My Polaroid Land Camera was one of many. I first saw it sitting on the shelf next to flashlight batteries and beside big boxes of film. Our Police Department’s supply room was a necessary but fun place. We’d carry in our equipment bags, zip open the large top, and then fill it up with citation pads, notebooks, fingerprint supplies, road flares, batteries, flex cuffs, anti-bacterials of all types and sizes, bleach (for after a really bad run to detox with a car full of drunks), and just about any of the admin stuff police officers need in their daily duties.

 

1984.  A Southern California Large City Police Department.  My Polaroid Land Camera was one of many.  I first saw it sitting on the shelf next to flashlight batteries and beside big boxes of film.  Our Police Department’s supply room was a necessary but fun place.  We’d carry in our equipment bags, zip open the large top, and then fill it up with citation pads, notebooks, fingerprint supplies, road flares, batteries, flex cuffs, anti-bacterials of all types and sizes, bleach (for after a really bad run to detox with a car full of drunks), and just about any of the admin stuff police officers need in their daily duties.

That day as I picked up the Polaroid Land Camera and turned it over in my hands thoughts began to form.  I quickly yelled “Bill, get in here and bring your equipment bag.”   A moment later I’m filling up both our bags with a camera each and box after box of film and big three ring binders with plastic holder dividers.  You know the type, you can put photographs, single sheets of paper, anything in binders this way.

Bill “are you crazy?”  Nope, I just received a moment of clarity and this is what we’re going to do.  I preceded to lay out my plan.  We ended up agreeing we could probably get away with it until some distant supreme court ruling, but we both knew it had to be presented properly AND be shown to be useful.

That day my partner Bill and I conducted over 50 field stops, recorded personal information, and TOOK PICTURES of every one determined to be a gang member.  We would take a series of shots.  A full length, head and shoulders next to an officer to scale height, and close-ups of any prison or gang tats. We didn’t photograph personal tats. And we built our binders.  By the end of the week word had got around and at roll call we carried in the first 20 binders of organized gang information.  The first of its kind in the state of California as it turns out.

It didn’t take long for the other officers to see the use in our little project, and even the admin types saw the use and cleared out a room, and then set it up to store thousands of such binders.  We knew we’d need them.  We arranged them by gang and by area as the main headers and worked our way down to gang status and individual habits on the small side.  In this room we eventually added a large conference table and chairs for victims to come and help identify their robber, attacker, car hijacker, etc..

The results were immediate.  Several dozen arrests the first month and that was just in Southern.  Word got around at the court houses, DA offices, etc, and soon all the precincts we using them and word came in other departments all up and down the state we doing the same.  Soon, a gang member identification WITHOUT a binder confirmation was almost reason for the court to cut a suspect free.

Ten years later, that I know of, the Polaroid Land Cameras were still in use as were the binders.  Today I suppose polices have seen great use out of the simple and inexpensive digital compact cameras.  Especially now that Polaroid is out of business.

“Are you done?”  Huh, what.. Bill jarred me back to my senses as I stood there with my first land camera and I quickly loaded it and a bunch of film in my bag.  I wasn’t the guy above, the guy with the great idea.  I wish I was though.  It was someone else and maybe he’ll read this and email me and I can learn more about how this important policy started.

For the last few months during my training we used the FTO’s camera, but now that I was going out on my own I wanted my own.  I’d already spent enough time with the binders where I felt like I knew each gang member in my precinct before I’d even started.  What an effective intelligence coup!

It could have been me though.  It for sure would have been today because I’m always looking for new and smart ways to use cameras.  What about you?  Care to share your first camera story?

Until next time…