People & Places

     Rear guard

If you happen to be in Wheat Ridge, Colo., in the next few months, you might notice that unusual numbers of the town’s senior citizens are sporting fanny packs. It’s no fashion trend. Rather, it’s an anti-crime measure initiated by Det. David Goracke to reduce a spate of purse-snatching among the elderly.

Over 500 of the zippered pouches, which are attached to a belt that buckles securely around the waist, were to be distributed last month to elderly residents in the town of 36,000, located just to the northwest of Denver.

Goracke, who estimated that about 50 percent of Wheat Ridge residents are over the age of 60, said seniors have become favored targets of thieves and purse-snatchers. “They’ll leave their purses in shopping carts and then they’ll walk down the aisle. These people just stalk them, and when they turn their backs, they take their wallets or purses. So we want to get them to wear them, and keep them on them at all times,” he told Law Enforcement News last month.

A 16-year veteran assigned to the agency’s crimes against persons unit, Goracke said he received a $2,000 grant from the Colorado Consortium for Community Policing to purchase the accessories. The American Association of Retired Persons has told Goracke it will make a donation to support the effort. Bijoux Manufacturing, a New York City-based firm that makes the pouches, gave him a discount on bulk shipments, he added.

The fanny packs were to be distributed to people age 60 or older Nov. 18 at the Wheat Ridge Senior Center, where Goracke planned to give a crime-prevention presentation warning seniors of the dangers of carrying a purse and give tips on how to secure their money when walking outside or shopping.

Karen Ruiz, director of the center, told LEN that several clients have had their purses stolen while shopping or walking along the street. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “And it will benefit their health because they won’t have to carry heavy purses on their shoulders.”

Goracke said he came up with the fanny-pack idea after he became frustrated with the results of a stratagem in which decoy cops tried to foil thieves who targeted seniors. “Of course, nobody ever hit our decoys,” he said.

Police departments from as far away as Florida have inquired about his brainchild, he added.


     40 is enough

Arlington County, Va., Police Chief William K. “Smokey” Stover, whose blunt-talking style over four decades with the agency earned him legendary status among colleagues, has announced plans to retire in January.

Stover, 66, who celebrated his 40th year with the agency in September, said he is getting too old to run the 330-officer agency that has been under his leadership since 1978. “I am frankly getting very old, and I’ve been here for a long time,” he said on Oct. 21. “If I want to do more things, this is the time to do it.”

Stover was assigned as a beat officer when he joined the department in 1956. He became a vice squad detective, then was promoted to lieutenant in the internal affairs division, and ultimately, to deputy chief in charge of operations.

In 1988, the agency’s homicide squad developed the case against serial killer Timothy Spencer, who became the first murderer to be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence.

Stover has employed a unique style, exemplified by his straightforwardness. When asked once why he wore a business suit instead of a uniform, he replied, “You know I’ve got the authority. [Officers] know I’ve got the authority. Why do I need a uniform?”

In April 1990, the NAACP objected when Arlington County officers photographed black men during a murder investigation. Stover forcefully defended the action, saying that leads pointed to a black suspect. “If I have leads that a white person has committed a crime, I don’t target Asians, blacks or Hispanics,” he said. “If I’m going to an orchard to pick apples, I don’t go to an orange orchard. How in the world can anyone read racial overtones into that?”


     Hill topper

Capt. William J. Hill, a 28-year veteran of the Camden, N.J., Police Department, was named acting chief of the agency Oct. 15, the second official to be appointed to the job on an interim basis since former Chief George “Bob” Pugh retired after leading the force for eight years.

Hill, will take the reins from Capt. Albert Handy Sr., who had been running the 340-officer department since Pugh’s retirement on Oct. 1. Mayor Arnold W. Webster chose Hill over nine other captains, including  Handy and Capt. Edwin Figueroa, both of whom were considered favorites for the job because of their close ties to Pugh.

The appointment gives Hill, 47, a foot in the door toward becoming Pugh’s permanent successor. The provisional appointment hinges on how well he does on a state-mandated Civil-Service exam that will be administered within the next nine months. The other candidates are also eligible to take the test.

But Webster said he was confident Hill would do well on the examination, noting that he had achieved top scores consistently on Civil Service tests and is the No. 1-ranked captain and deputy chief candidate. “It is without reservation that we have selected [a man] who possess the character, ability and intelligence to lead this department. With the record that he has set so far, there’s little doubt in my mind that he will not fall within the top three, if not the top,” Webster said.

Hill characterized himself as a leader who would be “fair to everyone” while trying to fight the city’s high crime rate, improve morale and manage the agency’s limited resources. Although Hill has his critics, he enjoys support among elected and civic officials, citizens and the rank and file. “It is a comforting feeling to know that the support is so broad-based in this community,” Webster said.

Lieut. Mike Kanter, vice president of the Camden Police Supervisors Organization, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his group would back Hill. “He’s the top candidate. He’s shown that he’s more than qualified over the years. We may not agree with him all of the time, but we plan to work along with the chief.”


     A new challenge

A 23-year veteran of the Scottsdale, Ariz., Police Department who says he’s done “just about every assignment possible in a police agency” will soon get a chance to tackle the one job he has yet to do  running a police agency  following his selection as the new chief in Fort Collins, Colo.

Capt. Dennis Harrison, 42, will begin his duties Jan. 1. He succeeds Frederick Rainguet, who retired in July after serving as chief since 1991. Deputy Chief Bud Reed has served as acting chief in the interim.

In an interview with Law Enforcement News, Harrison reflected on what he said has been a wide-ranging career with the Scottsdale P.D., serving in its patrol and investigations units, as press and community affairs officer, and as the SWAT commander.

He praised the narcotics unit he once headed, noting that about 80 percent of the officers who worked under him are now supervisors themselves. “The biggest success is watching how those we dealt with at the officer level are now sergeants and lieutenants in the specialty units,” he said.

Harrison said the 130-officer Fort Collins Police Department, which provides services for 103,500 residents in a city about 60 miles north of Denver, is in good shape and he doesn’t foresee having to make any major changes. “There’s nothing there that’s crying out for immediate change,” he said. “It’s had leadership over the years, and it’s got quality people who understand policing in Fort Collins. They’re leading the agency in the proper direction and I’m impressed by that.”

Harrison said his participatory management style will fit in well in Fort Collins. “It’s a very professional organization that believes in trying new things, introspectively looking at the department and figuring out new directions and new ways of providing service to the citizens,” he noted.


     Wading is the hardest part:
     One deputy rescues another in flood

Hurricane Fran drenched North Carolina in early September, causing millions of dollars in property damage, but the storm made a hero out of a Wake County deputy sheriff who saved the life of a fellow officer trapped in her car in rapidly rising flood waters.

Sheriff John Baker honored Deputy Larry Hancock, 40, with a special commendation for heroism Oct. 11 for his rescue of Deputy Charlane Hackett. Hancock waded through chest-deep floodwaters to respond to a distress call radioed by Hackett during the height of the massive storm on Sept. 6.

“What Hancock did was very special,” Baker said. “He risked his life to come to the rescue of a fellow officer. I feel that the citizens of Wake County need to say thank-you to these officers for the outstanding work they did during Fran, the professionalism they showed in dealing with this.”

Hancock was 10 miles away when he received the call from Hackett, who said she was trapped in her patrol car and could not swim. The first time she called, the water was around her ankles; the second time she called, the water had risen to the car seat and threatened to swamp the vehicle.

 “I could hear the stress in her voice,” Hancock told The Raleigh News and Observer. “Law enforcement officers can hear the stress in another officer’s voice.”

Hancock battled high winds, downed power lines and falling trees in his high-speed race to save Hackett. Some Raleigh firefighters were at the scene, and Hancock asked them what they were going to do to help the trapped deputy. “They said, ‘There is nothing we can do.’ I’m very surprised something wasn’t attempted,” he said.

The deputy, who is a member of the sheriff’s boat rescue team, put on a life jacket and waded more than 150 yards through strong currents to reach Hackett, who knelt on her car seat and held a flashlight out the window to guide him. “Let’s just say I prayed a lot, asking the Lord to send somebody to get me out of that car,” said Hackett of her 30-minute ordeal.

By the time Hancock reached her, water was up to the dashboard, forcing her to sit on an opened window. “She was petrified. All she was doing was holding on, bracing herself in the window,” Hancock recalled.

Hackett wasn’t the only one who was scared, Hancock said. “I do deep-water diving and have been around wrecks when sharks were swimming around me,” he observed. “That doesn’t faze me. This scared me.”

Hackett donned a life jacket and the two deputies clung together as they waded back to dry land. “The Lord and Hancock pulled me out of there,” said Hackett.


    Finding heroes among the wreckage:
         Five are hailed for actions
         in Oklahoma City bombing aftermath

Many heroes emerged from the wreckage of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19, 1995, that destroyed the structure, killing 167 people and injuring 675 more. The herculean efforts of five of them to prevent further loss of life without regard for their own safety were recognized recently by Parade magazine and the International Association of  Chiefs of Police, which named them Police Officers of the Year.

This year’s honorees, who were formally presented with the awards at the IACP’s annual meeting in Phoenix in October, include: Midwest City police Cpl. Regina Bonny, 36; Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent David Schickendanz, 46, and three members of the Oklahoma City Police Department, Det. Sgt. Robert Campbell, 39; Sgt. Rod Hill, 46; and Officer Jim Ramsey, 27.

It was the first time that joint awards have been bestowed since 1981, when four Secret Service agents were honored for saving the life of former President Ronald Reagan during an assassination attempt.

Bonny, an undercover narcotics officer, was in the doomed building that day because she had been assigned to work with the DEA on a case. She was with three female DEA agents gathered around Carrie Lenz, who was five months pregnant, looking at ultrasound images of Lenz’s baby. The bomb exploded as Bonny walked down the hall to her office. Bonny was knocked unconscious by the blast, but when she came to, she took action that saved the lives of several others trapped in the rubble.

Although suffering from serious injuries that left her with irreparable nerve damage, a brain injury and hand and shoulder wounds, Bonny pulled Vernon Buster, an inspector with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, from debris and removed a piece of metal from his arm. Then she went to the aid of Jim Staggs, also an ATF inspector, who was bleeding from a head wound. She tore off Staggs’ shirt and wrapped it around his head to stop the flow of blood. As dust and smoke began to swirl around them, Bonny, who is 5 feet, 4 inches tall, guided Buster and dragged Staggs, who weighed 205 pounds, over a pile of concrete and to a staircase.

But Bonny didn’t stop once she reached the street. She went back into the crumbling structure to search for her colleagues. But all she found was a gaping chasm where nine floors of the building, including the DEA office, used to be. She continued her fruitless search, and learned a few days later that everyone with her when the blast occurred had perished.

Schickedanz was in an elevator with ATF supervisor Alex McCauley when the blast’s shock wave jolted it loose and sent it hurtling six floors down. Once the elevator came to rest a few feet above the third floor, Schickedanz and McCauley used an emergency telephone and buzzer to summon help that never came.

The DEA agent used his body to wedge the door open so he and McCauley could scramble out and make their way to a third-floor exit door. Schickendanz returned to the building to launch a futile search for his DEA colleagues. He went on to set up a command post in his car, tried to comfort shell-shocked survivors, and fielded telephone calls. Later, he went to a local hospital to have smoke from the blast pumped from his lungs. The blast left the now-retired agent with permanent partial hearing loss.

Hill was among several Oklahoma City police officers who rushed to the scene following the blast,. He was trying to rescue survivors when firefighters warned of the possibility of another explosion. Hill was about to flee with other rescuers when he saw two women on the seventh floor of the building. “Don’t leave us!” they pleaded. Hill decided to return to try to rescue the women, and was followed by Sgt. Campbell and Det. Sgt. Ramsey.

Hill reached the seventh floor, crawled through a blown-out window and came upon a 15-foot-wide pit. He could hear one of the two women, Rhonda Griffin, 44, trying to persuade her friend Glenda Riley, 50, to jump from the window. Before either could jump, Hill yelled out that he was there. “I’ll get you out!” he shouted.

Hill pulled himself up onto a window frame, then moved carefully over two blown-out windows to get closer to the women. He hoisted Griffin onto a window frame, as Campbell and Ramsey threw a piece of metal over a narrow strip of floor to give the women an extra foothold. Using the metal plate to regain his own footing, Campbell grabbed Griffin from the window frame and pulled her across as Hill and Ramsey returned to rescue Riley.

Ten other law enforcement officers earned honorable mentions from IACP and Parade. They include: Sgt. Maj. Al Campbell, 54, Anoka, Minn., Police Department; Det. Linda Erwin, 50, Dallas Police Department; Officer Edron Lonaberger Jr., University of Maryland at Baltimore Police Department; Special Agents Larry D. Salmon, 40, and Christopher W. Reilly, 49, both of the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service.

Also: Trooper Kenneth D. Mullen, 32, Illinois State Police; Officer Andrew M. Margiotta, 33, Henrico County, Va., Division of Police; Trooper Lee A. Sredniawa, 25, Ohio State Highway Patrol; Officer Mell Taylor, 32, Spokane, Wash., Police Department; and Sgt. Mark A. Wynn, 41, Metropolitan Nashville, Tenn., Police Department.

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Published in Law Enforcement News
Dec. 15, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.