Dispatcher: “Car 4 John 1”
“Car 4 John 1, go ahead.”
“4 John 1 take the suspicious odor at 321 Elm St. Reluctant complainant states there’s a foul odor coming from a large garbage can in front of the residence.”
“4 John 1, copy, enroute.”
What turns out to be a quiet fall evening was about to get interesting. The feeling in the pit of my stomach knows exactly what it is, so I properly prepare my rookie, telling him, “Yeah, fall weather has a funny effect on people. Makes them violent and prone to do things they normally wouldn’t,” as you let the words hang for a few minutes, for dramatic effect.
As I pull up, mumbling, “oh $hit, we’ve been here tons of times for domestics. The people living here are crazy as loons!” The nervous rookie looks at me, trying to gauge how he should respond, but I just keep staring straight ahead.
Street cops are exposed to all the nasty things occurring in society. Murders, suicides, fatal car collisions, and any other tragedy occurring. Someone needs to clean up these messes and document them so they can be followed up on to determine if a crime has been committed.
To deal with the stress, a weird sense of humor is quickly developed, with some describing it as slightly demented. This gallows humor helps keep the cops sane, minimizing stressful situations and allowing a professional demeanor while on scene. Once the scene is cleared, look out. You’ll hear salty, satiric humor for sure.
Cops are famous for this warped sense of humor, and the exposure to these events is responsible for it. Hey, if you can make light of a serious situation, it can’t be all bad, right? That’s the mentality behind the crass sense of humor.
Walking towards the address, we catch a whiff of something foul. Nothing smells worse than decomposing flesh. It has its own distinct odor. In really bad cases, the smell is absorbed in your uniform, lasting for hours. The culprit is sitting in front of the house — a large, black trash can.
Acting calm, cool and collected, I tell the rookie, “Okay, you need to open the lid and see what’s responsible for making this horrendous odor.”
As the rookie lifts the lid, the odor is magnified tenfold. The rookie starts dry heaving, trying not to puke in front of me, his FTO (field training officer). The rookie fails, heaving his previously eaten lunch.
“Look, we need to see what’s inside these garbage bags. Collect yourself and start pulling them out!” I tell him.
The rookie pulls out the first bag. It’s bulky and kinda heavy, but he manages to get it out of the garbage can. He looks up at me while bent over as I tell him, “Go ahead, open it up.”
With trepidation, my rookie unties the bag, and the worst smell on earth hits us like a wave of black death. After another round of puking, my rookie hits the contents with his flashlight.
“Oh my God,” he screams, “It’s a rib cage! And it’s covered in maggots!”
This is getting good.
“Okay, get another bag,” I tell him. The next bag isn’t as heavy but is still as smelly as the first.
“Looks like a leg,” he shockingly tells me.
“Keep going,” I say.
“Oh my God, the other leg, we need to call homicide!”
“Take a good look at those leg bones,” I tell him. “Notice anything unusual?”
The rookie scans his flashlight beam from the top of the leg to the bottom and freezes. Looking up at me, “Oh,” is all he says when he finally notices the deer hoof.
I explain its hunting season, and many hunters process their own game. We have a good chuckle over it. I tell him he needs to observe everything before jumping to conclusions. I also tell him the next time he gets a call like this, he still needs to check the contents because “You never know. The next time it just might be a dismembered human body.” He understands, and we clear the call as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
After roll call the next day, my Sgt. calls the rookie up in front of everyone and hands him a large yellow envelope, telling him, “You did good last night, so we’re giving you this kit. You’ll need it, as you’re now the new shift Suspicious Foul Odor Investigator.”
Inside the envelope is a surgical mask labeled ‘maggot mask,’ some rubber gloves, moist puke towelettes, and a small bottle of mouthwash, “something to freshen your breath, in case you toss your cookies again,” our Sgt. explains.
Everyone has a good laugh, including my rookie. It’s this kind of story and incident that forges the bond amongst cops. Those who have done it know and understand. Those who haven’t do not … and may be better off for it.