such charges, we actually spent our stimulus money on the things we said we would spend it on. This SPI grant was not part of the stimulus package, but DOJ was still holding us to the same rules.

Thus we found ourselves making very late preparations and arrangements for airplanes, rental car and rooms. As you can imagine, when we had originally budgeted for the grant back in February 2011, the prices were not so bad. Try that two weeks before a departure date. We had to seriously dip into the coffers to get there.

Our team consisted of Tonia, Officer Chad, and I. Tonia is our Department Victim Advocate and Grant Coordinator for the Department and Chad is the SPI Officer assigned to the apartment complex. I am the other part of the grant writing team and had spearheaded the initial research and writing of the grant’s research component. “Research component” you ask? Yes, the grant requires a researcher to monitor our efforts and report on its success at the end of two years. We have teamed with Dr. John from University of Texas at Dallas (Hook ‘em Horns). Dr. John is the head of the Criminology Department, a teaching professor, is editor of Police Quarterly and is associate director for research of the W.W. Caruth Dallas Police Institute and has a bunch of published work out there. He was making his own arrangements to get there.

DFW on a Monday afternoon is not so bad. We departed on-time with American Airlines after lunching at TGIF Fridays in a cool shopping mall inside the new Terminal “D”. Ok, security is always a hassle but DFW now has the new “stand-in-place” metal detector booth, which really moves things along. Kind of looks like the Transporter on the Enterprise. It’s still true though, come in with as little as possible and you won’t draw the ire of the TSA…well, as long as you don’t bring something that has wires dangling from it in a bag. This will set off alarms and TSA members into overdrive and you to secondary. Thank God we didn’t have any liquids over 3 oz. That gets you a stern talking-to and a tossing of your $60 dollar hand lotion before your very eyes.

The landing in D.C. went well but our Captain came in a little "hot" and we kind of slammed down on the mains. He gamely brought what was left of the aircraft deftly to the terminal and we exited. Many of you know I was a pilot and have had my share of hard landings. On the way out, I thanked the flight attendant and (remember my Tourettes sense of humor) asked if the Captain was a former Navy pilot. I said it looked like he was trying to trap the third wire (on a Carrier, you only have three cables to catch before you "bolter" and have to go around for another try, Ok.... it sounded funny at the time).

Her eyes got wide and she did one of those quick eye movements left like in the movies when the leading lady signals the good guy the bad guy is about to hit him. Being a tactical guy, I too glanced to my right and there was our brave Captain staring at me from the cockpit door. Without missing a beat, I turned, shook his hand, thanked him for a great flight and darted out the cabin door before he could call security. You see, I foster a certain relationship with the people I live and work with. I train them to intercede when I'm about to make an ass of myself. Unfortunately, my wife was home, Tonia and Chad had already left the scene of the crime as the words exited my brain and entered my mouth. I really need to work on that more.

We got our luggage and successfully got our rental car. I must say, bringing my GPS “Patty” was one of the smartest things I did that week. If you’re not familiar with “the District” or the surrounding Virginia and Maryland area, it’s a God send.

We got accomodations (Government Rate, Dana) at the Mark Center Hilton in Alexandria, the site of the Conference, right along the I-395 and a stone’s throw from the Potomac, the Capitol and historic downtown Alexandria. On our first night, we got to do a little drive-by touring. It’s funny, you see D.C. on CNN and various movies and TV shows every night but when you get there, it’s still a breath-taking site. On the way to the hotel, I was following Patty’s directions to the hotel and while tooling down the S/B I-395, I suddenly caught a glimpse of something familiar. Holy Cow, it’s the Pentagon rolling by. It was their rush hour and the parking lot(s) were lit up like Christmas with what seemed like thousands of cars, some with important looking flashing strobes, wending their way to their homes in who-knows-where.

That was typical of many of our excursions. It seemed like there were important looking limos and blacked out SUVs rolling everywhere we went. The whole thing had a Tom Clancy air about the place. We often sat in restaurants where we were wondering if some kind of political intrigue was taking place around us. At one point, on our walk around the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, one of those long motorcades of blacked out SUVs and brightly lit D.C. police cruisers came flying by. As it passed, I could see the lead SUV’s front passenger had the window rolled down and I could clearly see the butt of an H&K MP5 sampling the wind like a kid with his hand out. It could have been somebody important or the guys were just late getting to the donut shop. That’s the fascination with the whole thing.

After checking in, we ventured out to find dinner at a place I had recently seen on the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives show on the Food Network, Metro 29 Diner in Alexandria. The restaurant is a modern 50’s style Diner (lots of chrome) just outside of old Alexandria. The meals were, as advertised, delicious and really big portions for a very reasonable price. Heck, they even had a full bar (no, Chief, we didn’t order drinks). The pièce de résistance was a piece of Chocolate Crème Pie Tonia and I shared. Now the picture is kind of what it looked like because I had temporarily lost my mind and forgot to take the shot.  I can tell you it was good, very good. There was a thick top layer of crème, which was butter thick, and the chocolate layer was a dense mass of dark chocolate swimming in streaks of caramel. It was like pushing through a chocolate bar. You could put your fork in it and it stood straight up refusing to topple over. You didn’t just spoon it up; you carved out a piece to eat.

The first day at the Conference was typical for training conferences. If any of you have been to law enforcement meetings, you know the drill. Cops get together and tell war stories while the training staff try to get passionate about their very dry subjects while the cops use their dry subtle humor, only they understand, about the presentations. Fun times.

The first night we committed to getting to the National Mall and seeing what we could in the dying light and rush-hour traffic. Chad was driving (worth a whole blog entry of its own) and we struck gold when we discovered on street metered parking right across from the mall at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. We hopped out to discover the temperature hovering around 39 degrees and I with the light jacket I used in the hotel conference room. I soldiered on because, after all, this was the Capitol, D.C., how often do you get there? I wasn’t going to sulk in the inviting warmth of the car; I was out to tour if it killed me.

We made the rounds of the walkway to the base of the Washington Memorial and were somewhat surprised at the obvious cracks from the recent earthquake. They need to get a Mason and some mortar up there. Those cracks were substantial.

We wound our way west toward the Lincoln Memorial in the failing light. The mall is very scenic and a great place to take in the whole Capitol area. Everywhere you look, is an important building or monument. Following the tour map of downtown D.C. has you glancing up every few yards and denoting some Cabinet level office like the Department of Labor, Interior, U.S. Mint and a smattering of Consulates and Embassies.

The trouble is the joggers and bicyclists. This is the joggingist town I have ever been to. Mind you, it’s about freezing and all these hundreds of joggers and gaily lit bicyclists are stealthily darting about the walkways. We had to dodge so many, it was just safer to walk in a line at the side of the walkway or be run over by a health nut.

We walked quietly by the new oval shaped WWII memorial depicting all the theaters of the war and exemplifying the struggle of the American soldiers in that conflict. Truly America’s Greatest Generation, which my Dad was a member of. We moved further west and passed by the Korean War Memorial with its ghostly platoon walking through the names of the fallen in combat spread, rifles at the ready.

Then came the magic moment when I set eyes on the Lincoln Memorial. Some of you may know I am an eternal history buff with facts and figures at the ready to inform and educate those within earshot. When I rounded the corner and saw the Memorial I was momentarily stunned to silence. To say the Lincoln Memorial is massive in scope doesn’t do it justice. It not only represents the life of a famous person but puts a spotlight on three terrible periods of our history, slavery, the Civil War and the death of Lincoln. The seated President looks down at us as a reminder that our great nation was founded on the concept of individual liberty and we should never let anything get in the way of Democracy. It’s our way of life and politicians can’t hand it to us, it must be won by the hearts and minds of a united people.

The walk up the steps where, in 1939, in defiance of the Daughters of the American Revolution refusal to allow the African-American contralto Marian Anderson to perform before an integrated audience at the organization's Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for a performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to a live audience of 70,000, and a nationwide radio audience. Where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech in 1963 and that fool Glenn Beck raised eyebrows (and his voice) in 2010.

Surrounded by 36 columns depicting the 36 states of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s administration and death you are, at once, surprised and in awe of the 19-foot tall and 19 foot width of the statue on top of Tennessee marble lit almost in relief before you. On the north wall is inscribed his second inaugural address and to the south his Gettysburg address.

Stepping out onto the top step, looking east, is the grandest view of a city I have every taken in. Walking to the south corner, I took the shot with my cell phone of the view all the way to the Capitol in the background. A note about taking pictures. I pride myself in packing all the essentials even counting the underwear I anticipate wearing (yeah, I know TMI) but I relay this only because knowing I would be going on one of the most important road trips of my life, I forgot to pack my very expensive “Rocks in my Sandals” fricking camera! So I was relegated to using my iPhone 4 camera, which, though adequate in standard light, sucks at night. Oh well.

We ended our tour at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Constructed in 1981, dedicated in 1982 and completed in 1982 and completed in 1983, made from a design by Chinese-American Maya Lin, the 246 ft wall documents the names of 58,272 names, including 8 women service members who died from November 1955 to May 1975, the official end of the war, in southeast Asia.

You begin at the “Three Soldiers” statue and then the memorial walks you down into a valley, below street level. The farther you go, the more you can almost see the faces of those names looking back at you in the polished Indian marble.Some 1,200 of these are listed as missing (MIAs, POWs, and others), denoted with a cross. The wall starts as thin triangles at each end peaking at the center of the two walls at over 10 feet. Soft floor lighting rises up to embrace the wall. You decend as though you're leaving the politics and the controversy of the living world above into the depth of loss and suffering thats just beyond that black wall that we, the lucky living ones, can only imagine on our side of the wall. A great tribute to those who gave their lives for their fellow soldiers and countrymen. A very humbling experience.

We did make it to a really neat place we were told about to eat, Ted’s Montana Grille in Alexandria. I had Salmon (new health kick), Tonia had the soup and Chad had the Pot Roast. It would have all been good if they hadn’t seated us next to an over-served drunk who began making disparaging remarks about cowboys and John Wayne in particular. We did get reseated and an apology which included a FREE DESSERT of our choosing. Happy faces all around.

After a second day of training and trying desperately to stay awake, the coffee stopped flowing promptly at 10 a.m., did they not know they had cops in the audience? What were they thinking? That second cold and rainy night, Chad and I made our way back to the Capitol to visit the  National Peace Officer Memorial on the east side of town.  Dedicated in 1991, it’s a really well done memorial literally built on top of one of the DC Metro Rail stations, the block-wide park has an oval shape lined with over 19,000 names of fallen peace officers from all over the United States and its territories since 1791. There is a lion theme consisting of 4 lion statues, which refer to one of the carvings: 

"The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are as bold as a lion."
—Proverbs 28:1

We were able to locate our fallen officer from Frisco, Joe Murphy, brother of Audie Murphy, who was killed responding to a call in 1968.

On the way back to pick up Tonia for dinner, we had a chance to drive by the Capitol building. Ya know you here the term “Capitol Hill” all the time but hey, guess what, it is on a hill. You can’t drive up to it anymore but from 3rd St. NW, it rises up in front of you. It’s a lot bigger in scale than those file shots on CNN. It’s enormous with both houses jutting forward as the Capitol Dome reaches for the sky. It was dark and we both wondered aloud if they kept the lights on to fool the public into thinking there was actually work going on in those offices.

We made our way down to old Alexandria and to a neat place we were told to hit, Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub on King Street on the west side of the Potomac. Did I mention we parked our car in front of Robert E. Lee’s dad’s house? How cool was that? The whole of King Street is all kinds of shops and eateries with cross streets of colonial row houses in brick and clabbered exteriors. Almost everybody had a little plaque depicting some past historic owner or occupier.

It turns out Murphy’s is a favorite of our Chief who makes the pilgrimage every time he’s in D.C. I now understand why. Apparently, every cop who comes through town makes it to Murphy’s. There are agency shoulder patches all over the walls surrounding the bar. Ours was supposed to be there but we couldn’t discern them from all the others in the dim light. It was packed but we retreated upstairs and were greeted by a fireplace and a really full menu. The special that night, 35-cent buffalo chicken wings. I had a Tilapia fish dish, Chad had the Sheppard’s Pie and Tonia had the Stew. Great atmosphere and service from a very busy server as the place really filled up soon after we got there.

The following morning found us preparing for a return to Reagan and the flight home. Reagan is a beautiful airport terminal. Like Chicago O’Hare’s cathedral-like vaulted arching ceilings, Reagan has lots of glass and open spaces but very quiet as airports go. Security was fun as we watched as TSA prepared to search a couple from Argentina in wheelchairs. I am not a fan of the TSA but I wouldn’t recommend that job to my worst enemy.

Back home to family and work. Yes, we did bring something back from the conference, not all good. But we look forward to our next conference meeting in D.C. in 2013.

1 comment:

  1. After reading your latest entry on your blog, I felt compelled to respond to your comments about my prowess in garnering investigative trips across the land. Although most of what you said is true, especially the part about me being a legend, there were several errors that I feel must be corrected for your readers. We wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea, now would we?

    I have never been to Nome, Alaska, but I did manage to spend 4 days in Ketchikan at a training conference at which I was paid for speaking. Also the Miami Beach extradition never occurred. Perhaps you confused it with the extradition to Maui. Not wanting to waste the free airfare for my ticket, I actually paid for my wife’s ticket and we spent a week on the beach using some vacation time. A little R&R was well deserved for my investigative skills in knowing to wait until the crook was in the State of Hawaii before notifying the local authorities.

    Yes, there were lots of road trips, but not all to garden spots. How about Yuma, AZ Williston, ND, Lovelock, NV not to mention scores of trips up the coast LA. That’s not to say other trips weren’t to some pretty nice places, but hey, someone had to do it.