Diary of a Fil-Am Cop

Author Edwin Palomar doesn't let his age stop him from fulfilling his dream as policeman (Source: morguefile.com)

When Edwin Palomar (name changed for professional and security reasons), a former broadcast journalist in the Philippines, switched careers to fulfill his childhood dream of being a policeman, he didn’t realize that his ethnicity added another dimension to his law enforcement duties.

He shares the danger, the color and the very human dramas that come with the job of being a Filipino cop in one of the largest metropolitan areas (purposely unnamed) in the U. S. –Editor

I always wanted to be a police officer even when I was a kid. So at age 42, I decided to apply to be a cop in a big metropolitan police department. My wife thought I had gone crazy, but I assured her I was still in complete command of my senses.

I took the written test and passed it. The department gave me an oral interview and I scored a 98. Good enough to be considered for a police academy class. But I still had to pass the physical abilities test and undergo a background check. Oh, and also a full body physical coupled with a psychological test.

The physical abilities test was very tough—as it should be, to be considered a police candidate. I had to prepare myself by giving up smoking and running two miles every other day to build up my stamina.

The background check was very thorough. Investigators even asked my immediate neighbors about my family and me. They also contacted my previous and current employers.

The whole entry process took six months from application to hiring. Then I became a police recruit for seven months at the police academy. There were two of us Filipinos in the class.

I was the oldest one in my class of police recruits. Even then, I was already called "Grandpa" (I am a bona fide grandfather of two precious grandsons now). Running three miles daily up and down the hills of the academy, my classmates would cheer me on: "Come on, Grandpa, you can make it!"

At the end of seven months, most of us graduated as police officers.

We then had 12 months as probationary police officers in the mean streets of this big city.

An Unexpected Fan Club

During my oral interview, the police sergeant mentioned that they really needed Asians in the force, especially in the areas where Asian minorities reside.

Yes, there are advantages to being a Filipino officer. One of them is knowing how to speak, write and read Tagalog. I get bilingual pay for it.

My rookie year was in a part of the city with a big Filipino community. I really didn’t do a lot of translations because, well, most Pinoys can speak English.

One snippet I would like to share: as a rookie, my training officer and I had a radio call for a death investigation at a convalescent hospital. My job was to inspect the body of the deceased for any blunt force traumas or other irregularities not consistent with an apparent natural death.

The suspect was a 57-year-old Filipino who was psychotic because of drug and alcohol abuse. I was able to talk him out of killing his two hostages and from harming himself when I learned that he was a University of the Philippines (UP) graduate.

While I was doing my inspection, a female nurse came into the room. She was a Filipina. Surprised to meet a Filipino police officer, she told most of the Filipina nurses in her shift. When I finished and signed the death investigation report at the nurses station, there were about half a dozen Filipina nurses there to greet me. They said this was the first time they encountered a Filipino police officer.

My partner was amused, said he didn't know I had a fan club in that convalescent hospital.

A Story For My Alma Mater

I work as a team member of the crisis response team. Early last year, I was called out to diffuse a situation involving a suicidal barricaded suspect. He was inside the pantry of his convalescent home holding two nurses hostage, threatening to kill them and himself with a long kitchen knife. He had no apparent demand.

The suspect was a 57-year-old Filipino who was psychotic because of drug and alcohol abuse. I was able to talk him out of killing his two hostages and from harming himself when I learned that he was a University of the Philippines (UP) graduate. Since I’m also a UP alumnus, I made liberal references to UP college life and hangouts throughout the hours of negotiation.

He was at it again today, but this time he was in worse shape because he has resorted to cutting himself (self-mutilation) during his psychotic episodes. His favorite refuge, it seems, is the convalescent home pantry. He barricaded himself there again.

The big problem in today's incident was that inside that pantry were two full portable propane containers used for barbecue pits. The suspect smokes a lot and had a half pack of cigarettes with him.

The whole building was evacuated and a perimeter was set up. A bomb squad, a SWAT team and the fire department were deployed. A robot was sent inside to give him a throw phone so the police could talk to him.

Communications was established by a negotiator who was in the Tactical Operation Center (TOC). When in full psychotic rage, suspects such as this man, are very difficult to understand. But during the initial exchange, the Pinoy made it known that he wanted to talk to the Pinoy police officer who had rapport with him in a previous incident. He even mentioned to the primary negotiator that we came from the same university in the Philippines.

I got the call to respond to the command post (CP) for briefing and then eventually to the TOC.

Our conversations went round and round about how he’s being disrespected by the staff and that his relatives don't visit him anymore. He had not taken his psychotropic medications in three days. He wanted to kill himself and blow up the convalescent home.

I remembered from the first time I negotiated with him that he loved the sound of the UP Carillon when it played in the afternoon. So I brought up that topic again into our conversation. It calmed him down a lot.

He said he also loved to sit at the grass behind the Gonzales Hall, the UP library, facing the Sunken Garden. We talked about that too.

His favorite eating place on campus was Vinzon's Hall, he played duck pins at the old bowling alley and he swam at the men's pool behind the DMST (the ROTC barracks and armory).

Recalling his normal college life calmed his psychosis. I told him to get out of the pantry, walk to the lobby and out to the street, which he did.

I patted him down, cuffed him and told him that he will be placed in a psychiatric hold for 72 hours and that he was going to be all right.

He said to me, "Maraming salamat, brod (thank you, brother)."

I love my job!

The Carillon at the University of the Philippines (UP). Palomar was able to talk down a suicidal suspect who used to come from the same university as he did. Palomar's references to the music the Carillon made and other stories about UP calmed the suspect down. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Here I Go Again Wearing My Heart On My Sleeve

Sunday afternoon, right off the chute, my partner and I were assigned a rape investigation at a local university. A female student was sexually assaulted inside her own apartment by a male acquaintance. The usual battery of questions had to be asked of the victim and a rape kit (medical exam) had to be done. Both very unpleasant and traumatic to the victim, but it had to be done.

Because of exhaustive efforts and good police work by everybody at the scene, the suspect was apprehended six hours later at the airport trying to book a flight for the East Coast. It’s very seldom that a case like this develops this fast and ends up with an arrest on the same day.

My partner and I were not at the arrest location. We stayed with the victim the whole time. It was better this way because if I were the one who hooked up with the suspect, I might have done something I would regret later. I established good rapport with the victim, especially when I told her that I had two daughters of my own. I put her at ease with my stories about my eldest daughter in college and my youngest daughter in high school. Most of the other officers at the scene were too young to be a father figure. After spending approximately 10 hours with the victim and completing all [procedures] necessary, we released her to a relative who drove her home to her mom.

After a few days, I got a phone call from the victim's mother. She stated that her daughter was slowly recovering from the ordeal and that she wanted to convey her thanks to my partner and me for our compassion and warmth. The mother told me that one of my statements to her daughter during the investigation meant a lot to her. I asked which. She said that I told her daughter, "I’m a father first and a cop only second."

Rewards of My Job

It was my first day back on the streets after a month-long vacation. The funky smell of the city, especially with the abnormal heat wave we’ve been having, jolted me back to reality.

But what really made my night was a call I got at the start of my watch.

Let me tell you about Maria. My first encounter with her was six years ago when she was just 13 years old. That night, she was sexually molested by her biological father. The molestation had been going on since she was 10 years old. Not satisfied with abusing his daughter, the father proceeded to sexually assault and beat up Maria's mother.

Maria couldn’t take it any longer. Hearing her mother screaming in pain in the next room, she got her father's handgun (her father was an armed security guard) where he had left it in her bedroom before molesting her. She then went to her parents’ bedroom.

Her father was sitting on top of her mother with his back to her. She shot him with his service pistol and hit him in the left shoulder. Her father fell off the bed and started to scream obscenities at her. She went closer to him and shot him in the face.

My partner and I were tasked with taking Maria to the hospital for a rape kit. We were in the hospital for several hours. I bonded with this frightened and confused little girl by telling her my stories and telling her about my own two daughters.

I was also with her several times in court during the murder case. She actually did time in Juvenile Hall because her second shot to her father's head was deemed with extreme malice. The first shot was sufficient to stop her father's action.

Maria and I actually saw each other again when she got out of Juvy Hall. We were doing an investigation at an apartment complex and she saw me in the courtyard. She ran down and gave me a warm hug. She was staying with her maternal grandmother and was studying cosmetology at that time.

Today she called me to tell me that she was now also working for the city. I am really proud of her.

Pinoy Tiradors

I assisted in a murder case a few years back. Here are the details: Two Armenian businessmen jointly put up a car repair shop. Things went sideways and they dissolved their partnership with great animosity. One of the partners hired a hitman to kill the other.

Detectives, through good police work, caught the shooter before he was able to leave the city. The suspect was Filipino. During interrogation at the station, I was dispatched to translate and establish rapport with him.

With the lead detective in the murder case with me, I interviewed him. I introduced myself and told him we could talk in Tagalog, but everything will be recorded. I Mirandized him (“you have the right to remain silent” bit). He spoke broken English so I proceeded to speak to him in our native tongue.

He waived his Miranda rights to have an attorney present, but pleaded with me for a cigarette. I got him his Marlboro and hot black coffee.

Then he told me everything. "Nahuli nyo na ako, sasabihin ko na ang lahat para matapos na (You already caught me, I might as well tell everything). ”

He was a member of the Filipino gang in the Seattle Tacoma area. There is a very enterprising Filipino ex-military man who has a murder-for-hire business in the Pacific Northwest. He has recruited ex-military Pinoys as triggermen.

Let me call the suspect Berto.

Berto told me that he had been in the U. S. for almost two years, petitioned by his U.S.-citizen mother. He has a valid green card but, with inadequate education, the only jobs he could find in the SeaTac area were menial jobs. He told me, "Bosing, sawa na akong magkaliskis nang isda sa Filipino store (Boss, I got tired of cleaning fish in the Filipino store). ”

In the Philippines, Berto was a member of CAFGU, a paramilitary civil defense unit in the provinces. He had his training in weaponry and jungle warfare in Fort Magsaysay.

When this ex-military man recruited Berto, he readily accepted.

The Armenian contacted the ex-military man and arranged for the hit. Berto was given the assignment. He rode the Greyhound bus to get to the city, met up with the Armenian, was given the details, and he did the hit.

Berto shot the victim in the latter’s garage when he was taking out groceries from his car. The first shot didn’t put the victim down. He was able to stagger to the kitchen. Berto followed the victim and finished him off inside the house.

Berto is now in maximum security prison. We also got the Armenian partner who ordered the hit. The Pinoy ex-military man is still being sought by law enforcement. He is still the head honcho of the Pinoy tiradors.

Oh, and do you know how much the Armenian paid for the hit? $2,000.

Berto's share—$800.

Cop on patrol (Source: morguefile.com)

A Snapshot of a Typical Day in the Streets

Patrol is still the exhilarating roller coaster ride beyond compare.

We were in roll call at 1000 hrs when our police radios blared out a shooting in progress just about a click from the station. We all scrambled out and jumped into our police cruisers, screeching to the location.

At the scene, the chaotic jumble of victims, bullet casings and lookie-loos had to be sorted out.

Two rival gangs had shot it out in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. One car full of bangers versus another. An AK 47-type weapon was used by one side and a 9 mm weapon by the other. One dead—a female with a gaping bullet wound in the head and three other victims/shooters on the ground struggling to stay alive.

This is just the start of our day … and to cap it, just before the end of our watch, a citizen reported to dispatch that he saw a homie displaying a handgun in his waistband just before entering the mall. My partner and I got the call and we were on the hunt.

We caught up with homeboy inside a Footlocker store while he was swaggering about with three of his hoochies. I approached him and ordered him to put his hands above his head while my partner covered me. He complied and I hooked him up.

My pat-down search revealed a handgun in his waistband.

Yessssssssssss !

A Snitch In Time

One of my tasks in my new division of assignment is handling the witness relocation program and its funds. A lot of drama and convoluted plots … but hey, such is life.

There was this individual who was a primary witness to a major felony. When my partner and I took over this case, he had changed locations twice already. Last week again, he asked to be relocated.

My partner and I had a face-to-face interview to find out why and where he wanted to go. This big white dude really had a problem.

He had an ex-girlfriend, a Pinay. She somehow found out where he was all the time and got in touch with him and then told their acquaintances about it. He had begged her repeatedly not to do this, but she was very persistent and very chismosa (gossipy).

I had a talk with this kababayan. Oh, my God, daldakina (talkative) to the max. Very hyper and could out-talk Inday Badiday on any given day. So I hired her as my new snitch.

The End

My partner and I have been working backlogged cases on and off for over six months now. It is one of our unpleasant tasks to go to the coroners and the morgue to audit (i.e., scavenge) for tidbits of evidence that can help us clear the numerous cases that are pending.

It is an awfully morbid but a necessary part of police work. The number of unclaimed dead bodies in the freezer area and in another separate site is sooo heartbreaking to see. Nobody cares about them.

Yesterday was another day in the trenches. When I was going through a section of unclaimed bodies, I had to do a second take. Underneath the plastic and frost was a face that was familiar to me.

Chills up and down my spine as I write this: the dead body was the psychotic UP graduate in the convalescent home, with whom I have interceded twice so he wouldn't kill himself. He finally did what he wanted.

I found his paperwork on file: cause of death was an overdose. At least he is at peace now.


Originally published in Filipinas Magazine, July 2009