There are many different ways to describe them and some are more vulgar than others, but if you’ve been in law enforcement for very long the odds are pretty good that you have found yourself involved in a few. Sometimes they’re in-house, sometimes they involve multiple agencies. Sometimes they’re driven by the absolute insanity that you find and other times it’s a product of a number of different small and easy to fix problems that all hit the fan at once and momentarily overwhelm the senses. Suspects, witnesses, victims, judges, attorneys, fire fighters, the star and oak leaf cluster club, detectives, and patrol officers can produce quite a complicated and intricate one given the opportunity.
Oh cluster-fuck, how I love and hate you all at the same time.
A long time ago I figured out that a life in a cubicle was not for me. Part of the allure of being in law enforcement is the variety that this career offers. I’ve worked in a lot of industries and none have come close to giving me the opportunity to do something different every day. Given that law enforcement is inherently a human experience, it can be prone to those “how did you get the beans above the frank?” moments.
I’ve learned to never underestimate the unlimited potential for stupidity when people are involved. I’d like to say that I’m above it, but I know I’ve twisted a knot or two in a goat rope all on my own at least a handful of times in my time here in the Donut.
Sometimes they are entirely perception-driven and come to life in the form of a neighbor in an upstairs apartment calling in a violent domestic dispute in the apartment below. The responding officers knock and loudly announce their presence and are met with screaming and thumping noises inside. A decision has to be made, and time is of the essence because it sounds extremely violent. A boot to the door exploding the door frame reveals a totally different scene inside the apartment, as a man and woman who are fully disrobed are involved in a consensual but particularly loud sexual escapade. After some awkward apologies and attempts to repair the door, the officers part ways with the couple and return to service as they make jokes about mustache rides to each other.
Others aren’t so lighthearted. These come from a variety of places but usually involve the darker side of a life wearing a badge. Fatal crashes, rapes, shootings, robberies and the like bring a lot of folks to the scene with the best of intentions, but a various viewpoints and habits that intermingle all at once can be mindnumbing and frustrating on an epic level. Seemingly easy tasks become more difficult, and without a concerted effort some of the tasks get repeated unnecessarily.
An experienced street cop will rapidly canvass an area, deem it safe for an investigator, medical personnel, or whomever else is necessary at the scene. Then that same uniformed cop starts to complete tasks to further the investigation in a fairly rapid fashion. Uniformed cops are used to doing whatever is needed to clear a scene and move on to the next call. On the other hand, a detective will typically want to slow things down and chew up manpower by tasking uniform cops with minutia. Toss in a few cops from surrounding agencies, a medical examiner, EMS personnel, members of the star and oak leaf cluster club, and the media and you’ve got yourself a fine circus act.
Natural disasters like floods and tornadoes can follow the same pattern. The street cop will be there first and will start making sense of a situation. Things progress fairly well under capable supervision and management, but if you introduce a card carrying member of the star and oak leaf cluster club that just completed some sort of FEMA incident management course, all of a sudden the whole operation can come to a grinding halt. This is especially true of those administrators who haven’t been involved with any law enforcement activity for decades. I don’t need a sand table and fancy title, sure make so-and-so in charge of logistics, just please stay the hell out of the operations side of the house and let someone competent run this show. I really don’t think that the homeowner who is surveying the damage to her house will give a shit about your dry erase board and ICS labels.
A suspect, witness, or victim that is intoxicated, speaks a different language, has a reduced mental capacity, is injured, or is absolutely insolent can send a simple investigation slowly into a downward spiral to the abyss. Combine a few of those factors and you’ll be wading in those waters for a while if the situation warrants it.
The patrol folks aren’t excluded from creating these clusters either. We have a tendency to charge headlong into something, and once a course is set in motion it can be difficult to redirect. Or worse, from time to time we have the highway construction crew syndrome and everyone wants to be the guy leaning on the shovel rather than actually getting involved in something that needs to take place on a call.
There are too many varieties of cluster-fucks to list them all here, but in a strange way I actually rather enjoy them on occassion. It’s a test to see if my skills are up to par, an opportunity to see the depths at which our species can either sink or rise. Untangling a goat rope can be a lot like untwisting a mangled Slinky, as soon as you figure out how to do it one way, it won’t work that way the next time. These are the times that I either want to bang my head against the wall or that I wonder how in the world I ended up in a career where I get paid to do these things for a living.
Feel free to add your own clusters in the comments section or on my Facebook page. It’s time to patrol the Donut…