One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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In 1955, Officer Joseph S. Dorobek submitted, “To Protect and to Serve” to the Los Angles Police Department, which was adopted as their motto. Police Officers throughout the United States also quote it daily, being sarcastic or not, because it sums up a complicated job in a few words.

My Chief took his interpretation of the motto to a new level. For some reason the Chief believed that the Police Department needed to “protect” the citizens from pigeons. The city did not have a pigeon problem, but that did not keep the Chief from starting a program to eliminate them. The Chief believed pigeons were flying unregulated, flapping freely through the sky without permits, trespassing on buildings, breeding in public and other things birds would naturally do. The Chief, looking for a distraction from high violence in the city, apparently thought he could solve the problem by killing Pigeons. With careful consideration, the Chief insisted this was the best use of the Police budget and resources and would “serve” the residents of the city well.

Officers had their own opinions and solutions for the city violence. It did not involve pigeons, but Officers thought a pro-active, common sense law enforcement program would work. Common sense did not filter into the Chief’s office. Here is the thought process for a pigeon program. A Police Chief is appointed in most cities and is managed by either the Mayor, City Administrator or Council, depending on the type of local government. Sheriffs are elected by the people, and in general, cannot be fired by the county administration. This allows the Sheriff more latitude for exploring crime control and the extermination of pigeons. The Chief’s major concern was to keep the city administration happy, which in turn, keeps him employed to be a curse to police department. Pigeons were the solution to his problems?

To implement the pigeon program, the Chief appointed long time Police Reserve Officer Swallow to be a bird sniper, which was a little ironic since he had the name of a bird. Swallow began working as a reserve officer when the city was incorporated in 1800’s and was a veteran of the 1898 Banana Wars and the U.S. occupation of Haiti. The Chief gave him an old white city surplus pickup because no one like watching him hobbling about, due to his knees had being surgically removed and replaced with monkey cartilage. The pickup was stripped of any markings to indicate he worked for the city or police. Swallow also did not wear a uniform to identify himself as part of the city or police. I think the Chief wanted Swallow to portray himself as a crazy old guy with a gun, which was not far from the truth. Swallow was equipped with a scoped .22 caliber rifle with real bullets, instead of a pellet gun, which would have been more appropriate. Known to most at the Police Department, excluding the Chief and Swallow, at 400 yards, a .22 caliber bullet is still traveling about 500 feet per second and is known more for its ricochets than its ability to penetrate or disintegrate when hitting hard objects. This is especially true when the bullet hits at a glancing angle, almost like the angle a person would be shooting when aiming up where birds reside. In the fantasy world the Chief lives in, pigeons roost on puffy clouds, or rainbows, where  marshmallows clouds prevent bullets from hitting unicorns in the distance. Pigeons apparently do not sit on telephone wires, buildings or cement overpasses. I personally thought Swallow was an odd choice for pigeon sniper, due to his lack of skill with a firearm or eating chicken gracefully. Swallow apparently was the only one dumb enough to say yes. As a Firearms Instructor for the police department, I spent countless hours of frustration to get Reserve Officer Swallow to qualify with his police issued duty pistol. It was a impossible task, but the department did save money on targets due to the lack of bullets holes. These minor qualification issues did not stop the Chief from allowing Swallow to wear a police uniform or carry a gun as a Reserve Officer.

Swallow’s shooting technique improved slightly by sticking the rifle out the pickup window, resting the barrel on the door or mirror to steady his aim. Swallow went on his killing spree, 3 days a week, averaging about 30 dead or maimed pigeons a day. This went on for a few years with numerous complaints by Officers and citizens. Eventually the city’s pigeon numbers began to decline with Swallow’s sniper tally in the thousands, although confusing at it sounds, there was still violent crime in the city.  Swallow had developed a technique over time, which he bragged about, which involved him getting up early in the morning, while it was still dark and shooting the pigeons while they slept in their roost. When the pigeons were harder to find, Swallow moved on to crows, jays, magpies, starlings, cats, ground squirrels and marmots. Actually, Swallow was shooting anything that flew or crawled.

Pigeon

At the sewer treatment area, near our firearm range was a series of small ponds with dirt mounds. One of the treatment workers noticed a flight of cliff swallows were making their nests in the dirt embankment along the road and mentioned it to Swallow. Reserve Officer Swallow took this as an excellent opportunity to exterminate another species of birds. Swallow tried for days shooting the small swift swallows with his rifle, which turned out to be a complete failure, but sounded like a episode from the Twilight Zone. Swallow kills swallows. Swallow confided in me that swallows were hard to hit and wanted me to issue him a shotgun with ammo.

“What do you think swallows eat at the treatment plant?” I ask him.

“I’m not sure what they eat, but they are making holes in the dirt embankment.” Swallow replied, patiently accepting my ignorance.

I explained to Swallow, “Because of the heavy mosquito population at the plant and that swallows eat insects while in flight, I am pretty sure the birds are eating a lot of mosquitos. They are making holes in the embankment as a nest for their eggs, which means more swallows, which means less mosquitos eating us at the range. West Nile Virus is a bad thing so perhaps you could kill something that does not eat mosquitos, like a bald eagle or something, because I am not giving you a shotgun.”

In another conversation where Swallow attempted to enlighten me, he told me crows were the hardest to kill.

“Crows are smarter than pigeons, you have to sneak up on them.” Swallow tells me.

“The crows know my truck and fly away before I park.” “So I have to park with the other cars and wait for them.” “My kill ratio is going down.” Swallow says looking for empathy.

I do believe crows are smart. With all the crippled crows hobbling and squawking on the side walk, I am sure they convinced their feathered friends to roost in the residential areas to avoid Swallow. I thought this was smart bird strategy and might slow Swallow’s killing spree. Perhaps the Chief would enforce some murder guidelines. Not a chance. Swallow was shooting birds off of houses, at the highway overpass, the parking lot of the Safeway store and at the elementary and middle schools. Anywhere crows, birds or mammals could be found. Did the police department get more complaints? Of course. Officers took various complaints like holes in buildings, leaking roofs, crippled birds begging for money at the traffic lights and numerous calls of a crazy man shooting a gun out his window. Officers made sure the citizens knew this was the Chief’s solution to crime in the city.

One day, I had dropped my patrol car off at the dealership for maintenance. I called dispatch to send someone to give me a ride back to the station. Swallow showed up in his killing machine. Swallow had his rifle laying loose with its butt stock on the floor, muzzle up, pointed at his dim witted head. Due to my uncanny ability to have bad things happen in front of me, I took the rifle out of the truck, put the safety on, unloaded the bullets, (Swallow kept it loaded at all times in case there was a bird emergency), held it in my possession, muzzle down on the floor, for the trip back to the station.

Despite the whole department complaining about Sniper Swallow, the Chief encouraged him to cripple more birds and put additional holes into buildings. I wrote my share of complaints to the Chief about the issue, as is always important to put these things in writing, especially via the County email system, which he could not delete. I was hoping for a I told you so moment.

Besides the written complaints, I even attempted to have a conversation with the Chief about the safety issues with Swallow. It went something like this, “Chief, I know you have been busy with all your important Chiefly administration type work and have not qualified on your duty gun for at least 5 years, so I thought it was important to remind you of the basic firearm safety rules so that you are aware that Swallow’s use of a firearm in the city is violating all these rules, and like you, is also not qualified shoot or carry a rifle or pistol. I hate to mention all the violations of all the violations of Federal and State laws for shooting protected birds and wildlife species and …….”

I did not get to finish my speech due to the Chief yelling about being Chiefly, pigeons were rats with wings and something about a asshole, followed by me getting kicked out of his office, once again. I was coming to the conclusion his open door policy was more of a guideline and his door was only slightly ajar. The Swallow madness continued for years until recently, when he shot holes into a city council members house. The Chief of course claimed violent crime was way down and had no idea what Swallow was doing but it would stop. Swallow then retired from being a reserve officer and had to move into an assisted living home. As a retirement gift I got a him a old stuffed crow from an antique shop.

You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are the pigeon, and sometimes you are the statue.

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