Oklahoma City police ridealong: Santa Fe Division
Sgt. Alex Saunders is his own breed of cop.
He polices the streets of the Santa Fe division, predominantly the city's southeast side, under a personal dictum of “pouring honey in their ear.”
Saunders is tall and lean with a wide smile and short mop of blond hair. It is almost easier to imagine him in swimming trunks on a surfboard than with a police utility belt slung around his waist or seated behind the wheel of a patrol car.
The eight-year police veteran is a CIT — “crisis intervention team”— officer. He prides himself on being involved in only two physical encounters or “use of force incidents” in his tenure.
He is specially trained to deal with people with mental illness, or “Signal 8 subjects” in Oklahoma City police parlance.
His first Signal 8 of the day is already waiting for him in the lobby of police headquarters.
Once housed within the Will Rogers division that encompassed the center of the city, the downtown police department at 701 Colcord now falls inside the Santa Fe division. The rest of the dissolved division has been cleaved into quarters and added to the other divisions in a quadrant.
The man is pacing slightly and visibly relieved when Saunders approaches. His eyes are darting and wild. His shirt is dirty and the smell of old sweat wafts from him.
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He needs Saunders' help. He says the proprietors of his sober living house and others unknown have been stalking him through the night, taunting him from the heights of downtown parking garages while he hid fearfully beneath park benches through the night.
He thought he lost them, but as it turns out, they've followed him to the police station. But he's safe here, he says. They won't follow him inside.
Saunders gingerly asks him a few questions about his mental health history and about medication. The man is prescribed some, but he has skipped at least a day since he's been working as a day laborer for a hot tub retailer prepping for the fair, he tells the officer.
Saunders doesn't mince words. What he has described sounds like a paranoid schizophrenic who is off his meds, the officer tells the man.
He learns that the man has been staying in a sober living house in Hefner division, and prepares to take him that way.
The man insists the proprietors of the sober living house are out to get him and he isn't safe there, but agrees to accompany Saunders to the home to get his medication.
The supervisors are returning to the house with new mattresses when the scout car pulls up. Nobody has seen or heard from the man since yesterday when he left for work. They warn Saunders that since he was being paid cash every day and admitted he had not eaten since yesterday, he could have been out getting high. Coupled with a few skipped doses of medication, its a recipe for a flare-up of mental illness, Saunders knows.
The officer does a pill count and notices a few doses have been missed. He asks for some food and a glass of water from the sober living staff and then gives the man a choice.
His best option is to let the food and water and medicine absorb and get a shower and a nap. But the man is adamant his life is endangered and refuses to stay in the house.
The only other option is being admitted for evaluation to the St. Anthony mental health facility. The man takes it, and gathers some belongings before taking another trip in the back of the squad car.
Once at the hospital, the man starts getting riled. No one believes him, and he is getting frustrated.
“I know you think I'm crazy, but I'm telling you the truth. My life is in danger,” he pleads.
The officer quiets the man, and again reminds him this is for his own good. But he needs to be calm, or Saunders is going to have to handcuff him. And neither of them want that.
The hospital staff comes to get the man and after a short medical history is taken, he's processed into the facility and Saunders is back on the streets.
The call screen is temporarily cleared, so Saunders does a little of what he's paid to do — patrol. He peers down side streets as he cruises larger thoroughfares. He spies two men arguing and ducks west. By the time he cruises back around the block, the disagreement has been quelled.
He continues rolling through the Capitol Hill neighborhood, a section of south Oklahoma City that is increasing populated by Hispanics. There are blocks of blight broken by what appear to be new houses.
Saunders said families in this area are buying properties near one another, renovating the homes and overhauling the exteriors.
Old school American values of hard work and strong familial ties are revitalizing the area, increasing property values and decreasing criminal activity, in Saunders' opinion.
But the free time runs out when Saunders gets another Signal 8 call. This time, a man is hassling workers at the new police headquarters, under construction across the street from the old one at 700 Colcord.
The man is with other officers, but not handcuffed. He is smiling and amicable, repeating nonsensical phrases.
“On the set. Taco Bell. Whew!”
The man is responsive, but seems oblivious to the conversation the officers are having around him. Moments of clarity and general responsiveness when Saunders question him pointedly makes him wonder if the man is just messing with them.
It takes the better part of half an hour to learn the following things: the man has been recently released from the county jail on a trespassing complaint, he has a military history, there are no warrants out on him, and he lives with his mother in Del City.
Police decide the best option is to drop him off at home.
Saunders asks the man what kind of music he likes, and a radio station playing rap is chosen for the ride home. No one is at the house when they arrive and the man's mother is not answering her cell phone, but the garage door comes up when the man gives the handle a yank.
He invites Saunders inside, but he politely declines. The man instead offers his hand and Saunders shakes it. The man tries to bring the officer in for a hug, but Saunders keeps him at a distance, knowing embracing a mentally ill man while wearing a firearm could result in a bad situation.
It's Saunders' turn to pick the music as he returns to his division, and being a film buff he chooses old songs from Harry Belafonte and The Pixies, made popular once more by 1990s films, as he rolls back west to the southeast side.