Friday, May 16, 2014

BASICally Outstanding

It's tough to read a review of a place or a report of an event that is done purely in superlatives--it's tough to write one without feeling like I haven't been observant enough to find at least something to criticize--at least a little bit. However, looking at the 2014 Basics Conference, held at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls Ohio earlier this week, it is pretty tough to find problems. The music was excellent; speakers the same; the food beyond belief for such an get the picture ( The BASICS Conference has been an annual even at Parkside for many years. This was my fourth year attending and I've not been disappointed at all.

  • The music is always well done.  A praise band with a wide range of skills from guitar and mandolin to piano to washboard to violin plays all the music well and leads the singing with joy. The music is never mindless; but always uplifting and fitting to the teaching session which it introduces or closes. The musicians "all have real jobs" as was said; but give up their time to devote to this ministry. They do an awesome job. 
  • The speakers were awesome. Alistair Begg himself is an internationally known speaker, preacher and teacher, he opens and closes the conference, sandwiching in a couple other exceptional men whom he believes to be among the best in the world. This year he had Christopher Ash and Gary Millar as his guests. Their messages were clear and compelling calls for pastors and leaders to do their jobs well and filled with practical tips on how to do it. All of them are easy speakers to understand and present their messages clearly, concisely and simply. All speak with humility and grace.  It's interesting that Begg, whose theology appears to be Baptistic, often has Anglicans and Presbyterians as his guests. He trusts them as Godly and honest men without regard for their denominational affiliations--we should all learn from that. That openness allows the presence of men who come from a great variety of denominations--this year there were even a couple Amish men there. That's diversity without compromising truth! 
  • Books by the Park is the in-house bookstore at Parkside Church. Only the largest Christian bookstores are as well stocked and as helpful as this. During the conference, many major publishers underwrite some of the cost, allowing the store to sell everything at a substantial discount--this year was 30%!  If a student has a hundred dollars to spend, it's wise to wait for that conference.  
  • The meals are something to behold--and for a men's conference, that's important. The food is always good, well prepared and served in ample quantities--we won't even discus the desserts except to say they are amazing. The high point seems to be the Tuesday night BBQ with wonderful ribs and chicken, done to perfection. Served with spicy BBQ beans and sweet corn, it's a wonderful meal. 
  • The meals cannot be discussed without talking about the service. Though the meals are catered in, Parkside volunteers do all the service, serving with "great joy and humility," as was mentioned. A church that engenders that culture of service is to be commended for that alone, if nothing else. The volunteers are retirees, housewives, folks on vacation college students..., all kinds. One fellow flew in from California and spent three days just making coffee, nothing else. That's the heart of a servant. 

So, yes, this is review in superlatives.  I expect next years will be as good or maybe even better--though I can toss out no viable suggestions on how they can improve it. Well, maybe one suggestion--men, get a bunch of guys from your church to join us!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Too Good to Pass Up

Sharing this transcript of Erwin Lutzer's statement on a major problem of the church today.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer message from the Understanding the Times Conference
April 26, 2014, Minneapolis, MN
This is this trouble, this is the rub. If you are 40 years old or younger, there’s the 40-40 split in
America. If you are under 40, you probably belong to a group of evangelicals who basically see
nothing wrong with same sex marriage. They are more tolerant, saying that there may be other
religions that lead you to God, so on and so forth. I say it humbly: They don’t have much of a
clue. Not everybody of course, but many of them have no clue what the implications are or what
the real issues are. They were reared by “Will and Grace” on television.
They are obsessed with technology. Many young people – not the ones that are here today by the
way; they are the exception – but many young people are so narcissistic. Yesterday I heard on
the news that one kid took 200 selfies – 200 pictures of himself in a single day. I mean the whole
technology world out there.
So there are those who say we can’t preach against homosexuality or mention Islam or anything
because we want to win these people to Christ, and that’s a barrier. So what we’ve found is that
the gospel and its implications are often dumbed down. Then you have a form of ecumenism that
compromises the gospel. And then there’s something else and that is it’s popular today to say,
“God loves you unconditionally.”
Now, to the one who’s sitting in the pew that’s sleeping with his girlfriend, he says to himself, “I
know exactly what that means. That means that it’s okay for me to continue to sleep with my
girlfriend because, after all, God loves me unconditionally. That’s His job. That’s who He is.
You see it used to be, and some of you who are older would remember this, that preachers used
to preach against sin, and then when people knew that they couldn’t live up to God’s standard,
and they were aware of their sin, then grace was offered to them. Thank God for amazing grace,
how sweet the sound.
Today grace is offered up front. Grace is offered to people when they don’t even know they need
it and whether or not they really care as to whether or not they want it because God loves you
“unconditionally.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are several different passages in
Scripture in the Psalms where it says that God says, “I am angry with the wicked every day.” Certainly, God loves the elect, those who are saved and He loved them, the Bible says, from the
foundation of the world. But to throw that out there for everybody to hear – that God loves you
unconditionally – is really to water down the seriousness of sin and the real understanding of
grace. Because you cannot understand grace until you fully understand sin and the better you
understand sin the better you will magnify grace. But we don’t have that today in our society.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Not My Battle

That's a true statement in some way, though not in others. Some of my friends would rather that I be more vocal and visible in my stances toward a lot of issues, particularly the erosion of personal rights in our nation. That's a big issue, and I support my friends in their fights on the many fronts; but I have chosen a different line of attack based upon my beliefs, my theology.
I do not believe that this is a purely physical battle. Actually, I believe that what we're seeing is only the physical manifestation of a spiritual battle.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells his readers where the real battle lies, it is "against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm."
All bad government aside, all bad policies aside, all conspiracy theories aside; here and here alone is the battle. I will take my stand as a preacher and teacher--and even a blogger, not lashing out against the evils we see; but against the one we cannot see: the father of lies, the prince and power of the air, the god of this age...Satan himself. He is the source of the problem.
If men would seek God, follow Christ and Christ alone, Satan would have a much more difficult time damaging our lives. Will I support those who battle the earthly side? Certainly. Will I speak on their behalf? Of course. However my part of the battle will be on a different echelon, urging men and women to come to terms with sin. When hearts are changed, lives are changed, belief patterns change. When beliefs change, behavior changes, politics change. I will attack the problem at the root.

Ephesians 6: 12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places 2 Chronicles 7:14: if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Fly on the Wall

Sometimes that fly is in a position to see some great things.

It was a small courthouse in an obscure town. Even a GPS has trouble getting folks there without a few wrong turns. It was not a busy court night, nothing big on the calendar, really just traffic tickets and a couple low-level offences.
The guy had LOSER written all over him: rough, rumpled clothing; unkempt, dirty hair; scruffy beard. His face was tired, the sagging eyes suggested a history of alcohol abuse. He came in, met with the prosecutor to see if could make a deal of some kind on his charges and then took his seat, waiting quietly to be called by the judge.
The judge is the epitome of a small-town judge. A godly man, he attempts to administer justice appropriately.  He's a bear of a man, looming large behind the bench in his black robe. He takes each case seriously and deals with each case on its merits.
When the man was called before the judge, the judge noted from the plea agreement that the prosecutor had recommended a low fine as the defendant was a disabled veteran. The judge, a veteran of Vietnam himself, inquired about the man's service and found that he had served there also. The picture became clear to the judge--he was looking at one of the overlooked heroes, one of the many had come home from an ugly and unpopular war and had never recovered from its effects. He noted, on the record, the fact of the service and thanked him for it--probably more recognition than he had when he returned home from the war. Making a decision as good judges do, the magistrate opted to reduce the fine considerably, to an amount that most people can spend without thinking much about. The man thanked the judge for the consideration, and asked for a couple weeks to pay the fine. His check would come the first of the month, until then, he'd be unable to pay.
Until that time, court had been business as usual; but then something unusual happened. A woman in the courtroom got the attention of the bailiff and quietly asked if it would be OK to pay the man's fine. She was given permission to approach the bench, which she did, and handed the judge the money for the fine. She was totally unknown to the defendant; but had heard the dialogue between him and the judge and decided to take an action. The judge was speechless, the defendant stunned; the courtroom came to a complete stop for a moment--several moments, actually.
The lady who had stepped up and paid the fine had to run out the door to compose herself; the defendant had tears in his eyes and his family was in awe; the judge had a lump in his throat and the bailiff suddenly disappeared into the judge's chambers. When court resumed, it was different than a normal court session.  Folks who had driven many miles to have their day in court and were anxious to get on the road homeward were just a bit more patient than normal; fines were paid with smiles; and thanks to the judge, prosecutor, clerk and bailiff were just a bit more frequent, and seemed a bit more heart-felt.
Funny what happens when someone steps up and does the right thing, just because it's the right thing to do. Life changes, and the change is a good one.

Sobering Thought

This morning I started reading John Piper's book called Don't Waste Your Life. I'm a couple chapters in and so far, so good. Early on in the book he mentions that throughout his growing up years there was a plaque in his mom's kitchen that he saw every time he walked through through there. He described it in great detail, and I recognized it...right down to the details of color and design. My dad had the same plaque in his shop. It said: Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.

Piper seems to have taken that to heart, being a well know preacher, teacher and writer of solid doctrine. Dad was not perfect and will never be known far and wide like John Piper; but anyone who knew him well knew where he stood on matters of faith. Even if they didn't notice the sign on the wall in the shop, they could see it in his life. He lived it out and displayed it within his family.

Most likely, in the not so distant future, my siblings and I will be called upon to write our dad's obituary. He's 94, in a nursing home and dealing with the ravages of dementia; but he's still Dad. A pastor friend paid him a visit last week and they talked about him needing to live that same way yet. He still understands.

Dad's legacy will show four successful children, all hard working in their callings. One has spent most of her life in full-time ministry, another has been part-time in ministry and serving his local church for years and a third has spent time serving as an officer in his church also. Looking beyond that, he has grandchildren who are hard working and successful, and some of them involved either in full-time or part-time in Christian service. Two generations removed from his active life, what was done for Christ is still visible and ongoing. The great-grandchildren are still growing.

No doubt, some of this will end up going into his obituary or will come out in eulogies when the time comes, and that's a sobering--and yet a refreshing thought. He is leaving a lasting legacy: What's done for Christ will certainly last. His life has been proof.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Critter Stuff

Like most people, I love animals.  I love dogs and cats--when they belong to others; wildlife--both when viewed safely in their natural environment or properly in legitimate zoos or animal farms, and I'd have to add when skillfully prepared on my dinner plate; and domestic animals--whether providing a source of power, material such as wool, or a source of food.
Also like most, I abhor the thought of animals being mistreated and/or abused; but what qualifies as abuse? I've had people complain to me about local Amish farmers abusing their horses by using them to harvest hay on a hot day.  Is that abuse?  I think not, as they would not treat a possession as valuable as that in a manner likely to cause it harm; but it gets noted as abuse.
Is it abuse to euthanize an animal injured on the side of the road?  Though some may be rescued and ultimately returned to the wild, the success rate is not that high, nor are there many skillful enough to undertake such a task.  My hat is off to those have done and continue to rescue such animals; but it takes a lot of time and resources to pull it off.
And then there are the supposed "rights" of cats, dogs and other animals held as pets, or for any other reason. They have ceased to be pets, and are now treated better than the children of some families
Again, there is no reason to mistreat an animal, and laws should be enforced when abuse is discovered; but why is it that there is so much outrage when a dog is maltreated; so much news coverage when a house full of abandoned animals is found, and cries of MURDERER when such a thing as a rhinoceros is killed illegally.
Have we forgotten what's really important?  While animals hold value--and truly they do--they do not hold the value of a human life.  I see item after item in the news about animal mistreatment, blog and facebook posts without number about homeless, mistreated or neglected dogs and cats, but where is the outcry when people are harmed? How many bloggers rail against the child abusers, elder abusers, abortion, euthanasia...? How many facebook posts--by good people, mind you--decry these things?  Not many when compared to the number that worry about our furry and feathered friends.
Man was put on earth to, among other things, be stewards of God's creation. While we haven't always been really good at, we've done even worse at caring for the creature made in God's own image.  Let's pay more attention to the care of mankind and not worry so much about the rights of the other lives we are to steward.

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's Not My Fault

There's a young lady in our family who was having a run of bad luck around the time of a family gathering. Her continual cry was "it's not my f-a-u-l-t," dragging the last word out for dramatic effect. There was nothing serious going on, so fixing blame was not really an issue; but we did harass her by quoting her for many gatherings thereafter.
I have a young friend though, for whom everything seems to be not his fault. In the last few years nearly his entire life has gone downhill. Failed relationships, out of wedlock children, job issues, excessive alcohol consumption...all of it seems to be the fault of someone else. It's that woman, that man, that boss, that person, that set of circumstances....  Never is there any acknowledgement that he might have something to do with at least a little bit of the problem. Sadly, I think that attitude is going to destroy what's left of what was once a promising career. He's bright, talented, personable, and in denial.  He fails to see that the common denominator is himself.
When our kids were in school, we often heard about "that dumb teacher," and in fairness to the kids, a couple times the teacher was the primary component of the problem. However, when there were several "dumb teaches" at one time, we sat the kids down and made them look at it objectively: What is the common component here? It was usually the student, not the teacher. It took some doing, but the boys all faced up the issues, got through them and are now successful men.
My point here is that I am pained when folks fail to stand up to their own failings, deal with them and move on. Continually blaming others will never allow a person fix a problem. I have watched a near never-ending parade of promising lives being destroyed by men and women who fail to face up to the realities of their own choices. So often, facing up to a problem early on stops the problem in its tracks while ignoring it only makes it worse.  Penalty delayed is like interest on a loan, it only gets greater the longer it's unpaid.
So, identify the issue, deal with whatever your responsibility is and move on. You'll be better for it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

He Made Me Do It

One of the many sub-specialties I've developed in my nearly 40 years of police work is teaching the laws regarding the use of physical force and deadly physical force. This came as a byproduct of being a firearms instructor. One of the things that must continually be reinforced is the reality that we, as police officers, are not generally the actors, but the re-actors. We respond to the actions of another.
In my years I've been blessed with the ability to talk my way out of most situations; I've even told drunks "GO OUT AND SIT IN THE BACK SEAT OF MY CAR," and they have done it...then along came last night.
It wasn't a horrible call, bad enough; but I've been on worse. It finally came to the point where the other guy made the decision for me. The best use of resources, the most effective way to end the conflict, the safest way to get it over with was to use the Taser.
In spite of several warnings, verbal directions, more warnings...I deployed the tool. What a horrible decision to make, to put fifty thousand volts into another human being! However, he had made the decision; he made me do it. The safety of the others made it necessary. He made me do it. Not a second thought nor a regret has gone through my head.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Time Lost

Lately its been on my mind that my dad had a small sign up in his business: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last."
When I compare myself to others, I guess I've been somewhat successful at doing things for Christ. I've done mission work, taught Sunday School at times, served as a deacon, and am now a preacher; but I really lost 10 years that I could have done something.  On top of that, when I compare myself to other men I know, men who set their courses earlier in life and have worked tirelessly for Christ, I see that I have fallen far short, not a lot of lasting work.
I had all the right excuses, dating my wife, then busy with a young family, then trying to establish myself in my profession--all good things--but I neglected those things that would have had a lasting impact. It really wasn't until we were in Staten Island that I got really serious.
I had been raised in a great family and a good church, had accepted the Lord as my personal Savior when I was about 10 and from all appearances was on track--and I was, sort of. My faith kept me from many of the problems I could have; but that was all about me, not really about Christ--the things that last.
Shortly after joining Bethel Evangelical Free church in Staten Island, the pastor told me that my name had come up in the nominating committee and I had his endorsement for any position I might be asked to fill. A couple days later, I was asked to be a deacon. That's when I got serious, I became a Bible student and a worker, a servant. It's been a steady climb since then. I love the growth that God has granted me; but mostly I love the impact that I have had on other lives. However, I often ask myself how much more impact--those things done for Christ--could I have had if I'd not forfeited those 10 years.
My point here is that my passion is turning to developing leadership in the local churches. I have a basic grasp on what kept me out of it when I was younger, but wonder what factors are causing it now. Men are not stepping up to the plate and leading, that's a church-wide phenomenon. I'd probably be happy if I saw more of the 30 year old guys getting into it--but they are not. I'd be ecstatic if I saw more than the few 20- something aged guys jumping into it.  
So, if you read this and have some ideas, please drop me a line at  

Stuck in My Craw--Again!

Make no mistake about it, I do love animals--other peoples' animals that is. I'm done with pets because of the ownership issue...they own me, not the other way around and at this point in life I can't have that. I'm also happy that people love their pets and that many people have great concern for animal welfare in general. That's really a good thing; no animal should be deliberately mistreated.
However it concerns me that the mindset is leaning toward the care the animals above all else. Cases of animal abuse abound, to the shame of those who are guilty of it. It may be small animals--allowing a house to be overrun by cats, dogs and other small animal to the point where they can't be cared for; it may be large animals--rescuing horses llamas and other such sized animals while being without the capacity to care for them. It may be so-called "puppy mills" where breeders keep their animals in poor condition. It may be other circumstances. Whatever the reason, there are laws standing to deal with them, and those laws should be enforced. I've been part of such enforcement actions and would do so again without hesitation.
What concerns me is the reaction of a segment of the public which viciously attacks the people charged with animal abuse and crusades against it. There is outrage! They protest, picket, use the media to crucify the offender.
Where are these people when children are abused? Where is the outrage when women are trafficked? Oh, I get it, a dog has more value than a child, a horse than a woman.... Did I even mention abortion? How many of those same protesters, who will drive miles to make a scene over animals even care about the thousands of babies being killed each year?
There's no way to really conclude this post so I'll just end it the heartbeat of an aborted child.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Game Warden Files--A Pervert on the Island

In my early days in Fulton County, Ray VanAnden and I shared a patrol boat on the Great Sacandaga Lake. It was not a bad boat--if you wanted to take a family boating; but not a good patrol boat by any means. Among other deficiencies was that it had no marine radio, something I'd fought to get for many years. I finally got one and was pivotal in making a good case along with the Fulton Co. Sheriff's Office.
Deputy Scott McCoy who was on the Sheriff's boat and I were stopped chatting somewhere near Northampton Campsite when my brand new radio crackled to life. Someone on Sand Island was calling a marina to ask them to call the police.  There was a flasher on the island and they had him trapped. I acknowledged the call and Scott and I headed for Sand Island--about a 10 minute run at top speed. My boat wasn't a good patrol boat, but it was fast, and I was a quarter mile or so ahead of the Sheriff's boat by the time we approached the island. I went to one place where there was a pile of arm waving and Scott went to the other. The bad guy was getting away and swimming for his anchored boat. Just as he reached it, I tied off to it and told him that he was under arrest--hoping I had the right guy, and there really had been a crime committed.
Scott did a couple interviews and confirmed that there was a case to be made, so he took the man into his boat while I stayed on the island to take statements. This guy had exposed himself to a couple young girls and a couple women in their 30's and 40's.  The young girls gave pretty good statements and one of the other women--who was a surgical nurse--was able to describe him in clinical detail...scars and all.
As I collected more information, I found that this guy had been doing this on and off for about twenty years. Though it had been reported frequently, including the registration number to his boat, he'd never been caught. When I checked the registration on the boat I found the likely reason: the boat registration was from several states away. He would bring the boat here each summer from that other state, use it for a short time and then return it. You can bet that I wrote my bosses a memo explaining just how critical that radio had been to making that case.
I don't recall what the outcome of the case was; but since I was never called to a trial of any kind it probably settled out with a plea agreement of some kind.

Sticky Note

I have a sticky-note app on desktop to my computer. I stuck a random thought there a few days ago before I lost track of it.  Didn't know exactly what I was going to do with then, but for now I'll develop the thought here and maybe build it into something better in the future.
The note says "re-defining, re-aligning, and re-assigning. The thoughts developed from my growing concern over the direction our nation, our culture and our churches are headed.
First we're re-defining God. The God of the Bible introduced himself to Moses at the burning bush as "I AM," which in Hebrew is the term from which we get the proper name of God in English: Jehovah. He did not introduce himself as "I am whatever you want me to be." Yet, we have ignored what the Bible has to say about God and invented a god (note the lower case g), who does not have the character of God, the attributes nor the authority as taught in Scripture.
We have re-assigned the role of God in our lives--if we consider there to be one at all--to be not important. He's just there and has no impact on our lives, a personal relationship is unimportant, He cares not about sin, he just loves.... In fairness, this has been happening over the last hundred years. It's not a new thing at all; it just has become worse.
Finally our churches are re-aligning with popular culture. After re-defining Him and re-assigning His role in our lives, they simply change the line of their path with the way of the world. That is not the role of the Church as Christ founded it. The church and it's people were to be salt and light to a hurting world. That is no longer the case.  
We are told--maybe warned is the better word--in Romans 12:1-2 about letting the world squeeze us into its mold. That's exactly what has happened. I guess folks just haven't been paying attention.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Byproduct of Lesson Planning

We're getting ready for a leaders' retreat in which all the deacons and trustees of our church, along with our two pastors, get away for a short time for some directed study and prayer. It's always a good the time for us.
This year, our pastor gave me the task of preparing a lesson on Acts 16:16-40, a very common passage dealing with Paul, Silas and the jailer in Philippi. There's a lot of meat in the passage, but in my first work session in preparation I came to this conclusion:
People pushed to the end of themselves, overwhelmed by needs, looking for a quick fix, and without any previous knowledge of godly things look to Jesus for temporal help and find their eternal needs met. Our example to them in handling adversity, as individuals or as a church may bring them to us.  We must be ready to provide the message.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Long on "Going to," Short on Follow Through

Guilty, guilty and guilty; I must admit it--I am guilty of this.  Incomplete projects, unmet deadlines, unmet expectations...done it all. Hopefully, those hurt by my personal failures have forgiven, or maybe even forgotten the events. This had not been the pattern of my life, however. I've tried, with increasing success over the years, to manage my life better, keeping it clear of some of the clutter that tends to bring about those failures.
Each of us can only keep so many balls in the air at one time, when we reach that limit, one falls away. That's been the biggest problem with my failing to follow through. There's also fear of failure--I get part way into something, hit a snag and rather than mess it up entirely just stop and leave it. The third thing, and I'll stop at three, is lack of commitment--it seemed like a good idea at the time, but after a while the thrill is gone.
My methods of dealing with these foibles really are not that difficult.

  • I've learned to say NO, usually it's to myself, though sometimes to others. If I don't have the time, I don't have the time. It's that simple. 
  • I pick projects with a reasonable chance of success. I'm not a carpenter--I no longer try to build of fix things because I'm never happy with the outcome.
  • I count the cost. Is it worth the investment of time, money or other resources.  

This has caused some tough decisions. I really wanted to tinker with old tractors after I retired. Then I realized that it would mean a backyard cluttered with partially torn apart machinery--which would bring about an unhappy wife--or I'd have to build another building.  Not worth it.
I'd like to do some home improvements, my wife would like me to, I'm sure. However, I know my skills with a hammer so I have to wait until I can afford to hire someone. I'd rather it not-done than half-done.
I started the study of the Greek language. The cost is a few hours each week but the benefits are a better understanding of the Bible improving my ability to teach and preach. That's worth the trade off--even if I'll never be that good.
It took many years to get to this point; but I'm happier with myself, and there are probably fewer disappointed people out there.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Writer's Block?

Despite a very busy few weeks, I've started to write a bunch of blog posts--but there it has stopped. There's a Game Warden Files post that just didn't come to life; there's one about unmet expectations and one that's pretty much a written version of a sermon I preached last weekend. Can't seem to get any of them to the point where I can hit the publish button. Yet, people are still checking out the blog.
So, hang on folks, more coming. Hope they're worth the wait.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Game Warden Files--Boys Will Be Boys

"One boy's pretty good; two boys ain't much good; three boys is no good at all." So said my grandfather, a wise man who died back in 1982.  My dad quoted that often, and I've used it even more often than he did, I suspect. This story proves the point about two being "not much good."
It was the opening day of duck season and we came out of the swamps along the Mohawk River in Saratoga County by about 10 AM. It had been an easy day as most of the hunters we encountered had been within the law. A few, however, had given us plenty of opportunity to put pen to paper, so it had been a worthwhile morning. I was headed home to take a quick shower and go watch a good friend of mine take her black belt test...never got there.
I heard the State Police Dispatcher giving a Trooper a complaint about a person having been hit in the eye by a BB or pellet while hunting...right up my ally as that's what's called a hunter related shooting incident and we were obligated to investigate, or at least assist the other agency, in their investigation.
When I contacted the State Police Dispatcher, I was directed to the hospital in Little Falls, where the victim was being taken. Even running red lights, I was a full 40 minutes away and by the time I got there the Trooper was coming out the door and led me from there to yet another hospital in Cooperstown where the victim had been taken for a more comprehensive exam.
The trooper gave me the story as he'd had it. Two cousins, about 14 and 15 years old, had been out in the woods and, according to them, had been shooting at a chipmunk on a stone wall. A BB had ricocheted and struck one of the boys in the eye.  The good news was the boy had no lasting damage in the eye, so after he'd been released from the hospital the Trooper and I took statements from them and tried to make heads or tails out of the stories.
They took us into the woods and showed us where and how it happened, which didn't add up--not even close--to the stories they were telling us. They stuck to their stories despite the facts, and gave written statements to back them up. The parents were useless--also making contradictory statements, though not on paper.  We understood what had happened: they'd been having a BB gun fight in the woods. If they'd been honest about it, that would have been the end of the story, we'd write our reports and go home. Since they couldn't tell it straight, we made it a bigger deal for them
Since it's illegal for anyone under 16 to possess even a BB gun except under certain conditions, each boy, according to law, "must be adjudged a juvenile delinquent." That's the way we wrote it up and sent it up the chain to be dealt with by the juvenile justice system.
Those two boys really weren't much good.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Shared article

This came to me from an unknown source, though the path by which it reached me says much of its origin. 
For my pastor friends, I think you'll find much to encourage you. For my church-going friends, think about these things when you think about your pastors.  

1. I wish I'd known that people who disagree with me on doctrines I hold dearly can often love God and pursue his glory with as much, and in some cases more, fervency than I do. The sort of intellectual pride that fuels such delusions can be devastating to ministry and will invariably undermine any efforts at broader Christian unity across denominational lines.
2. I wish I'd known about the inevitable frustration that comes when you put your trust in what you think are good reasons why people should remain loyal to your ministry and present in your church. I wish I'd been prepared for the feelings of betrayal and disillusionment that came when people in whom I'd personally invested so much love, time, and energy simply walked away, often with the most insubstantial and flimsiest of excuses.
3. I wish I'd known how deeply and incessantly many (most?) people suffer. Having been raised in a truly functional family in which everyone knew Christ and loved one another, I was largely oblivious to the pain endured by most people who've never known that blessing. For too many years I naively assumed that if I wasn't hurting, neither were they. I wish I'd realized the pulpit isn't a place to hide from the problems and pain of one's congregation; it's a place to address, commiserate with, and apply God's Word to them.
4. I wish I'd known the life-changing truth of Zephaniah 3:17 long before Dennis Jernigan introduced me to it. I'm honored when people thank me for writing a particular book with comments such as "This was very helpful" or "You enabled me to see this truth in a new light," or something similar. But of only one book, The Singing God, have people said, "This changed my life." This isn't some vain attempt to sell more books, but a reminder that most Christians (including pastors) are convinced God is either angry or disgusted with them, or both. I wish I'd known earlier how much he enjoys singing over them (and over me).
5. I wish I'd known how much people's response to me would affect my wife. For many years I falsely assumed her skin was as thick as mine. Regardless of a woman's personality, only rarely will she suffer less than him from criticism directed his way.
6. I wish I'd known how vital it is to understand yourself and to be both realistic and humble regarding what you find. Don't be afraid to be an introvert or extrovert (or some mix of the two). Be willing to take steps to compensate for your weaknesses by surrounding yourself with people unlike you, who make up for your deficiencies and challenge you in healthy ways to be honest about what you can and cannot do.
7. I wish I'd known it's possible to be a thoroughly biblical complementarian and to include women in virtually every area of ministry in the local church. In my early years in ministry, I was largely governed by the fear that to permit women into any form of ministry was to cross an imaginary biblical boundary—even though the Bible never imposes any such restriction on their involvement. I tended to make unwarranted applications by extrapolating from explicit principles something either absent or unneccesary. Aside from senior governmental authority in the local church (the role of elder) and the primary responsibility to expound and apply Scripture, is there anything the Bible clearly says is off-limits to females? Trust me, men, we need them far more than we know.
8. I wish I'd known it was okay to talk about money. Don't be afraid to talk about money. Just be sure you're humble and biblical and don't do it with a view to a salary increase for yourself (unless you genuinely and desperately need one). For far too many years I allowed my disdain for prosperity gospel advocates to silence my voice on the importance of financial stewardship in Christian growth and maturity. I didn't formulate a strategy for calling people to lifelong financial generosity without sounding self-serving.
9. I wish I'd known about the delusion of so-called confidentiality. Pity the man who puts his confidence in confidentiality. You can and must control the information that comes to you, but you can never control the information that comes from you. Once information is out and in the hands of others, never assume it will remain there, notwithstanding their most vigorous promises of silence. Be cautious and discerning about to whom you promise confidentiality, under which conditions (it's rarely if ever unconditional), and in regard to what issues and/or individuals. "Sam, you don't appear to have much trust in human nature, do you?" It's not that I don't trust human nature. I'm actually quite terrified of it! What I trust is Scripture's teaching about human nature.
10. I wish I'd known about the destructive effects of insecurity in a pastor. This is less because I've struggled with it and more due to its effect I've seen in others. Why is insecurity so damaging?
• Insecurity makes it difficult to acknowledge and appreciate the accomplishments of others on staff (or in the congregation). In other words, the personally insecure pastor is often incapable of offering genuine encouragement to others. Their success becomes a threat to him, his authority, and his status in the eyes of the people. Thus if you're insecure you likely won't pray for others to flourish.
• Insecurity will lead a pastor to encourage and support and praise another pastor only insofar as the latter serves the former's agenda and doesn't detract from his image.
• An insecure pastor will likely resent the praise or affirmation other staff members receive from the people at large.
• For the insecure pastor, constructive criticism is not received well, but is perceived as a threat or outright rejection.
• Because the insecure pastor is incapable of acknowledging personal failure or lack of knowledge, he's often unteachable. He will resist those who genuinely seek to help him or bring him information or insights he lacks. His spiritual growth is therefore stunted.
• The insecure pastor is typically heavy-handed in his dealings with others.
• The insecure pastor is often controlling and given to micromanagement.
• The insecure pastor rarely empowers or authorizes others to undertake tasks for which they're especially qualified and gifted. He won't release others but rather restrict them.
• The insecure pastor is often given to outbursts of anger.
• At its core, insecurity is the fruit of pride.
In summary, and at its core, insecurity results from not believing the gospel. The antidote to feelings of insecurity, then, is the rock-solid realization that one's value and worth are in the hands of God, not others, and that our identity expresses who we are in Christ. Only as we deepen our grasp of his sacrificial love for us will we find the liberating confidence to affirm and support others without fearing their successes or threats.

Game Warden Files--Compliments

Every person likes to be complimented, law enforcement officers are no different. All such statement are appreciated greatly, but when they come from people in high places--whether delivered privately or publicly--seem to have a special ring to them. If those folks notice, we know that others must also. I've had two such comments in my time.
The first came from a man who was then a prosecutor. He was the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted my most difficult case ever (see Every Officer Has One of These), and is now a State Supreme Court Judge. Some time after that case, the defendant from that case was a suspect in a crime in another county. The crime was a larceny from the home of one of his friends and was for quite a large amount of money. One other suspect was named also, and the case was never closed.
In talking with that ADA about another matter, that case came up and his comment to me was that if it had happened in his county, he would get me assigned to the case--even though it was not related to the mission of the department--and I would solve if, prove it, and allow him to get a conviction. However, it was not his county, and since the DA in the county of the event hated anything to do with EnCon Officers, I stayed away from it except for offering a couple thoughts to those who did have the case.
The other kind words came from another man who had been the District Attorney (at the time of the above case), and is now a superior court Justice. When he had been the DA, I'd called him because I had a sticky situation: there was an environmental violation on the property of the County Sheriff, and ultimately the legal liability was upon him--a terrible embarrassment to an honorable man. I called to give him a heads up, so that if and when he heard about it, he'd have the facts. We resolve the situation fairly--the contractor responsible for the violation took responsibility--and moved on.
Not long after that, I called him a couple times to run situations by him that involved EnCon law regarding discharging firearms within 500 feet of buildings and on/across public roadways. I wanted give him my read on why I was NOT going to prosecute based upon a principle of necessity of action. He agreed with my reasoning and I closed those cases without charges.
Some years later, I got a call from one of his neighbors--the defendant from Every Officer Has One of These. He complained that the DA had shot a raccoon out of a tree within 500 feet of a house, and possibly from the roadway. I called the DA laughing and reminding him of his previous agreement on my decisions on a couple very similar incidents. The complainant wrote letters of complaint to someone, but they never went anywhere--until this District Attorney was tapped to fill a vacant Superior Court Justice position. It was brought up, explained, and the rest is history.
When I retired, this judge came to my party and asked to speak. Higher words of praise for my professional behavior I've never received. He told the story of our many dealings and said that it didn't matter who you were, when I was involved the law was the law, and people were always treated fairly.

Game Warden Files--Politics

What? Politics affects law enforcement? Say not so!
Well sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't; but in one case some politicians found that it didn't help to toss their weight around.
It was opening day of the duck season, and I was asked to work with a couple agents from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in a swamp where there had been some complaints in the past. It was not in my sector, but that sector officer was off and asked me to cover for  him.
We left my marked car in the nearby community and took the agents' unmarked vehicles to the spot. Dressed in camouflage and carrying shotguns, we made our way to a spot where we could observe a good portion of the swamp. Shortly after daylight the gunfire started. We were able to quickly document several violations and started rounding up the violators.
One of them made me for a state officer and handed me his business card--he was a member of the New York State legislature--then started dropping the name of the current DEC commissioner, saying that he (the commissioner) had planned to come along on that hunting trip but had to change his plans, "Wouldn't it have been funny if [the commissioner] had come?" My reply was that it would have been very unfortunate for the commissioner! His name dropping and arrogance set the tone for the rest of the day--and really threw a wrench into our plans as the federal agents had planned to have me write all the charges under state law. Now, since these guys wanted to play the politics card, we opted to examine all of them very closely and charge all of the violations under federal law which made the fines increase from maybe $50 to $200 minimum.
One member of this elite group was cited for using lead shot for hunting waterfowl. His response--directed loudly toward me--"That's a ten thousand dollar shotgun, son. You can't shoot steel in a ten thousand dollar shotgun." I held my tongue, but wanted to tell him to go to Walmart and get a Remington 870 like the rest of us!
During our work there, one of the agents wondered off in a different direction and was approached by another hunter who warned him about the "game wardens up ahead." He produced his badge, "OH? like me?" and brought this guy back to the rest of us. seems like he got a ticket for something also; but he remained in a good mood, amused that he has warned the game warden about the game wardens.
By around noon we were done. We wrote about  a dozen people a total of about 20 citations: over limit by species, no duck stamp, unplugged shotguns, lead shot, taking out season...a good variety. We made a plan to return the next season to see if they'd gotten the message.
The swamp was part of large track of land that had been managed as something of a game farm when we had made our visit. Before the next season we did a check on the area and found that all had changed. The mowed walkways and carefully cut cover areas were already starting to be overgrown, the place had become unused. I'm sure this bunch found some other playground upon which to violate--I doubt they really learned their lessons.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ephesions 4:29--the ABV (Ammo Box Version)

 Eph 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (or off your fingertips), but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (ABV)

I'm not trying to write new Scripture here, that's contrary to everything I believe; but someone needs to make a point, and it looks like that someone is going to be me. The principle is that our communication should first of all be wholesome, and that it should be aimed at building people up, not tearing them down. No thinking person will argue that social media can be downright unwholesome at times, nor can it be argued that though it is well used by some to edify, it's also effectively used to tear down.
I've seen far too many things posted on social networking that violate these principles of wholesome and uplifting communication and no doubt have been guilty of it myself on occasion. The offending things come in at least a couple forms:

  • Outright insults--There are no end of the battles between people fought in the virtual press whether it's politics, school rivalries, lovers' quarrels, personal battles...they're all out there. Points can be made without putting people down. Ideas can be criticized without attacking people. 
  • Questionable photos and content--Speaking here to those who are professing Christians, do you really look at what you're posting?  It it really there to build someone up, or just to get a laugh or make a point? Must a statement be made this way? Is the humor really worth travelling down the path of thought the picture takes us? Is the content of an article or link really necessary to share with everyone, even with a warning on language? It might be, but is it really helpful and is it necessary to share so broadly that everyone sees it, or might it better to share it privately if it's of significant value?

My rule of thumb has become "Do I want my granddaughter reading this?" Whether it's a cutting comment, an inappropriate photo or bad language, the answer is a resounding "NO."
As I've already admitted, I've been guilty of sharing some things that hindsight makes me think I'd have been better not sharing; but a couple things I've seen lately, posted by people I respect greatly, make me ask the question. I'll be watching my own fingers a bit more closely from here on.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It's OK, Mom; You Don't Have To....

My mom doesn't cook any more, it's been slowing done for years but now about the only thing she does is make coffee. It's a shame, because she was a great cook. My son the cook/writer/blogger wrote great articles about her cooking because it was everything home cooking should be.
One of her specialties was lasagna. It was really special when it was based on her homemade sauce. That sauce went away a long time ago; but she kept making the dish with sauce she bought--and it was still pretty good lasagna. Every year, I could count on a pan of her homemade lasagna as a birthday present. It would be delivered to me frozen, amid much laughter from the rest of the family--we all knew what it was. She also made my birthday cake every year, generally served as dessert for Christmas dinner and it was amid the Christmas dinner I'd get my annual delivery. I can't deny that I enjoyed it it, year after year, I got a piece of my childhood for my birthday. It was great.
A few years ago, my wife took over the birthday cake making and that was good--a passing of the torch. My wife does a fine job, even making my mom's penuche frosting for the spice cake that I love. This year, however, there was another change that's, well, umm... just not acceptable.
I wasn't really expecting the lasagna. She's 90, been making it a long time and, as I said before, she doesn't cook anymore--she's made that pretty plain. So, this year I was somewhat surprised when the icy package was delivered as before. There was the requisite laughter, and then the qualifier, "I didn't make it myself." She'd bought it! Yeah, not wanting to break tradition, she went out and bought a frozen lasagna.
My wife took took it out of the freezer to thaw and last night we baked it. Well, it was lasagna, one of the better brands of frozen food actually; but it was really just frozen food, not made with the love that Mom put into it.
It's alright Mom. You've made me more lasagna than many Italian mothers have made for their sons. You don't need to get the frozen one--even delivered in love, it's not the same. I'll keep the memories of your homemade dish, you can keep the frozen one.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Game Warden Files--The Ethan Allen

Someone recently made note of the fact that though I'd spent some time blogging on the largest tragedy I'd ever dealt with--the World Trade Center disaster we know so well as 911-- I'd never mentioned another major tragedy in my career, one much closer to home: the sinking of the pleasure boat Ethan Allen on Lake George in October of 2005.
As in most cases of disaster, many are hailed as heroes for their response--and some truly are, stoically doing great things under extraordinary circumstances; but most of us merely respond, take an assigned task or fill a spot where we find a need, complete our tasks and go home. We do not consider ourselves heroes.
Within a half hour of the boat's capsizing, my phone rang and I was out the door only minutes later, running with red lights and siren all the way from Meco to well north of Lake George Village. By the time I arrived the event had changed from a rescue to a recovery. Those who would survive had been rescued and the grim task of bringing the bodies to shore had begun.
Virtually every undertaker in the region had been called to deal with the many deaths. Among them was a young man who had grown up and attended school with my sons. I ended up working with him and others of his profession escorting the hearses carrying the victims to the makeshift morgue--a freezer truck--at the nearest hospital. This was a necessary part of the process as the entire event had to be considered a potential crime scene, and the chain of evidence had to be preserved; thus a police presence with each body was necessary.
It was not an enjoyable job, and the usual morbid humor by which most emergency personnel cope with disaster was notably absent. My young undertaker friend's observation that though these folks were all unknowns to us--mostly older folks from the mid-west--they were mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, kept the mood pretty somber. I did my job, unceremonious as it was, and went home later that night. Since I had to be out of town the next day on another assignment, I was not part of raising the sunken craft or involved in the investigation in any way.
I never really gave my part in the even much thought; I responded, did my job and went home. A month or so later a local businesswoman asked me if I had been involved in the Ethan Allen event, and what my part had been. When I told her what I'd done, a deep sadness came over her and she asked if I was able to sleep through the night yet. The question took me aback quite a bit. The fact that we in police, fire and EMS are called upon to do these things is not something that upsets me. It's part of the job, we do it and go home. Those who are unable to cope with it are better served to be in other professions; they and society are both better for it..
It's ironic that I can deal with these things objectively as they are occurring when I'm involved; but I don't deal well with seeing any extreme emotion-provoking moments in the lives of others when I'm detatched--often watching TV shows, movies or even some commercials I get a lump in my throat and my eyes might even well up with tears...guess I'm not much of a hero.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Well, Back When I Was a Boy....

Back when I was a boy, things were different. I won't even say that everything was better, but some things certainly were. There was a general sense of decency and decorum that seemed to reign. Sure, there were rude and discourteous people, but they were the minority--a small minority, at that. There was a standard of behavior to which most adhered; those who did not were dealt with in some way, or so it appeared to my young eyes.

One pet peeve in recent years is lack of respect for the traditions regarding wearing of hats. Back when I was a boy, the hats came off when a man (or boy) entered a building, particularly a public building such as a govenment office or school (indoor sporting events being the exception, even years back).  That seems to be no more. I regularly see men conducting business in government buildings wearing their hats. When did that change?  Speaking of hats, unless in a uniform of some sort, military, EMS, fire or police, men removed their hats for the National Anthem and Pledge to the Flag. That's gone also. How hard is it to remove a hat--even if you're having a bad hair day--or a no hair day, the direction I'm headed?

I was recently the Master of Ceremonies for an event in a school gymnasium. When I called the people to their feet for the Pledge, I noticed that most of the men made no move to remove their hats so I announced "Gentlemen, please remove your hats!" At least once I got my way--and a pretty good number of young men heard and saw it. I hope there is a lasting effect.

Moving on to more serious things, back when I was a boy, boys and girls had respect for each other and, though there was natural curiosity toward the opposite sex, there were pretty hard and fast boundaries on acting on that curiosity. Now, there is a phenomenon called "sexting." Anyone not having his head in the sand knows at least something of that. I don't believe there to be any place for it, but the level of it among young people is amazing. One young teenager recently told me that about a dozen of her casual friends had asked her to send naked pictures of herself to them--she did not--however the sheer number who asked floored me. More upsetting yet is the number of kids who do send naked pictures--both girls and boys! It's even worse than that. Casual acquaintances are asking for sex as though it's no different than asking to borrow a pencil in class--and that at young ages.

This is not behavior reserved for older teens, it's happening at preteen ages also! Even those parents who are extremely diligent about monitoring their children's electronic communication are getting blindsided. Worse yet, many parents are not taking steps to stop it; they're ignoring or even denying that their children are participating it it. Yes, I used the word children because that's what they are!

In New York, the law prohibits sexual behavior of any kind with a person under 17 years of age. It's called the age of consent. The law is there to protect kids from thing they are not ready for. Sexual entanglements at young ages mess with the minds. Find a few teenagers who don't keep a private timeline on facebook and follow the drama for a few weeks. You can bet that some of it involves some type of sexual activity.

Yeah, this has been a rant and I'm not going to go into a long discourse on the social fix for these or other evils. I'll just move toward what my wife calls my simple theology:
1)Sin is bad, salvation (and forgiveness) is free--get it
2)If the Bible says "do it," do it; if the Bible says "don't do it," don't do it.
Start there.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Game Warden Files--Deja Vu All Over Again

Yeah, I know, that's not an original title, but it will have to do for now.
One of the great things about my history as an EnCon Officer is the tradition of inviting the "old guys," the retirees, to a regional meeting once every year--sometimes even twice.The current sector officers will pick up the retired guys living in their sectors and drive them to the meeting. It's a good time of the old mingling with the new.
This morning I was picked up by two of the local guys and off we went. The ride was an hour and a half of laughter over cases handled, arrests made, bad guys humbled. That's the way it should be, the way it's been for years.
My years with DEC were largely great times; however there were tough times--lean years of running old vehicles held together more by the determination of a few good mechanics than any real structure. Been there and done that before--sorry to see that those times have returned. There were years of having no equipment, then things changed and we had enough to go around. When I retired, the equipment situation was pretty good; but now it's back to the old ways: officers without equipment to do the job. A sad thing to see, especially having lived through it and recalling how we often were hampered by the same problems.
The good thing is that despite all the things that hamper the work, the officers are, by and large, working hard and accomplishing the mission of the agency.
It was good to reconnect with the guys I'd worked with--especially those also now retired--and laugh over the old cases, the old bosses, and catch up on the kids and grandkids that have come along since the last time we'd spoken.
We tell each other "we need to do this more often" even thought we know we won't see each other until next year, but that's the nature of the beast. After lunch, the meeting is over and we head back to our homes.
See ya' next year guys!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Game Warden Files--More Northampton Beach

Most of the campground complaints were related to the weekends; but occasionally there would be a mid-week event that got everyone's attention. Early one summer morning the Caretaker of the campground called to tell me that he had a pile of complaints about a particular site. The occupants had been up all night, people coming and going, loud music, foul language...all the big things. Of course, no one had bothered to come to his cabin during the night to get him up so he could deal with it, they had just sucked it up and waited until morning, knowing that they'd get to watch the show when the group got tossed.
The caretaker got into my car and we drove into the site, finding two guys looking very hung over trying to get a fire restarted. It turned out that they were not even registered to be on the site, so they were in trouble already. We asked to speak to the permit holder for the site and were told that he had just gone to sleep and we shouldn't wake him up. Yeah, that worked well.
We dragged the permit holder out of his tent and told him that they were going to get tickets. He would be charged with allowing a disorderly site, the other two for being unregistered, and a few other charges that were appropriate for the event (park rules gave us a lot of tools to fix problems like this) and then one of the young men spoke up, telling us that he had "studied law" and that we "could not give them tickets" for that. After hearing that, the park caretaker went over to my Blazer and started clearing out the back seat, knowing that I carried at least three pair of handcuffs for just that reason.
Now that they had expressed a contempt for our authority I had our dispatcher call for a judge and we set a time for an appearance in town court an hour or so later. In spite of their belief that I "couldn't do that," the young men decided that they'd clean up the site as we directed them to and then agreed to follow us to the court rather than be handcuffed together and crammed into the back seat of my Blazer.
We arrived at the court a few minutes before the judge and when she came, the young men were somewhat amused by at seeing a middle aged woman casually dressed and then having me identify her as the judge. When I escorted them into the courtroom and they saw her robed and behind the bench they started to change their tune a bit. The judge looked at me rather quizzically and commented that it was rather unusual to request an immediate arraignment in the middle of the week. When I explained that the men had clearly indicated their thoughts about my authority, so I had thought it better that they be under the authority of her court she gave them a very stern look and said "I SEE!" That started to get my young miscreants to lose some of their cockiness and get a bit nervous.
After reading the charges and advising them of their rights--of course they wanted a supporting deposition in support of the charges--the judge started talking about bail. Did any of them have any money? Cash money? Now they started to sweat just a little bit.
After letting them stew for a while, the judge placed them on 200 dollars personal recognizance bail--if they did't show up, they owed the court $200 each--and sent them home.
I went back to the campground and collected written statements from all the complainants and made one large deposition which the court then provided to the attorney for the young men. Rather than return to the court, they plead guilty via the attorney and paid hefty fines.

Jury Duty

You could say I've been lucky to have escaped all these years. In as much as I'd had jury notices before but had never had to set foot in the courtroom for any, you'd be right. The summons always seemed to come on or right before the opening day of a deer season, an out of town assignment, or a scheduled vacation and I always seemed to get excused. This time however, I dutifully set aside all my plans and showed up as required.
And so it began. The commissioner of jurors greeted us and got us working on filling out questionnaires. Early in the process, fifty jurors were called away to a second court room for another trial. After about an hour had gone by, and the administrivia had been completed, the presiding judge entered and greeted us. He briefly informed us the nature of the trial--a medical malpractice case pitting a reasonably well known local family against a well known physician--and then asked all who had legitimate reasons to be excused to line up and be called forward. It was a long line and he did excuse the majority of those for whom this trial--expected to last well over a week--would be a hardship.
Then we moved to jury selection.
Jury selection is arguably the most important part of a trial. The process is centered around something called voir dire, a time of face to face discussion between the attorneys and prospective jurors. This is a long and arduous process in which the lawyers attempt to select those persons who will be honest and give their particular side a favorable, or at least a fair, hearing of the evidence and will adhere to the instructions of the judge.
Though I'd taken a book with me, to deal with the boredom expected from and during the process, I never picked it up. The question and answer period between the two attorneys actually impressed me. The questions usually started pleasantly with background information including experience with the medical profession in general, this doctor in particular and some other aspects that would be specific to this case. The candor of the prospective jurors, their honesty in revealing things about themselves that may have been difficult for them to address was striking. Some honestly admitted that certain things in their backgrounds might cause a problem for them and color their opinions as they deliberated. The skill of the litigators was exceptional. I read people pretty well, but these guys were amazing in their abilities to know when to ask a deeper question or change subject then go back later to dig more deeply into something. They were able to open the candidates up show their emotions, and maybe even their biases.
Though some prospects were dismissed by the judge in open court, all for reasons that were obvious from listening to the question and answer process, only the judge and the lawyers know what went on in chambers when they met to discuss whether to keep or release the jurors according to the requests of the the lawyers.  
It took well into the afternoon of day two to pick the eight member jury for the case. In a way, I'm disappointed that my name was not called, though a conversation with another judge suggests that my experiences with both parties (both favorable experiences) probably would have been a disqualifying factor and I'd have not been allowed to serve.
By the time the 8th juror was seated, the jury pool (199 had been summoned, about 40 were left) was all getting a bit itchy to get going, but most were patient with the process in spite of our itchiness, and were happy that the judge kept the process on track and moving pretty well. One man, however annoyed me to the point that I pointed him out to a court official. His continual snide remarks and visible appearance of frustration made me fear that neither party would get a fair hearing of the evidence from him. Fortunately for the integrity of the system, he was not called, though I'm sure the court officer would have brought him to the judge's attention, and I'm sure one of the attorneys would have found a reason to remove him.
In the end, a good mix of men and women, older and younger was chosen. I'm sure that they will give the evidence a fair hearing and that justice will be served.
For any who think that jury service is an inconvenience, it is. However, it's part of our process and we must be in the process to have any right to complain about it. I just spent two inconvenient days. Next time it might be your turn. Show up, don't make excuses to get out of it and enjoy the education.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Keep Trying--Maybe You'll Get it Right

My early years in law enforcement were a mix of three jobs.  I started part-time in Chatham in 1975, added the Park Police in 1977 and was appointed full-time in Chatham in 1980, still working for the Park Police for a while after that. Along the way, I worked for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office a little bit also, mostly to fill in for special details or cover vacations...that sort of thing.
One night another deputy and I were working a two man car during a weekend of special events in one of the smaller towns. I might add that the event was one that often involved copious amounts of alcohol. In the wee hours of the morning we came through one of the hamlets in the town and found a pickup truck in the middle of the road at the end of a long driveway. In the truck we found a young man trying unsuccessfully to get it started. To begin with, the guy was hammered. He could hardly stand up. We got his license and when he couldn't produce his registration we asked if it was his truck. "No," he said, "It's Mike's truck," pointing to the house at the end of the driveway. About that time, Mike came out the door in his pajamas to see what all the commotion was about. He looked down at us and figured it out pretty quickly. "Hey, you stole my truck!" Then he came down the driveway a bit further and realized who the guy was. "You did this last year, didn't you."
Yes indeed the same guy. Three interesting observations here: 1) the first attempt was during the same weekend-long event the year before, 2) they thief didn't get any further the first time either and 3) the truck owner had continued to leave his keys in his truck.  Apparently, neither of them had learned a lesson from the first time.

Be Vewy, Vewy Qwiet...

...weerh huntin' wabbits. Actually, my imitation of Elmer Fudd sounds better than it looks in writing, and I've had a lot of fun with it over the years...had a couple kids at a summer camp once think that I was Elmer Fudd; but being quiet has been a necessary part of my tool box over my years of law enforcement.
The skill of sneakiness developed out of necessity when I served with the New York State Park Police, Taconic Region, from 1977 to 1980. There was a lot of ground to cover, often on foot, and being quiet was one of two ways to be effective. The other way was to be as visible and as loud as possible, which set the stage quiet well for being sneaky.
It wasn't hard to sneak up on a car at night when the occupants were engaged in amorous pursuits, but some things required skill beyond that. Part of my beat for the Park Police was Clermont Historic Site, a beautiful site along the Hudson River. The grounds closed at sunset, and I generally made a point to make a swing through sometime well after dark. The nice thing was I could make the last several hundred feet of my drive without headlights, pull into the employee parking lot and walk the rest of the grounds from there. I often found people in the park, just enjoying the view of the river after dark and told them to move on. I found more than a few lovers and ran them out also.
So it was one warm summer night that I parked and began my walk across the grounds, ducking in and out of the long shadows cast by the lights from around the building as they were occluded by the hundred-plus year old trees that dotted the landscape. There was one car in the parking lot and that was empty, so I started walking the large expanse of lawn. Way down on the south lawn I saw the silhouettes of two people sitting on a picnic table, passing something back and forth. Though I couldn't smell it, I believed by their actions that it was a joint. After a stalk of a couple hundred feet, I very quietly walked up behind them and as the young man took the joint from the young lady's hand, I removed it from his--and placed him under arrest. It was as though I'd dropped from the sky. Of course, he was more than willing to take all the responsibility and give me the rest of his dope if the young lady didn't get charged. Deal!
There was, however, a much better event. Late one summer night I had pulled into the Taconic State Park, near Copake Falls, and found a large cluster of cars, vans and motorcycles parked in the area reserved for a group camp site. The group site was not occupied by any large group, so I went exploring on foot. Loud music, especially well after dark, is generally a sign of a problem, so I headed for the source of the noise. Quietly working my way through the woods to the campsite, I was able to see several tents scattered around a few nearby sites and three or four pretty rough looking people sitting around a picnic table with one of them just starting to snort a line of cocaine. I stepped from my cover--announcing my presence clearly, and apparently loudly enough to be heard well across the campground--and caught the guy in mid-snort! He succeeded in dumping the coke, and tossed his mirror and straw into a wooden box. In one of those maneuvers that can never be explained I got him cuffed, off the picnic bench and moving down the trail toward the rest of the campground with the box of yet unknown drugs under my arm before anyone else there could react. By the time the rest of the crowd was up and moving, my prisoner and I were well away and back to my car, parked in a part of the campground where I had friends who had heard me yell and were waiting to see what had happened.
In the end, we found that my prisoner's box of goodies contained cocaine, hashish, amphetamine and marihuana. Not a bad haul for one sneaky Park Patrol Officer!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Frequent Flyers

A rash of you can't make this stuff up type stories about dumb crooks provoked an old memory from my days in Chatham PD, back in the 1970's.
We had our share of regular customers who were in our stations either as witnesses, complainants or suspects quite frequently. One afternoon, one of our best customers came in with a complaint of some type. I dutifully took his complaint--though I don't recall now what it was or what the outcome was--and then reached into the drawer of the desk I was using, pulled out an appearance ticket and, as we continued our conversation I wrote him a ticket for unlawful possession of marihuana. I told him to hand me the bag of marihuana that he had very obviously sticking out of his pocket, and when he did I handed him the ticket.
Folks like that are job security--and you just can't make that stuff up.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Game Warden Files--Don't Mess With Al!

Al wasn't his name, though most folks called him that, I believe. He was a retired military man--though he never told many stories. He was likable, pleasant, and liked all the police in the area which was a good thing as he always carried a gun. More than once he'd stop and watch an encounter until it was over, making sure that the officer--of whatever agency--wasn't having any trouble, then he'd move on without anyone ever really knowing he'd been there. Many of the younger police officers didn't even knew he was around, but some of did and appreciated his presence.
We had a an occasional cup of coffee together and he'd share a few stories. The one I recall the best was of a time early in the days of snow mobiles when he was out on snowshoes in deep snow. He saw two people on snowmobiles running in circles, chasing a small deer until the deer dropped from exhaustion. The operators got off their machines and went over to the now exhausted deer. When they did, Al raised his rifle and fired two rounds. The snowmobile had to be towed out of the woods!  Of course, Al being on snowshoes, he was long out of the woods before the operators of the machines got out and called the police.

By the time he told me this story, the statute of limitations had long since expired, so I was free to laugh with him, and he's gone now, so it's a moot point anyway. It's certainly not an activity I could condone or authorize, but once in a while it's fun to hear a story like that.

Game Warden Files--Yes, Still More winter memories

The renewal of our winter wars with snowmobiles in our tree farm brought back a memory of a time that doing basic good police work was trumped by just being in the right place at the right time.
It was a winter morning and I'd been headed back to the little community of Hope Falls, about the most idyllic spot in my sector. Driving down the road, you'd break over a little hill, look down into a valley where there was the perfect little farm, some open ground, a nice stream...a little slice of heaven looking like it had been left over from a previous century. It was a road that ended at a snowmobile trail head, it had a few homes and a couple camps so there was not a lot of through traffic back there.
I was headed down there one winter morning, when the guy who owned that perfect little farm flagged me down...and he was boiling! During the night, a few snowmobiles had come down the road--illegally, I might add--then come off the road onto his property and ridden down the outside of the snowbank which was right down the line of about a dozen small evergreens he'd planted just the summer before.  He hadn't even gone out to see how badly they'd been damaged, but the tracks ran right down the tops of them.
I assured him that I'd do anything I could to find the culprits, but didn't offer him any real hope. He didn't know how many machines there had been, had no description of them, he could only tell me about when he'd heard them go down the road.
I checked all the spots nearby where I thought I might get lucky and find a group of snowmobiles, but had no luck on that; so I was sitting at another trail head when a young man pulled up next to me in his car and started asking questions about where all the trails in the area came out. My curiosity aroused, I asked a few questions and found that he and his friends had been lost the night before while snowmobiling and had eventually found their way back to their starting point after wandering around that area for several hours. He was now out to figure out where they had been. The more he answered my questions, the more I was sure that he was one of the guys who had wrecked the farmer's trees.
I finally told him what I suspected he and his friends had done and he readily volunteered to follow me back to the farm and take care of any damages that they may have caused.
When we pulled into the farm's driveway, I looked back at him in and could see him nodding his head. They'd been through there the night before. The farmer came out, looking somewhat baffled and I told him I'd caught his snowmobile violators. He couldn't believe it. He was so baffled by the fact that I'd caught someone that when I left he and the suspect were talking like long lost friends. I don't thing he ever collected any damages...the heart-felt apology was enough.