The first time I worked in a plain clothes assignment I didn’t exactly turn in what I would call a stellar performance. But it did however, turn out to be a lively night. I was working midnights in Patrol, and this particular Sunday night / Monday morning promised to be what passed as a typical Sunday overnight shift, that is, I didn’t really know what to expect. Some Sunday nights up here were busy, others very quiet. There never seemed to be a reason for that. It’s just the way it was. Then again, sometimes you could answer as few as one or two calls and get tied up for the whole shift or longer.
On this night, I dragged myself out if bed, drove to the station like I did every day or night for so many years. I got dressed in the locker room with a bunch of other sleepy cops, then stumbled into Roll Call, half awake, half asleep. I stood inspection, then sat down to learn my assignment for the night and what, if any, notable crimes had been committed in the past 24 hours. However, I was soon to find out, that this Sunday overnight would be a bit different for me.
This night, the shift commander (officer in charge) had two extra bodies, and I turned out to be one of them. By being an extra body, I mean that after all the inside and outside mandatory assignments were full, there being no-one out sick, on vacation or away at school, there may have been a few extra bodies that the OIC (officer in charge) could use at his discretion. Usually, being an extra on the shift meant the OIC would find some monotonous busy work, especially if the cop was junior on the shift. Could be a walking route in an area where complaints had been coming from, working in communications or the front counter, or get buried somewhere, out of sight, out of mind. If you were lucky, you’d score a cruiser, assigned a call sign from communications, and be sent out to whatever part of the city the OIC thought you could be useful. Or, just as often, keep you out of trouble.
This particular OIC, tended to take a more proactive approach on shift, which meant he sometimes thought “outside the box” when deploying his shift. So, this night, he told me and Jim, who I came on the job with and went through both Police Academies with, to go change, and we were going to work in Plain Clothes.
Boy, was I excited! I put on my old Army jacket, jeans and running shoes. Placed my pistol into my off duty holster, stuck it on my belt, hung some handcuffs on my belt, and concealed my badge and ID. I felt pretty cool, going out on the street in plain clothes for the first time. I was going to be able to creep around anywhere I wished in the city, along with all the night crawlers and those who hid in the shadows, those creepy crawlers that were up to no good, and do it all night! I was able to dress and function like plain clothes officers I had seen and sometimes worked with in here in Manchester, and places like Quincy, Brockton and Boston.
From the day I came on the job here, there was a lot of street crime in the city. Drugs, specifically powder cocaine, some crack, some blotter acid (yes LSD) and it was sold pretty openly in certain inner city neighborhoods. Crack was starting to appear “on the set” in these neighborhoods and we found ourselves losing control of them, one at a time. Drugs were sold both on the street and in numerous drug houses in many parts of the city. So, the usual crimes that accompanies drug activity were plentiful in those neighborhoods. They included Larcenies, Assaults, Burglaries and all types of assorted rip-offs and Robberies. Also, a lot of street level prostitution. This activity included prostitutes setting up and robbing Johns, Johns robbing, beating or raping Prostitutes, dealers ripping off drug addicts (known here in Manchester as the Gank, such as selling an addict Ivory Soap or sheet rock packaged to look like crack, therefore, selling Gank or “Ganking someone”), and much, much more. Yes, you can believe the streets of the city can be mean, and they take over a whole different character after the sun goes down and the midnight hour approaches, then passes.
As it happens, we had a plain clothes Street Crime Unit which worked 6PM to 230 AM, overlapping our shift. My younger brother, Frank, who got on the job a couple of years before I did, was assigned to this unit, and this night he found himself working alone. So, they stuck him with Jimmy and I. Needless to say, I was pretty happy about that. Me, Jim and Frank, all partnered up in the same assignment, great! The sergeant warned us to stay out of trouble. He told us that if we could, we should try to make a prostitution pinch because of all the complaints we were getting from certain neighborhoods. He also told us not to do anything stupid. He then sent us out with this last stern warning:
“REMEMBER, WHATEVER YOU DO OUT THERE, DON’T GET HURT. THERE IS NO ARREST THAT YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE TONIGHT THAT JUSTIFIES GETTING YOURSELF HURT”.
And with that the three of us headed out on the street. Frank knew the deal. He was a seasoned cop, so the warning, I felt the warning was meant more for Jim and I.
I didn’t realize at the time how dangerous it was to hit the streets in plain clothes, trying to convince the assorted thugs and sharks on the street that you are NOT cops. If they bought into that, you yourself could then be marked as a target of a violent crime. My brother knew that because he spent much of his career working in various full time under cover assignments, including plain clothes assignments. Frank was robbed at least twice that I know of while working plain clothes and undercover assignments. One time, when I was in uniform, I had to kick in a locked door to help Frank and his partner who were struggling to arrest a very busy drug dealer. But those stories are for another time.
This night we climbed into an old junk box my brother had been driving, which was used for this assignment. We headed out. I was driving, Jim was riding shot gun, and my brother was in back. I”ll mention here that although my brother and I worked on the same PD for over 22 years together, rarely, if ever, did we cross paths on the job, or even work the same shift together. He saved my ass on the job at least once that I remember, and I like to believe I helped save his the night I kicked in that door. This happened to be one of the very few nights we actually worked together in our careers. I was more than exited about this. So, we headed out to one of those high crime, high drug areas. It didn’t take long to come across a male subject who appeared to be “working” the street.
Prostitution, including male prostitution, was a particularly vexing and serious problem during that time. We certainly weren’t targeting gay males simply because they were gay. But we did target all street prostitution, be it male or female. However, with male prostitutes, or even males just cruising the streets to meet other males for sex without money being involved, too often these sexual encounters deteriorated into one of two outcomes: The male prostitute picks up a male customer, then sets up the customer and robs him, knowing the customer wouldn’t pursue the robbery because he didn’t want his family, employer, etc. to find out he was gay, or, the customer was with a group of guys whose goal was to pick up a gay man and beat him badly, for no other reason beyond the fact that thought the man was gay. There were many predators out there, and unfortunately, this was a common problem. Sometimes, there was no money exchanged between the two at all, therefore no crime committed, unless the sex act was performed in a public place. So you see, when people start saying that prostitution is a victimless crime, that is often not the case.
So as I slow down and drive by, he approaches the passenger side of the car asks for a ride. Now for this guy to get into a car with three males, especially my brother, who looked really scruffy, is in itself an act of foolishness. He is just setting himself up to be robbed, beaten or worse. Quite likely a victim of a violent crime. Like the man once said in the movie, he was setting himself up to be an appetizer for a bigger fish who was going to swim along and gobble him up out on the street of life. But he did it. He climbed into the back seat next to my brother. I pulled away from the curb, and we started the delicate verbal ballet that vice officers often find themselves participating in.
We chatted him up, talked with him, trying to get him to utter the magic phrase, that is, offer to perform a sex act for a specific amount money. We couldn’t ask him outright, that would be entrapment, so we played the word games trying to turn this into a lawful arrest that would stick, all the while doing so without making this guy suspicious of our motives one way or another. Not always a simple task.
I drove around, the conversation continued, and as we talked about whatever. At one point I told him I had to go to work shortly tapping my prop of a lunchbox my brother had in the car, and that I was looking for a little fun without my wife knowing about it. I also told him I liked men. His response to my veiled advance was to tell me he really liked the guy in the back seat (meaning my brother) and he really wanted to go somewhere with him. This parlay or verbal joust continued for a while, and after a bit, it became apparent to me that this guy was either too shrewd for us, or, he just wanted to get with my brother, no cash transaction needed at all. Finally, I knew we were wasting our time, and Jim, surprising the hell out of me, suddenly blurts out, “Hey, how much for a B___J__?” At that point I knew we were finished, because even if they guy gave us a number, Jim crossed the line, probably out of frustration. This conversation had now turned and we all new it constituted entrapment under NH Law, nor would it survive any type of judicial scrutiny.
Suddenly I pulled over to the side of the street, slammed on the brakes which probably surprised everyone, and I told this guy to get out. He protested, I told him in a more forceful manner got out get the F out. He did, but he did so damned reluctantly. As I pulled away from the sidewalk in frustration, he started to chase us, running behind us down the middle of the street. He was yelling and imploring “Please, please come back! You don’t understand! I don’t want any money, I’ll do you all for nothing!” I made a hard left to getaway from this particular character, as fast as I could. That was the end of that. So much for my first prostitution arrest. But, as you might guess, we weren’t done yet.