Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
From one epic law enforcement book to the next, from Saint Bloodbath to Badge 149- Shots Fired! Despite the similarities between these two books, they are some notable differences in their approach. Saint Bloodbath concerned a handful of major, interconnected murder cases and what they meant to a California community in the 2000s; meanwhile, Badge 149 concerns learning from a variety of cases and experiences of Fort Lauderdale police officers in the 1970s. Both books are incredibly valuable, passionate, and authentic glimpses into the lives of law enforcement officers. Together, they form an interesting comparison and contrast.
Let us set the scene for Badge 149.
The year is 1974, the deadliest year in law enforcement history. It sits in the middle of the deadliest decade in law enforcement history in the United States.
2,182 officers died in the line of duty in the 1970s, 268 in 1974 alone. There are whole wars that were less deadly than US law enforcement in the 70s.
Badge 149 records a large variety of traumatic, exciting, dramatic real-life experiences, everything from high-speed chases to shootouts. It is probably the more thrilling and exciting of the two non-fiction law enforcement books we've read this month. It puts you directly into the shoes of long-time Fort Lauderdale police officer Gary Jones as he experiences a revival in his career that almost abruptly ended, a devastating personal and professional tragedy. Gary Jones is joined by a young officer, Michael Gillo, who contrasts well with the more-experienced Jones.
There are so many interesting law enforcement stories in here for us to read and learn from. Yes, that's right, this book serves almost like a law enforcement textbook/handbook/trivia book in that challenges you—the reader—with what if scenarios and questions. You are invited to engage with the events of the text as if you were a police officer in that scenario.
Of all the prompts, one stands out to us the most: the question of whether to shoot or hold your fire—whether to use lethal force or not. If you look at the socio-political landscape now and the outcry over police brutality, this lethal force question is a question that continues to press on the hearts and minds of the American people. Remember, police officers are often in direct contact with dangerous criminals and in the line of fire. Crazy, wild, scary things happen, and a lot of bad or regretful decisions can be made.
The scenario that plays again and again in the minds of the FLPD officers in the book is the shooting death/murder of Officer Walter Ilyankoff. It is an event that is referenced constantly, forming the crux of the book. The officers come to believe that the bullet that killed Officer Walter could've been meant for any of them. Put eloquently:
“The bullet that killed Walter Ilyankoff had all our names on it—but today it just happened to find Walter.”
So, the reader is immediately made aware that many of the police officers live in danger, fear, and under threat that any engagement with a perp or suspect might be their last. They might not come home to their families. So, should they shoot first and ask questions later? Or should they wait until it might be too late?
Officer Gary Jones, often armed with a shotgun from the shotgun seat of his squad car, is often pressed with this question throughout the book. He is almost nearly shot to death (and run over) multiple times. This book also helps to get you into the mind of criminals and how they operate. For example, Jones informs us about how experienced criminals will park their cars with the license plates blading or angled away from the target to keep from being identified. Experienced cops like Jones can actually use that as an indicator that a crime is about to be committed.
This shooting death continues to be on Gary's mind, even when he decides to go to see Jaws in theaters. He thinks about how the homicidal shark is like a criminal in a shootout—a danger that haunts and looms. Even when his car is robbed in the theater parking lot, Gary can only think about how it might've been the ghost of a violent criminal he had shot.
Not everything in this book is a shootout or a high-speed chase. Some of it is just the intrigue of working with people, namely an inexperienced partner and a supervisor who seems out to get you. One of our favorite stories in this book simply involves a feud between Officer Gary and his supervisor, Sergeant George Dixon, that comes about after Dixon tries to withhold overtime pay from Gary before berating him in front of coworkers. When Gary finally receives his overtime check, approved by a lieutenant who ranks above Dixon, Gary tears it, sending Dixon the message that if the officers aren't worthy of their pay, he may not be worthy of his important decision-making position.
Gary wrestles with a pig, going against his advice to “never wrestle with a pig.”
We've all been there and done that. We've all had that one supervisor or coworker who is out to get us and push us out.
What actually brings about this overtime dispute is also very interesting. It's the dreaded process of police reports that we've all heard police complain about. An interesting solution comes up in this book: voice recordings! In short, this process was intended to allow officers to speak aloud their police reports and have them transcribed by a professional, printed and given to them after a few days. However, Gary, being old school, did both: writing the report and recording a verbal report. Could this be a time-saving lesson for officers and police departments in the modern day? If they were doing it in the 70s, it should be faster and easier to do it now.
Overall, this is a really interesting law enforcement book to read. Not only does it provide some fascinating, harrowing stories, it also serves an important and powerful educational function for officers, aspiring officers, and those who want to understand them.
Check it out on Amazon!