By: T F Stern
T F Stern’s Rantings

Most of you have seen a series of credit card commercials with Vikings smashing things all over town followed by the line, “What’s in your wallet?” I like the one where the Viking pushes coins into his desktop computer slot to make a deposit; still makes me laugh.

Just south of Houston there’s the town of Sugarland where apparently a fellow’s pretending to be a policeman. He’s been going around asking folks to open their wallets under the pretense of conducting an investigation, even showing them a gold badge. While they’re distracted he steals a credit card or two and later goes on a shopping spree. What’s in your wallet?

When I was on night shift a fellow officer arrested a fellow and, while putting him in the holding tank, realized the suspect’s wallet was nowhere to be found. He went back to his patrol car, nothing. During the arrest, handcuffing and search, the wallet had been placed on the trunk deck of the patrol car and never made it into the property envelope.

He asked me to drive back out to the scene of the arrest and again, nothing. He explained the loss of property to the station Sergeant, knowing full well that the final responsibility rested with him. The wallet and whatever was claimed to be inside would come out of the officer’s pay.

About that time. the suspect interrupted, “That’s alright, sir; weren’t no money in it; just some old pieces of paper is all’s was in it.”

My friend pulled out a twenty dollar bill and showed it to the suspect, “Will this cover the cost of a new wallet?”

“That’s way too much; just a cheap K-Mart wallet, five of six dollars will do.”

In an unrelated story which happened many years earlier, the Department received a number of complaints from folks who’d been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. Money was stolen from their wallets, or so went the complaints; but it’s not uncommon for liars to lie and most of the complaints turned out to be unfounded.

There was an unusual spike of this particular complaint centered on the northeast side of town, enough that red flags began waving on statistical data alone. Internal Affairs used arrest dates and times matched with manpower rosters to figure out which officer or officers might be suspect; all indicators pointed to one officer.

The trap was set; a marked fifty dollar bill placed in the wallet of a wino followed by a dispatched call to that particular officer. The suspected officer/thief arrested the wino, placed him in jail and went back to his patrol area. Internal Affairs observed the entire incident, called the officer in question back to the station where they established that the officer had indeed stolen the marked fifty dollar bill.

The story made headlines in the Chronicle for a couple of days and the officer was fired. I don’t remember what criminal charges were filed or what transpired down the line; but a bad apple was removed from the barrel. It’s a sad day when a police officer violates the public trust.

Not too many weeks later I was attending an eight hour in-service First Aid course offered and conducted by the Red Cross at the police academy. A couple of officers from areas across the city were there, all as happy to be cooped up in a classroom as I was.

The instructor was sincere in his attempts to remind each officer of life saving techniques we’d all been exposed to while cadets at the academy; observe, clear the air way and if needed administer mouth to mouth until the ambulance arrived. After the presentation, officers were picked at random and asked questions; looking for verification the information had been taken in. He pointed to me while putting a scenario together in his mind, offering a situation which would challenge my recollection of first aid procedures.

“Officer Stern, you’re patrolling your area and come across a man down in a ditch. What’s the first thing you’re going to do?”

“That all depends, Sir.” A slight grin surfaced as I baited the hook.

“Officer Stern, I don’t understand; depends on what?” He couldn’t see how a medical emergency would be affected by what area of town it occurred.

“It depends on what part of town you’re patrolling, Sir. For instance, if you’re on the northeast side of town the first thing you’d do is go through the man’s wallet.”

The room full of officers let out a knee slapping roll of laughter; my sarcastic remark having brightened up an otherwise elongated day. I should point out not everyone thought it was funny; the two officers attending from the N/E substation, they were not smiling. The black eye given the Department was because of one of their crew; he’d worked alongside them and may even have considered himself their friend. So, what’s in your wallet?

This article has been cross-posted to The Moral Liberal, a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution.”