MPs on the Job!
Just one more exciting episode from the 226th Military Police Company, and then I can move on to the main part of my story.
Previously in this series: “Policing Perils: Richard Lugar, Part I”
Legally speaking, the phrase “hot pursuit” stands as an exception to the usual rules that regulate police conduct, allowing cops to enter homes without search warrants or pursue a suspect outside the cop’s normal jurisdictional limits.
Mostly, though, when a cop says he is in “hot pursuit,” he means he is pursuing a vehicle that is traveling at a high rate of speed and trying to elude capture.
It was early evening, still daylight, an hour or two left in my shift, when I got a call from the dispatcher for the Indianapolis Police Department. He told me a serious felon had escaped from police custody, stolen a car and raced off.
IPD believed the escapee had a girlfriend who lived outside Muncie, Ind. The most direct route to Muncie from downtown Indianapolis would take the escapee right through Fort Benjamin Harrison. We were to be on the lookout for a late model, dark green Plymouth with Indiana tags, probably moving at a high rate of speed.
I promptly got on the horn and notified all patrolmen to be on the lookout for the Plymouth. In addition, I ordered all gates into the post to be blocked by two squad cars, facing out, lights flashing. Unless the escapee had already passed through the base, he wasn’t getting onto it.
I wanted to make a quick tour of the gates to make sure my instructions were being followed, but my squad car, Car 10, was in the motor pool for its semiannual tune-up. The only squad car not busy was Car 20, the animal control officer’s car.
Car 20 was the worst car in the MP Company — which is saying something — a six-cylinder Ford so old I was sure it had seen service in World War II. And it was driven by the worst MP in the company, a fellow I’ll call “Jerry Briscoe.”
Briscoe had been a mechanic in Vietnam and when he returned to the States he had only six months left to serve on his four-year enlistment. So the Army made Briscoe an MP and sent him, unfortunately, to Fort Benjamin Harrison.
Briscoe was an odd-looking fellow, about five feet eight inches tall, with skinny legs, a very round torso, a scrawny neck and a long, narrow head. The MPs promptly christened him “Chunky Chicken” and the name stuck. I refused to use that nickname, but not using it was a problem:
“Get Briscoe on the horn,” I told the dispatcher, “and have him come by the MP station and pick me up.”
“Oh, for God’s sakes — Chunky!”
Briscoe and I did a quick tour of all the gates into the fort and everything was in order. That is, everything except Chunky — I mean, Briscoe. Briscoe was wildly excited about the possibility that a felon escapee might be headed toward the fort and he couldn’t contain himself.
“You suppose he’s really headed this way, Sarge? You think he might be armed and dangerous?”
“Calm down, Briscoe.”
“We gonna shoot it out with him?”
I couldn’t wait to get out of Car 20, but as we approached the MP station a troubling thought occurred to me. My patrolmen had covered all the regular gates into the fort, but there was a temporary gate way up in the northwest corner of the post that wasn’t guarded.
Back in 1944, Fort Ben Harrison had held Italian and German prisoners of war, and the detention facilities were still standing, albeit in extremely poor repair. The Army was in the process of demolishing them and replacing them with new buildings that would be used for — well, I had no idea what.
During the construction process, a temporary gate had been built way out in that part of the base so heavy construction equipment wouldn’t have to drive through the whole fort. That construction gate was in an obscure location, but it was also completely unguarded. If the escapee was taking Fall Creek Road towards Muncie he would pass right by the temporary gate and could take a shortcut through the post.
As Briscoe and I approached the construction gate a car blew through it and headed northeast into the base at a high rate of speed. It was getting dark now and I couldn’t tell for sure that it was a green, late model Plymouth, but it was moving way above the posted speed limit and there was a good chance it was the escaped felon.
“That’s him!” I shouted. “Get him, Briscoe!”
Briscoe hit his lights and siren and the chase was on. I got on the radio and had dispatch patch me through to IPD and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. That way, when I spoke into the mic all the MPs could hear me, as well as every IPD patrolman and every Marion County deputy sheriff.
I identified myself and gave my location, letting everyone know we were in hot pursuit of a vehicle that could contain the escapee. Unfortunately, our pursuit wasn’t nearly hot enough. I don’t know what the top end for a late model Plymouth was in those days, but whatever it was, it was way above the top speed of Car 20.
As the speeding vehicle continued to pull away from us I became increasingly agitated.
“Damn it, Briscoe!” I shouted, “Faster, faster!”
I was pounding on the dashboard and screaming at Briscoe when all of a sudden Briscoe glanced in the rearview mirror, slammed on the brakes, and pulled over to the side of the road.
Now utterly beside myself with rage, I screamed, “What the hell are you doing, Briscoe?”
A Marion County Sheriff’s squad car was racing at us down the road, lights flashing and siren screaming, going hard after the Plymouth.
Briscoe pointed to the rearview mirror and said, “There’s a cop after me, Sarge!”
Stunned almost into insensibility, I screamed at the top of my lungs, “You are a cop you [bleeping] idiot!”
All that was bad enough, but in my excitement I still had the radio mic in my hand and still had the transmit button depressed. Everyone at IPD, Marion County Sheriff’s, and the MPs had overheard the entire exchange.
I learned later that cops all over central Indiana were laughing so hard they had to pull over and stop until they could regain control.
Next in this series: “Joining the Force: Richard Lugar, Part III”