Just Another Day On Police Beat
By Anthony Buccino
Police Beat. That's my job. That's what I do. I check out the
blotter, call up the cases
It was just another day on Police Beat. I cover Police Beat. Thatís my job. Thatís what I do. Walking through cluttered halls, checking out wanted posters, looking for someone I know, someone I could turn in. None of the posterized people look familiar. Iíd have to stop counting the reward money. Guess all my friends are dead or in jail or have real jobs.
Like I said in the last paragraph, I cover Police Beat. Thatís my job. Thatís what I do. I check out the blotter, call up the cases that interest me. Check Ďem out with the cops on duty. Then I come into this newspaper and tell you about them. Thatís your job. You read all about it. You smack yourself in the head and say, ďthere but for the grace of God...Ē
I like Police Beat. Usually I hear about the good stuff before you do. But if you hear about it before me, you always call me to see if I know. You tell me what you want to read. I write it. Thatís my job. Keep that straight and youíll get along fine on Police Beat.
It was Tuesday. Last week. I was on Police Beat. Thatís my job. Thatís what I do. I cruised through the concrete mountain called Belleville Town Hall. Found the stairs, then worked my way down. I looked left, saw the police desk. Nah, theyíll have to get along without me this morning. Iím looking for Police Beat. Thatís my job. Thatís what I do.
I saw the Coke machine. I knew I was getting close to the detectives. They work nights. They need sugar. They need a Coke machine. Itís a friendly Coke machine. Not like those fancy hotel machines. Sure, thereís one on every floor, but a buck a can? Thatís outrageous. When Iím on Hotel Beat, I call room service and pay two bucks plus tip, and charge it to the boss. But thatís another story.
I get past the Coke machine with only a minor flashback. Then Iím on my way. I round the corner. The ladies room catches my eye. Another flashback
When I was Investigative Reporter, I went undercover, slipped into the ladies room and took clandestine pictures of the holes in the floor. The cover story issued by the building department was that they were doing some plumbing work. They said they had to put a two foot hole in the floor next to the sink and the mirror so the pipes would have a place to leak.
Another story is that a few female prisoners barricaded themselves in and tried to dig their way out with plastic Sporks that came with their take-out food. Thatís a story Iíll save for a rainy day.
I cover Police Beat. Thatís my job. Thatís what I do. I head over to the records window. Itís the same window the public visits to see how the police wrote up their accident report. Fifty cents a copy, the good reports go for two bucks. The glass came from a bank that closed down in 1929.
I stick my nose in the window. Usually thatís-all it takes for them to know itís me. I cover Police Beat. I have a nose for news. Iím known for my nose. Sticking your nose through the peephole can be dangerous. Thatís my job. Sometimes itís dangerous.
This is where the brains of the department are. The center of operations. The plug it in and watch the sparks computer. Itís all here. On Police Beat. Just one flight down from the first floor and one flight up from the basement.
I say the password here on Police Beat. They let me in. I walk through. I try not to knock any of the catch-all files filed around where I can catch them with my camera bag. I always carry my camera in a camera bag. I may have to be Jimmy Olsen someday, I have to be ready. And, anyway it gives me a place for my Lifesavers. On Police Beat, you never know when youíll need a Lifesaver.
The lieutenant points to my chair. I sit down. We talk. We talk about the weather. One day itís hot. One day itís cold. Weíre all going to catch pneumonia, we both say. We laugh. You have to laugh on Police Beat. Itís not part of the job. But it helps.
I take out a notebook from my camera bag. The floor looks dry next to my chair. I set the camera bag on the floor. Over by the lieutenantís desk heís not so lucky. The tiles have come up. When he pushes down slightly with his foot, water squishes through the cracks. If it werenít so pathetic, weíd laugh.
The lieutenant says thatís how he knows when he has to get new shoes. The water comes up through the floor and through his shoes, and thatís when he knows when to get new shoes. It almost passes for a joke.
Look at this, he says. The desk came from DeWitt Savings bank when they got new furniture. Look at it now. The lieutenant opens the drawer. It is warped. With his foot he touches a bottom panel on the wooden breakfront. It falls in to a little puddle. This is not a pleasant site on Police Beat.
Iíve got to get the news, I say to him. Thatís my job. Thatís what I do. He fills me in on crime. I count in my head all the cars that are stolen here and end up in Newark. If theyíre recovered at all.
The lieutenant throws me a curve. A stolen car was recovered in East Orange. We figure they must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. On Police Beat, we donít interpret the news, we report it. Thatís my job. Thatís what I do.
I ask about the flowing water under the floor tiles. My News Nose takes over. Iíve got to know more about it.
The lieutenant says on Monday morning itís 200 degrees here in his office. He opens the window, but the heat wonít leave the room. The only way to stop the heat, he says, is turn off the radiator. When you turn off the radiator, it leaks.
Weíre here in the basement, and some people may call it hell, but it doesnít have to be that hot, I say, speaking for Police Beat.
The lieutenant nods.
My time is up. I get up to leave Police Beat. I put my notebook in my camera bag. I look at the lieutenant. Here on Police Beat, Iíve become a victim.
Lookit here, lieutenant, I say. Feel this, lieutenant, I say, handing him my camera bag. It was dry when I came in here, I say. Itís soaked now. But I put it down where the tiles are in place, I protested. Itís not fair. The floor should only leak where there are no tiles. It shouldnít leak where my camera bag works as a sponge and sucks the water through the cracks in the floor.
The lieutenant looks at me. He looks at my sopping camera bag. Here on Police Beat, the words are unsaid. They donít need to be said. The lieutenant and I both know what must be done.
Itís time for Police Beat to get pasted to the pages and call out Editorial Man. Yes, that wordy character from another mindset, who has the power to get leaking fire house roofs fixed, broken doors repaired, and, least of all, doorknobs replaced.
That strange character who will turn up before you know it and put ideas in your head that youíll have thought youíve always had. Yes, heís on his way, on his way to investigate the wet floor on Police Beat. From Police Beat, heíll get one tip. Bring your own Lifesavers.
First published: The Belleville Times, 1990
Read: A Writer's Life For Me
Essays, photography, military history, more
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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