The Chief - Cover

The Chief

Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay

Chapter 27

It was on a Wednesday, just a week after the arrest, that I had Dispatch call Cecelia in from patrol. I'd prearranged things – she was on the day watch by my request on her first day off light duty, and the Chief of Patrol and the lead investigator were in the station at that point in the morning because I'd asked them to be. We'd taken over the patrol squad room for the occasion, temporarily banishing the watch commander to whatever quarters he chose to do his paperwork in.

I was sitting behind the watch commander's desk, with the other two on either side of me. Cecelia came in, looked at us, and said, "Unless there is some reason not to, I shall take this seat."

I shook my head, and she sat down front and center. "You know we've been reviewing your performance on November 8," I said. "It's part of the job – whenever something goes wrong, we try to figure out why, so that we can keep it from happening again. And we also want to find out if there's any fault, so that we can address it. Because you're my wife, I've asked these two men to review the matter with me, and to be present for this meeting."

I took in a big, big breath. "This isn't a disciplinary meeting, per se. There will be no forfeiture of pay, no suspension, nothing like that. Nevertheless, it is disciplinary in the sense that we agree that there were flaws in your police work during the traffic stop, and we want to address them."

Cecelia nodded. She had no expression on her face – I couldn't tell whether she was angry, upset, indifferent, or what, and I've known her since 1994 and usually can read her expression.

"Primarily, Officer Carpenter," I said, "we found that you did not exercise sufficient care in approaching a vehicle which you had reason to suspect was in the possession and control of a murder suspect. Knowing who might be driving the car, you nevertheless approached as though it were an ordinary traffic stop. At the very least you should have unsnapped your holster and had your hand on your weapon, ready to draw it – but you did not. Your own report gave us this information.

"It is also true that in your report you state this to be a flaw, and your recognition of your error counts for a lot. Nevertheless, we can't allow it to go at that. Officer Carpenter, it is our responsibility – especially mine – to see to it that officers in this department use proper caution in potentially dangerous situations. You are not to walk into a domestic dispute with both hands full, for you might need to defend yourself. You do not walk casually into a building where there's been a prowler report – you go in and you clear it, room by room. And you do not approach armed and dangerous suspects as you would approach someone whose sole offense is driving 10 miles per hour above the speed limit. That gets cops killed."

I stopped, for that last sentence had been louder than I'd intended. I got my voice back under control before I asked, "Do you understand what I'm saying, Officer Carpenter?"

"Yes, I do, Chief Carpenter. As you say, I acknowledged my culpability in my report on the incident. I will say, in mitigation, that I am new to police work, having had only such training as is available in this department – and that does not include the intensive education that a police academy provides. But having said this, I cannot deny that I made a very serious mistake, and that I have no rational recourse but to hold myself ready for whatever action you deem appropriate."

"You know I don't want to do anything to you, C," I said, dropping the necessary formality of the first part of the meeting. "I'd rather nothing had happened. I'd rather any other officer had made the stop – not that I want them to get shot, but that I don't want you getting shot. But it did happen, and it happened the way it happened, and it scared us both to death.

"Because I'm so close to this, Cecelia, I've asked these two men – who also have a lot more experience than I do – to make recommendations. I got a whole spectrum. Under the regulations of this department, I could suspend you for that breach of procedure – but as you've already heard, that's not going to happen. I could leave it as is, but both these officers think that would be wrong, and I have to agree with them. Therefore I'm going to put this letter in your personnel file. I'll ask you to read it and make any comments in the space available."

I handed it to her – both of us standing and reaching so that I could give it to her. Cecelia reads quickly. She looked up in just a few seconds and said, "I have no comments to make."

"Will you please note that, then?"

She pulled out her pen and wrote for a few seconds. When she handed the letter back I saw a single sentence in her spiky writing, and her signature.

"You realize, of course," I said as I put the letter into the folder that constituted her personnel records, "that with this letter in the file you almost certainly couldn't get hired on anywhere else for some time, and that promotion in this department will be difficult."

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