That time I found myself in the back of an SFPD patrol car

Sitting in the back of a San Francisco Police Department patrol car is uncomfortable.

I know this because I found myself there one afternoon, doors locked and with metal bars to prevent me from getting anywhere near the cops in the front.

It wasn’t where I had expected to end up when I woke up that day.

Half an hour earlier, I had been relaxing in my apartment when I saw a man and a woman crossing my “patio”—my patch of concrete on the roof of the building’s parking garage. These two people were behaving strangely.

I had realized in the preceding months that our “ground floor” apartments—those on the roof of the parking garage—were appealing targets to thieves. Strangers who did not quite look like upstanding citizens appeared in or near my patio from time to time.

I had repeatedly appealed to the building management to—for fuck’s sake!—lock the parking garage door that exited onto my patio. They legally couldn’t, they said; it was a fire escape.

So when I noticed these two people there, behaving strangely, I wasted no time calling 9-1-1, as well as the building’s private security contractor.

And that’s how I ended up in the back of an SFPD patrol car.

The officers had apprehended the man and wanted me to ID him. But they wanted to protect me from any retaliation, so they put me in the patrol car (which had blinded windows) and slowly drove by the side of the apartment building, while a different officer held the suspect up for me to see, from the patrol car.

Problem is, I wasn’t sure it was the guy. I hadn’t seen him from up close, and I hadn’t stayed completely calm after calling 9-1-1.

When I expressed some doubt, the officers pushed me along: “Are you sure? Take another good look.”

“Isn’t it the guy you called us in for?” they asked.

I felt pretty bad about this. Even if this guy had stolen something from one of my neighbors, having police officers nudge witnesses in a certain direction seemed wrong.

I gave in, though.

“Yeah… yeah, it’s him. It’s him”, I replied. I still wasn’t sure, but damn it, their pressure worked.

Luckily, with my identification formally completed, the officers immediately told me they knew this was the guy: they had found my neighbor’s iPad in one of his pant pockets. They just needed me to ID him so they could arrest him.

This time, the breaking of an important ethical rule (as well as, I’m sure, a law or two) did not cause much harm. It did give me a new appreciation for the work of police officers, though, and for the challenges in upholding political rights.

Finally, I was left wondering: how enormous must this guy’s pant pockets have been?


— Peter

# # Photo credit: Tony Hisgett

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