One Morning at Bouchercon

handcuffs

I spoke with author James O. Born a few weeks before New Orleans Bouchercon 2016. Jim is the real deal. He is on the cusp of retirement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and previously worked with DEA. He was also Elmore Leonard’s go-to guy on police procedure for over two decades. Jim has written a number of classic detective novels and next year will be moving into an extremely high profile writing slot. As if that isn’t enough, he annually presents an excellent panel on weaponry at Bouchercon each year. Because I was driving to New Orleans and he was flying, Jim asked if I would mind bringing some firearms with me. Jim assured me that he had cleared the presence of the weapons with hotel security and that I would be able to bring the weapons into the host hotel without difficulty.

On the morning in question I drove to the host hotel (I was staying elsewhere) with a square box briefcase containing three handguns and a shotgun bag containing a 12 gauge shotgun. All of the firearms were unloaded. I also had my loaded concealed carry weapon of choice (and my concealed carry permit) in my pocket.The briefcase with the handguns looked like any other briefcase (something like this Filson Briefcase); the shotgun bag with the shotgun inside looked like…well, a shotgun bag with a shotgun inside. I unloaded the car and turned it over to the hotel valet, who asked me conversationally if I was going to do any hunting, to which I replied that I was assisting with a panel at the writers’ convention. I then walked into the lobby, exchanged greetings with the gentlemen at the Bell Captains’ station, then proceeded up the escalator.

police-officer

Courtesy cliparts.co

I had reached the second floor and was walking toward the third floor escalator when I was approached at speed and with purpose by an unarmed security guard who asked me 1) where was I going and 2) what was I doing. I stopped, politely told him, and also mentioned that my presence had been cleared with the head of security. The security guard, civil enough but all business, told me 1) that he hadn’t been advised and 2) to put everything down. I complied; he asked me what I had in the briefcase and I told him, and also advised him that I had a concealed carry permit and a loaded revolver in my pocket. He told me to step back from the briefcase and gun bag, which I did, and then ordered me to take the revolver out of my pocket and unload it. I stepped back, and said politely, “Sir, I will comply with your request, but please note that I am in full compliance with the laws of the state of Louisiana in carrying this. I will happily show you my concealed carry permit as well.” He declined to see the permit, telling me that I had no right to bring a loaded firearm into the hotel (wrong, but I did not press the point) repeating again his order to me to remove the revolver and unload it. I offered to let him remove the gun from my pocket himself, which he declined to do. The entire time that we were having this exchange I kept my voice down, my hands away from my body (except while removing the revolver from my pocket), and my demeanor cooperative and polite. After presenting my revolver, unloading it, and setting it down (he had me keep the bullets) I suggested that we call Jim and get things straightened out. I did just that; Jim came running and after a polite exchange with the guard, the head of security was called. That gentleman confirmed with the guard that all was well, and after a bit of back and forth (which isn’t germane to our purpose today) we all went about our business. Jim’s program was terrific, as always: entertaining, funny, and extremely informative.

monopoly

Courtesy cliparts.co

Why all of this? My first thought upon seeing the guard approaching was that I hoped this wasn’t going to turn into a “thing.” By “thing,” I mean the summoning of a member of the New Orleans Police Department. The department is understaffed, underpaid, and over-regulated; their default response to a lot of situations is, alas, take the subject (which, in this case, would be me) to Orleans Parish Prison. I did not want to go to Orleans Parish Prison (known locally as “OPP”). I could see myself being summarily frog-marched down a long corridor where I would be quickly lost in the bowels of the criminal justice system, undoubtedly acquiring at least a couple of sets of unwanted and untoward stretch marks before things got sorted out (not to mention losing my guns). I could have given the guard an argument about my rights, the limits to his authority, and all of that good stuff, while refusing to comply at every step along the way. No; polite and cooperative, that’s me.

Now. The guard made a bunch of mistakes in dealing with me, and they didn’t have to do with failing to recognize me (“Hey, weren’t you in LA-308?”) or stopping me to begin with. With regard to the latter, he didn’t get the memo about the presentation; stuff happens. If he detected a potential problem he should be stopping me, and I have no business being unhappy, under this fact pattern. But. There’s a right way to go about this:

– A subject is either a) a threat; b) a potential threat; or c) not a threat. If c), there is no reason to be stopping them. The guard obviously regarded me as b), maybe a). So why did he approach me while alone and unarmed? He should have had at least two people with him, so that I was semi-surrounded from the beginning, one in front of me and one on each side. Nothing threatening; just folks have a chat. A couple of the bell captains would have been fine.

– He should have taken me up on my offer to let him remove the weapon himself. That I was a) polite, b) cooperative, and c) older is no reason to assume that I’m not a threat. See the paragraph above. What if I was giving him a load of buena sierra, stopped cooperating, and suddenly pulled the gun out?

– He should have searched me further, and then moved me against a wall, away from the guns, until everything was sorted out. Instead, he let me stand away from, but within arms’ reach of, my guns, and assumed that since I had told him about my concealed carry revolver that I had nothing else untoward in my possession. I did. I was wearing a utility hack knife on a necklace sheath. On those rare instances where I have been stopped and frisked — not because of what I was doing, but because of who I was with — I have been amazed that law enforcement (or whoever) always assumes that if they find two weapons you don’t have a third on you. Some folks do, and they are not all harmless little guys such as myself, full of well-mannered intent and good cheer.

This all could have gone badly. On my end, it’s an example of how being polite, civil, and reasonable can go a long way. On the guard’s end, it’s a cautionary tale. For you, the foregoing is offered as a teaching lesson, not only for your written vignettes but also for your real world dealings. I hope it helps with both. Has anyone else had an experience like this?

 

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23 thoughts on “One Morning at Bouchercon

  1. Great story, Joe. In today’s climate between law enforcement and civilians, it certainly could have gone badly. My only encounter with cops happened in 1969, while I was home on leave from the Air Force. My parents had moved to Tonganoxie, Kansas, a small town about twenty miles west of Kansas City, Kansas. I had been in Kansas City on a date with a girl I knew. We had been to a double feature at a drive-in theater and were late getting back.

    As I drove down her rural road to get back to the highway, a car passed me. Then a moment later the car topped a hill behind me with red lights flashing. We were near the highway and there was no where to pull off the country road, so I pulled out on the highway and pulled over to the shoulder. The cop car stopped behind me. Then another car appeared and stopped in front of me. Then another, and another, until I was surrounded by two KCK police cars, one Wyandotte county sheriff’s car, one Leavenworth county sheriff’s car and one state highway patrol car. All with lights flashing and spotlights lighting up me and my car.

    I was 19, home on leave from the military, and had never had a brush with the law in my life. They got me out of my car, asked for my leave papers, which I had left at my folk’s house. They asked me where I had been and where I was going. They asked for my parents address – which I didn’t know, because they had moved while I was away. “The first brick house off the highway,” didn’t cut it I guess.

    Then they asked to look in my trunk. Then I remembered, during the day, before my date I had visited a friend who fixed televisions for people. We had gone out, picked up a TV and promptly forgot it was in the trunk. There it sat, staring us in the face. Of course I didn’t know who it belonged to, or the address of my friend.

    I stood there for an hour and a half, grilled by the cops lit up by spotlights and feeling pretty well screwed. Finally, after calling my airbase in San Antonio, thoroughly searching my car and me, they let me go. I asked them why they stopped me – they hadn’t ever said. I wanted to make sure whatever
    I was doing didn’t happen again. The lead cop said, “You looked suspicious.”

    Lessons learned: I learned the addresses of everybody I knew (I can still recite them!), I don’t put strange TVs in my trunk, and I still have my leave papers in my pocket to this day.

    • First! Dave, thanks so much for sharing that story. Things can go FUBAR so quickly. I’ve never heard of Tonganoxie, Kansas (which, I’m sure, has never heard of me, either) but if I’m ever driving through there I’ll make sure to do so slowly, and to be polite.

      Story idea…The police look at the television set (given the time your story took place, it was probably fairly bulky, yes?) and when they check if for the serial number a bag of heroin (or a severed hand) falls out of the console. Sound like fun? Thanks again!

  2. Good morning, Joe.

    Great story. And no, I don’t have any similar experiences. I have lived a very boring life, and like it that way.

    The closest encounter to something similar: I forgot to remove a laptop from my travel bag while going through airport security. Very stupid. The TSA official went ballistic. Pulled me to the side, yelling. Had me remove the laptop. Then opened it up with gloved hands and checked it. All, right in the middle of a crowd of people.

    I’ll never forget again.

    I’m glad that your encounter ended well. And hey, you made a memory (and a great story).

    • Good morning, Steve. Thanks for stopping by. I’m GLAD you don’t have any boring stories. Boring, as I constantly tell my children and granddaughter, is bad for a story, but wonderful for life. Interesting will drive you crazy (which in my case, would be a short trip there and a long walk home). Have a wonderful, boring weekend!

  3. Great story, Joe. The situation could have easily gone downhill fast. Hopefully someone will train the guard, or sadly, he might not be so lucky next time.

    • Thank you, Sue. I totally agree. I didn’t get to know the guy, of course, but he was clean cut, squared away, and on the job early on a Saturday morning in New Orleans. It’s a good bet that he had a decent upbringing and people who cared/care about him. I’m not sure what that hotel’s policy is but they need to review it. I know of at least one chain that require their personnel to have at least three people respond to what is deemed to be a “situation.” Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Wow. Great story, Joe. But chilling in light of all the incidents involving law enforcement in the news these days. Glad no one lost their cool.

    My only brush with the law came way back in 1973. Had just moved to Fort Lauderdale and decided to take some friends on a driving tour of Palm Beach…you know, gawk at the mansions and the swells. We were driving slowly along, ogling the big houses when a PBPD car pulled me over. I was driving a 1962 rusted out VW bug so I’m guessing they knew I didn’t live there. I showed them my insurance and license. Well, stupid me…both my insurance and Michigan plate were expired. They told me to follow them to the station. I think I was going to be arrested but they were so darn polite, I wasn’t sure. I did burst into tears at one point. They let me go with a warning.

    I have never failed to renew anything re my car since.

  5. Wow, Kris, that would sure put a damper on a visit! What really impresses me, however, is that you haven’t had a brush with the law since 1973. Have you met Steve Hooley? Thanks for sharing the story as well as your impressive history of walking the straight and narrow!

    • Only with regard to my car, Joe! I actually got in trouble with the IRS once too in my youth by not filing for an extension on time. I swear, I’m amazed sometimes how stupid I was when I was young.

      • Um…Kris, you would be amazed at the number of people who at one time or another thought they weren’t under an obligation to file (let alone request an extension) for whatever reason. The woods are full of ’em!

  6. Last July I was within sight of the exit I wanted off I-70 into Junction City, Kansas (another Kansas town to be careful while driving myin or through) as I approached a white Mustang highway patrol vehicle, light bar flashing, parked behind a car on the side of the road. I swerved my car left into the adjacent lane to go around those two vehicles.

    I exited the interstate seconds later, took a left on the street that passes under it and has a roundabout to negotiate immediately. I used the roundabout to continue in the same direction I was headed on downtown with a left turn onto an alternate route to the same destination a few hundred feet in front of me.

    I took the left, straightened out on the new street I was on, and looked in my mirror to check traffic just as a white Mustang sped around the corner and the light bar began to flash.

    Days before I had read a list of recommendations about how to deal with police officers immediately after being pulled over while driving or apprehended while in a public space. Mindful of the useful advice in this article, and of the fact that the past year was the first in several where I had not yet racked up speeding tickets on my motorcycle (nor have I yet figured out how to ride below the speed limit on that thing), as the officer walked toward me and placed his fingertips on my trunk to register his prints when he passed it, I quickly mentally reviewed the checklist I’d recently read.

    The patrolman was pissed that I had not moved my car all the way into the next lane by the time I was going by him, and pointed out that the interstate is interspersed with signage directing drivers to do exactly that unless the lane is blocked by other traffic. I said yes sir to everything he said while handing him my drivers license and registration and — oops! — my military (retired) id card *stuck* to my license. He asked my destination, as I hoped, and I told him I was going to my bank in town prior to heading out to Ft. Riley, which as adjacent to the city limits on the east side. I also mentioned that I realize my mistake could result in a very harmful outcome, I regretted making it, and I have no reasonable excuse for not getting my car completely over into the next lane.

    The officer went back to his car to run my plates and license, came back to me and administered another mini-lecture, returned my stuff, and issued me a warning ticket. I thanked him and made sure not to go overboard kissing his ass, and wiped sweat off my brow as I drove off to my city library and grocery store errands, as I needed so few food items a trip out to the post commissary was not worth the trouble.

  7. Richard, thanks for this story, which is a by-the-numbers example of how to deal with law enforcement, particularly when you’re in the wrong. Courtesy, humility and a calm demeanor can go a long way.

    BTW, I didn’t know that motorcycles could travel below the speed limit. Isn’t the default speed on a Harley 90+mph? Laura Benedict, can you weigh in on this?

    Thanks again, Richard. I’ll think of you next time I move over as I approach stopped vehicles.

  8. Joe,

    Your stories always keep me riveted.

    My only brushes have been with the TSA (I’m regularly patted down, searched, and my carryon wiped b/c of my suspicious artificial knees).

    However, my brother-in-law could have been the other player in your drama, that poor, untrained, clueless security guard.

    My BIL was a mild-mannered soul who became a forest ranger (twig pig) b/c he loved the outdoors. Then he was transferred to Huntington Beach (CA) State Park, the scene of frequent machine gun battles between rival gangs in the early Seventies. Quite a change from leading wide-eyed schoolchildren on nature hikes.

    His “weapons training” consisted of watching a fifteen-minute film on guns and a single revolver on a table with cleaning rod and brush. Each ranger was allowed to make one swipe through the barrel and one cylinder with the cleaning rod.

    Period. End of training.

    Scared-to-death BIL called his much meaner, tougher big brother (my hubby), and said, “Help!” Hubby took him to the range, drilled him, and got him proficient enough with weapons that he later became state champ on the pistol team.

    But when we think about a young officer being turned loose to face gangbangers with that pitiful training, it’s a miracle he wasn’t killed.

    Scary that many security personnel are on duty today with their only “training” being what they see in movies and on TV. Lucky for that hotel guard that he met Mr. Cool!

    • Debbie, thank you for your kind words. You’re very kind. And thank you for your story about your brother-in-law. You describe a significant problem, that being placing someone in a high-profile, high-danger situation with a firearm and a minimum of training. Your husband sounds like a keeper, for certain. I have been trying for years to get my own brother out on a range, just to try it out, but he would never do it. Now that his son is on the Cleveland Metro Transit force he may change his mind. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing.

  9. You always have such interesting stories to tell!

    I too am among the ranks of the boring lives brigade.

    I am not, however, surprised at the errors in the guard’s response. So many companies under-staff, under-train, and quite frankly, many just don’t care. And of course the lack of communication was a glaring error that is also very common to business–astounding since we are more reachable than ever before—email, instant message, cell phone, etc.

    I work in healthcare and I like our security staff, but in a true emergency, they would have a difficult time responding, due to a number of reasons, not the least of which is having too few spread too far out across campus.

    But I’m glad for your sake that all ended well. I hope the hotel can use it as a way to inform and better train their personnel.

  10. Thank you for your kind words, BK. I take particular interest in your fourth paragraph. As medical campuses expand ever further to serve a growing patient base it doesn’t seem that they are budgeting for security proportionately, other than to man “choke points” that monitor visitor passes. This is already a problem in facilities which are bumping up against and in some cases moving into high crime areas. I know of two different facilities where nurses have started packing on the down low after parking garage attacks. Stay safe and thanks again!

  11. Joe, I have lived outside of the US for most of my life and, although I’m increasingly homesick for it, I also feel farther and farther away. Can you, or someone else, explain why you would go to a writers’ conference with a hack knife and a concealed revolver? Is it because everyone else is armed?

  12. Sure, Nancy. I’m happy to address that. The writers’ conference did not occur on an island populated only by writers. It occurred in New Orleans, which has one of the highest violent crime rates of any city in the United States. I carry what I carry for personal insurance. I have auto insurance because, although I do not anticipate being in an accident, I am prepared against that eventuality. I have medical insurance, not because I want to be sick, but because when I have that heart attack or aneurysm that no doubt is lurking down the road, I want to be treated for it by people who are trained and being paid to do that. I have life insurance, even though I’m not planning on dying; in the unlikely event that I do, however, my family will be provided for. I have home insurance, and it’s not because I stay awake counting the scenarios where my home and property might be destroyed. I’m prepared, however, if it is. Similarly, if someone tries to rob me or do me bodily harm for no other reason than that our paths happened to intersect, I’m ready to deal with that, or to come to the aid of an innocent similarly engaged. I don’t hope that it happens; I regret the times that it has happened; but I have and will be ready if and when it does happen. Hope that answers your question. Thanks!

  13. Boy, am I late getting to this blog today (but I did write 2500 words, not that it’s an excuse.)
    No cool stories beyond forgetting I had my Swiss Army knife in my purse while traveling … which passed through the regular screening in Orlando, a ‘random’ hand screening in Atlanta, but was then picked up in SeaTac where construction meant we had to go back through security for our connecting flight.

    And, I was dumb enough to be following the car in front of me too closely when we first moved to our rural home in the mountains, and I didn’t recognize it as a Sheriff’s SUV. The deputy was polite, gave me a warning, and we went on our way. Later, I did a ridealong with a different deputy and found him to be a polite “warning giver” as well.

    But the reason I started this comment was to HIGHLY recommend the Writers’ Police Academy organized by Lee Lofland of The Graveyard Shift. You have countless opportunities see what it’s like ‘on the other side.’

    And Jim Born is a hoot to be sure!

  14. Terry, you’re not late because we never close. And congratulations on those 2500 words. Eating the frog first is how the job gets done.

    Thanks for your stories (I have a couple that are similar to your Swiss Army Knife experience). I’m HOWLING over your tailgating a law enforcement SUV. Oops! I heard a story once about a couple of guys who impatiently honked at a police cruiser in front of them, apparently in a hurry to deliver the several pounds of ganja they had stowed in the trunk. If they were rocket scientists, they’d be working at Oak Ridge.

    We appreciate your sharing. Best of luck eating that 2500 pound frog each day.

  15. Thank you, Joe, for the fascinating story, complete with lesson on How To Deal with Law Enforcement.
    Periodically, there are stories on the TV news about shootings in one city or another that astonish me with the number of shots fired by police or security that result in little or no damage to the perpetrator, but wound or kill bystanders. This is an irresponsible lack of training.
    Also, I’ve read thrillers and cop stories that point out how much the hero (a law enforcement officer) hates going to the range and is a bad shot. That effectively shoots down my belief in the character. (Pun intended.)
    If someone has a gun, and is an honest person, he or she must take serious training not only in shooting straight, but in all the other elements of responsible gun ownership.

  16. I totally agree with you Carol, re: responsibilities of gun ownership (and that of all other dangerous instruments as well, including but not limited to knives, automobiles, and clubs). One thing I was taught right at the outset was to look beyond the target. If there are people standing in the immediate area, you don’t shoot. Period. Bullets ricochet, go through and through, and, yep, miss entirely. If there’s an innocent in the area beyond the target, proceed to Plan B.

    The bad guys, of course, don’t play by those rules. At all. More is the pity.

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

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