Pain and the Prairie

Don't you just hate the damn GPD?
By Stephanie Botner

It's Friday night and you've been invited to several places to enjoy the evening with various friends. But most of them are going to establishments where you must pay to get in, buy your drinks, then hide in a corner or behind others so you can drink because you're under 21. Too much hassle. Then it is brought up that there's this "huge" party going on at the Campus Club apartments; four kegs. What else is new? At least you can dress casual, get wasted for free and possibly "hook up."

So you go and it's all you expected it to be. You grab a 16-ounce red plastic cup, fill it up with Bud Ice beer, walk over to a card game in progress and take a shot of some unknown clear liquid, mingle outside with all the smokers, fill up your red cup, talk to someone who says he/she has got the same chemistry class as you, fill up the red cup, take another shot, bum a cigarette while outside, fill up the cup one more time before the third keg runs dry, grab that person you've never seen before from chemistry class and begin busting a move on the make-shift dance floor in the living room. And while you're at this all-time high beer buzz, the music cuts, the lights flick on, and as you turn around to see what's going on, an officer from the Gainesville Police Department is behind you asking to see your identification, please….

Gawd! Don't you just hate the damn GPD? Why do they always have to hassle the young students of UF and Santa Fe?

This has been the perception of most college students in Gainesville for years, but to reveal that the "damn GPD" isn't just out there to prevent underage drinkers from driving home after a party and wrapping themselves around a telephone pole, meet Michael Schibuola, 24, in charge of zone unit E-450 for the Gainesville Police Department. "Echo 450" is part of a team that covers the southeast side of town. This is considered the poorest and most crime-ridden area of Gainesville. Poorly kept Section-8 housing apartments and abandoned houses line up along littered streets where homeless dogs, cats and people roam. Cars and homes are continuously broken into. Cases of domestic violence are reported every night. Known drug dealers hang out only a couple of blocks, sometimes less, from where grade-school children play. It's Mike's job to prevent those crimes and keep the children safe from the drugs and the people selling and using them. Just another "damn GPD" right?

Mike has been with the GPD for a little over a year. However, he is not like the typical officer who would be stereotyped as middle age, not so physically fit with a wife and two kids at home. A strong jaw line, piercing hazel eyes and GQ haircut give the impression that maybe a profession on TV would be more suitable. . He keeps his body in shape by lifting weights everyday and eating healthy. While in school at UF, he was a member of a social Greek fraternity and received a degree in sociology before graduating from the police academy at Santa Fe CC in 1997. His schedule runs from Tuesday to Saturday and is part of the evening shift, which begins at 4 p.m. for a team briefing and then 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on patrol. This gives him a chance to still enjoy a social life at places like Fat Tuesday's, where he used to bartend, and the Purple Porpoise on game days.

To show what the GPD does for the community of Gainesville on any particular night besides hassling the college students, I rode along on one of Mike's shifts. A Tuesday night to be exact, or what he likes to call his "Monday," because it's been two days of rest since his last shift. After exiting the department's building on SW Sixth Avenue at 5:15 p.m., we head straight to the white and blue police car marked "450" and begin our journey to the eastside of town as the sun begins to set.

As he said, Tuesday is the first day of his work week, so Mike starts it off by cruising the perimeters of his zone, which include all streets east of Main Street and south of Waldo Road to the city's limit. As he drives west back into the city, the sun's rays get past his car's visor and distract his vision. He pulls out a pair of wire-rimmed sunglasses with silver reflective shades, snaps them open with the flick of his wrist and smoothly places them on his face. Then he targets the most troublesome spots, apartment complexes overrun and haunted by drug users and pushers, and drives in and around them. A group of about 15 adolescent girls is hanging out at a bike rack in one complex called Kennedy Homes. They notice the evening police drive-by has a female passenger and begin cooing, "looks like the po-po's got a girrrrllllllfriend." Some smile and wave, others just stare with a look displacing the preconditioned notion to disgust the white officer patrolling a black neighborhood.

Mike notices the stares and waves back saying, "whether they're black or white, most people don't like cops. However, it's mainly the ones we have to deal with that really don't like us. The rest in this neighborhood is glad I come by every night to check on them."

It is possible in areas like the Kennedy Homes, where young girls gather to socialize before dinner, that a drug deal could be going on less than a block away, so Mike says the easiest factor to look for is rental cars. It's simple for a drug dealer to get around town in car borrowed with cash and non-traceable if a sticky situation should arise. Even cars that are the same year and model of the current rental stock are checked out, because the license plate could have been switched. Stored above the passenger side visor is a list of that day's stolen car report. Mike has scanned it several times, and every car that looks like it "just doesn't belong" is checked out to see if it matches one on the list. Those are ways this officer anticipates an infraction with the law. However, tonight's events all occur by being in the right place at the right time.

It is 7 p.m. when the cop car emerges from a side street south of Williston Road onto 441. At the corner are two black men and one white. The three turn to notice and immediately part ways with the white male walking south and the other two head alongside to the Hawthorne Road Bait &Tackle. Mike calls the group's break up a little too suspicious and recognizes one of those two men heading for the tackle shop as "this guy named Sami." He pulls over to investigate.

Sami is short, dark skinned with shaky eyes. He is wearing a red T-shirt and army green pants. When Mike pulls over and steps out of the car, Sami immediately throws his hands up and begins mumbling he is O-K, he did nothing, what can he do for the officer? Mike says that Sami is slightly off mentally and has had a run in with him before so this response to seeing cop is expected. Mike searches Sami and asks a few questions, but Sami is off on his own tangent explaining his day's events that lead him to that corner. Mike assures him everything is all right, but to be careful whom he associates with and gets back into the car. Maybe he went for the wrong person.

Heading back into the neighborhood, just about at the end of the street within a tiny apartment community, Mike notices the white male walking through. He waits for the man to come out past the fence surrounding the community and pulls him over. The man is more like a boy of 19; tall and skinny, blonde buzz-cut hair, wire-rimmed glasses and wearing a blue Michael Jordan T-shirt, camouflage cargo shorts and Adidas look-a-like flip-flops. The boy is soft spoken as he answers Mike's questions as to why he was speaking with the two men earlier and why is he cutting through the community. When asked to see his identification, please, he presents a military ID, but as Mike calls it in to the switchboard to check for a record, he notices the boy has given him two different names, one when they met and one on the card. Mike looks the boy up and down and asks to search him. "Shaking like a leaf," the boy agrees and places his hands on the hood of the car. Mike doesn't find anything, but knows he is on to something. He confronts the boy about the name change and is given the reply that when asked his name, the boy said his mother's last name, because that is who he is with now, but at the time of the ID, he was living with his father on a military base and had to take that last name for medical reasons. When asked if ever arrested, he replies yes, for assault.

As Mike calls in both names to check for criminal and outstanding records, another cop car pulls up with Officer Latsko in it. Also in her early twenties, Latsko is short with a compact build and short dark brown hair pulled tightly into a ponytail. Chewing on a piece of gum she begins shooting off repetitive questions that anyone in a normal situation would be offended by since she just showed up, but by the way the boy is shaking it looks like he doesn't have room to be offended.

It is now 7:20 p.m. and the three stand around as the dusk turns to night and the mosquitoes emerge from the woods. Mike has been notified that the boy might have a warrant out for his arrest from another county, but must wait for confirmation. He and Latsko give him plenty of opportunities to turn himself in without asking about the possibility. The boy just repeats his original answer and slowly burns up one cigarette after another.

While they wait, Latsko notices a man walking down the middle of the street drinking from a can in a paper bag. She believes it is beer and asks to use Mike's binoculars to get a better look. Mike calls out for the guy, who has turned around repeatedly to see what's going on as he walks the other way, to come on over. As Latsko watches the man quickly pours out the can and throws it into the woods. She yells at him, "You better go pick that up." Her strong voice carries even farther as she repeats herself. She then chuckles and repeats that he said "Yes ma'am" as he headed for where the can landed.

At 7:36 the confirmation comes through; the boy has a warrant out for his arrest from Brevard County for aggravated assault and criminal mischief. Mike handcuffs and searches him one more time before seating him in the back of the car. It isn't for the reason Mike had originally thought it might be, but as in a line out of a book he says, "Well, at least that's one more person off the streets that should be."

We speed along Williston and Waldo to arrive at the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, Department of the Jail to book the suspect. The 1999 monthly average for new arrest bookings at this county's jailhouse is 1,074, which includes those brought in not only by the GPD, but the Alachua County Sheriff and the area Florida Highway Patrol. So bringing in one arrest a night is pretty good for one officer. Mike mentions that he hopes to get more. The bookings room is an open, two-story high room with stark white walls with turquoise accents. To enter the room, a cop and his suspect must step past one set of glass mechanical sliding doors, then wait after they close behind them for the next set to open and allow entrance into the room. Makeshift jail cells outline the big empty waiting room. In the center there are many places to sit as a person waits to get his/her thumb printed, pictures taken, a look-over by a county physician and then sent to change into the bright orange garb worn by inmates to sleep the night away in. While the boy goes through this process, Mike must wait for the confirmation number comes though via fax about the warrant. When it does, he fills out the necessary paperwork, turns it in and quickly heads back out to his car.

Back at the car, Mike open the trunk and takes out a white can of spray. It is air freshener

"After every arrest I use this to disinfect my car," he says as the spray saturates the blue vinyl of the backseat. "It's Lysol's spring fresh and I never leave home without it. You never know how long it's been since someone has showered."

As the night progresses Mike falls upon another arrest of an illegal alien from Mexico driving a car without a license. A Spanish-speaking officer informs Mike that he shouldn't take the boy and his friends, all illegal migrant workers, in to jail because nothing will be done about it by Immigration and it will be a waste of paperwork for him. Mike arrests the driver for driving without a proper license and makes the other three guys walk home in hopes that it will affect their boss' pocket for letting them get into that situation.

A call is made about a domestic dispute. A chase consisting of three units and a K-9 unit pursue after the suspect and lead to a dark wooded lot and an abandoned house, but no suspect is found so the group must take the loss.

"Usually if they're gone this long, they've gotten away," he says. "Too bad we can't get the helicopter out here. It has infrared and can detect body heat at night."

But after Mike settles back into his car after a long chase on foot and careful examination of the house and lot, he gets another call that a fight has been reported and the possible use of a weapon, a knife, is present. Mike is the first to make it to the neighborhood, which just happens to right across the street from where the boy was arrested earlier. Three guys and a girl are roaming about in the parking lot waving their hands and yelling. All talk to Mike at the same time. The other party, a man, has left and the police need to get him, they yell. It is obvious to Mike what has occurred; a drug deal gone bad. But, when he hears that a suspect has been stopped at the Hawthorne Road Bait & Tackle, Mike leaves the disgruntled people by telling them they need to go back into their home and that he will take care of things.

Mike pulls into the parking lot to greet four other officers standing and speaking with a suspect who has said yes, he was the other side of the fight. When Mike is brought up on what the suspect has said, two officers leave to return to their own zones. The suspect says that a verbal fight broke out between him and one of the other men. He felt he was in danger being the only one on his side, so he pulled hand-sized switch blade to protect himself as he left. But, no, he didn't want to press charges, he just wanted to go home.

"Where's that?" Mike asked "Where's your home?"

"Uh, over on, over there…" the man answered by swinging his long arms in a full motion around behind him and across the street.

"Why don't you know where you live? What's your name?" Mike quickly asked.

"Alton Lang," he mumbles. "It's over there. I can't think of the street because I just moved there. I'm staying with friends."

Mike keeps asking repetitive questions as to why Alton, who appears to be in his late twenties, tall with a muscular build, wearing a Orlando Magic basketball jersey, cream and tan colored shorts and an old pair of white tennis shoes slipped on so his heals still showed. Alton just kept repeating with deep breaths and listless eyes that he was innocent and didn't want to press charges.

"If you're innocent, may I check your pockets?" Mike asked.

"I ain't got nuttin'. I'm innocent."

"Just on the outside," Mike said as Alton raised his arms away from his pockets.

"Why don't you empty your pockets for me? What do you got?"

Alton stuck his hand in one pocket and pulled it out so all the white could show, stuck his hand in the second pocket then quickly removed it as is he had just remembered something, then went for the back pocket and pulled on it until all the cloth showed. The other two cops were silent.

"How about you take out that crack pipe?" Mike asked in a harsh tone. "Take it out of your pocket for me." Alton put his hand back into the second pocket and brought out a clear tube about two inches long, jagged at one edge, clotted with some tissue in the other and burnt all inside. He also handed over a gold colored metal rod about three inches long and a clear baggie about one square inch big. One of the silent cops, Officer Denmark, stepped over and took the crack pipe and it's accessories over to the hood of Mike's car to test it as Mike continued asking questions.

"Who are you really? There is no record for an Alton Lang. Why are you lying to me," Mike snapped. "Where did you buy your crack, Alton? What's your real name, Alton?"

As Alton mumbled back response, Denmark took his own little metal rod and scraped what was left of the pipe's and baggie's contents onto the hood of the car; two little speckles of what looked like sand. He then soaked each piece in its own puddle of white vinegar. Next he took his second liquid dropper and let a touch of cobalt thyocynate fall upon the puddles. Both puddles instantly turned blue, which specified that the speckles of sand were indeed traces of crack cocaine.

When Denmark confirmed that Alton had been using crack and actually had it on him, no matter how small a trace, Mike handcuffed Alton and began reading the Miranda rights to him. An empty county school bus drove by as Alton protested, saying they couldn't arrest him because he was working undercover for one of the city's detectives and he could confirm his real name since he had no identification on him. Since none of the officers could see any other way of identifying him, Mike had to call up the detective to meet at police headquarters. It was 12 a.m.

On the ride there it was evident that Alton Lang, or Gilliard as he was now claiming himself to be was one of those "someones" who hadn't showered in quite some time. A foul body odor stench permeated the car. Mike realized that his Lysol was in the trunk, so putting down both front seat windows and sporadically smelling the remnants of his cologne were all he could do to keep the odor at bay. He also continued asking Alton/Gilliard questions.

"How long you've been addicted to crack?"

"Two years," Alton replied.

"How do you pay for it?"

"What?" The wind rushing in was quite loud.

"So, what have you been breaking into to pay for the crack," Mike spoke at a louder decibel.

"Oh, I don't go that," Alton replied.

"Then how are you paying for it? You got a job?"

Alton mumbled "day labor" for a response. Even though he didn't believe it, Mike let the subject go.

Once back at headquarters, Mike takes Alton and sets him in an interrogation room. Alton notices a news ad with several "wanted" pictures on it. He quickly points out one of the faces and says he knows that person and can get them for the GPD. Mike replies with a "whatever" and says the detective will be in shortly to speak with him.

Outside the interrogation room is a TV set up displaying the actions of Alton as he struggles to turn the ad over while handcuffed behind his back. This is the GPD's form of the two-way mirror. The detective arrives and looks at the screen confirming that yes, that is Gilliard, a man arrested two weeks ago for possession of crack, but promised he'd stop and help the cops as an informant if he could just stay out of jail. The detective agreed under certain restrictions that included not getting high and calling in every week. It appeared that Gilliard had done neither and the detective had lost the reliability of using him for a character witness if anything should ever be brought in by Gilliard; arrest him.

As the detective entered the room and told the same to Gilliard, who mumbled protests and that he knew the picture in the ad, Mike pulled up his criminal record. Several previous arrests showed for home and auto theft

"He doesn't have a job, he steals from people to buy his crack," Mike said. "I knew it. Sometimes, it's so obvious, it's sad."

By the time Gilliard had been processed through the jail system if was 1:30 a.m. and time for Mike to call it a night. He had many time sheets and reports from the beginning of the month to finish writing and the Sargent was getting on his case about it. He had a good night; three arrests. Statistically, that's great. Did I notice that all three men were of different skin tones?

"See, the law is color-blind. We'll arrest anyone who does wrong," he said with a sarcastic laugh.

When finally asked what makes him go out there to prevent crime five nights a week with such energy, he replies "I have always wanted to be a cop since I was a kid. I liked watching the police shows on TV. That's all I really wanted to do for a career really, I never really thought much of doing anything else."

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