Late-Night Journals: Former Ann Arbor police officer Peter Stipe recalls 18 years on the force in his memoir "Badge 112"
For almost 20 years, Peter Stipe served as a police officer in Ann Arbor. After getting off work late at night, “I would be amped up, go home, and write it all down,” he says. “I wrote a lot of profiles of people at work and their personality quirks.”
The result of all that late-night journaling is now Stipe's memoir, Badge 112.
The idea for putting this writing into a book came from a police inspector Stipe met while visiting his stepbrother: “After hearing me tell stories about my days on the job, he said that I should write a book.”
Stipe began by posting his stories on Facebook.
“I did my test drive there,” he says. “It helped me to figure out how long the stories should be, if I was grabbing people at the beginning, giving a satisfying payoff, and so on.”
He also had people from a variety of backgrounds proofread the material so as “not to err on any sensitive issues.”
Badge 112 is a series of vignettes that allows the reader to drop in and drop out of the book wherever they choose, and Stipe composed his prose in a way inspired by the memoirs of a famous actor.
“David Niven wrote some books about his Hollywood adventures … as a witness to what was going on around him, not as the main character," Stipe says. "I tried to model my writing on that to tell what happened as I witnessed it.”
Like many memoirs, Badge 112 opens with Stipe writing about his childhood and the experiences that shaped him. He begins his career with the city as the ordinance enforcement inspector, chosen despite "shoulder-length hair and informal attire.”
After seven years in that role, Stipe applied to the police department at the suggestion of Police Chief Jim Colby.
Stipe’s initial inclination was not to apply: “I’d smoked pot, worn my hair to my shoulders, and acquired eight points on my [drivers’] license in less than two weeks.”
But he eventually brought his “wrinkled form” to the personnel department, which led to the Detroit Metropolitan Police Academy in January 1986 and then 18 years of service to the city of Ann Arbor.
While Badge 112 was built upon his journals, the process of putting the book together was also a way for Stipe to process his career.
“When working as a police officer, you don’t have time to dwell on that last call, you have to go on to the next, so you kind of suppress all of that," he says. "Once you retire, it’s like a telescopic train, it all runs up and ambushes you.”
Stipe's stories run the gamut from hair-raising to laugh-out-loud funny, and readers learn about the coworkers, criminals, and citizens who make up the city of Ann Arbor.
“Although Badge 112 is a memoir, it was initially conceived as a way to acknowledge the friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors who helped me along the way," Stipe says. "But if there is a message that I don’t want missed, it is recognizing the humanity that police officers depend on to do their jobs.”
Since word limits precluded some stories from being in the book, Stipe gave Pulp an exclusive look at two vignettes that didn’t make it into Badge 112.
Good Luck & Bad
I once assisted on a crash at Huron and First St. in Ann Arbor, where a girl speeding east against a red light on Huron broadsided a man proceeding south on a First St. green signal. Compounding his misfortune was the fact he was legally drunk and placed under arrest. I drove him to the station while he lamented the terrible week he was having. His wife’s car had been stolen a couple of days before.
Making his phone call, he reluctantly told his wife the bad news. As he listened to her response, he suddenly brightened and covered the receiver to tell me that her car had been recovered. He looked so relieved after he hung up the phone, I felt bad telling him that his vehicles had been reunited in the collision. The 15-year-old had run into him with their stolen car.
In June 1991, I was sent to meet Lisa G. from the Upper Peninsula at the Total Station at Plymouth and Green. She had moved from Marquette, secured a job at the gas station and purchased a van. She slept in that vehicle she kept parked in the Arbor Drug lot at 2020 Green. On this night, her unlocked van had been stolen. She had no title, registration, license plate or insurance. The vehicle was impossible to enter into the system, so we set out to find it.
The 15-year-old Dodge sleeper van might not have been much, but it was all she had. It also contained her $600 in savings in a cabinet in the back. We scoured the north side, but came up empty. Except for patches of Bondo, and blue calico curtains in the rear windows, the van was indistinctive. She asked to be dropped at Denny’s on Washtenaw for a ride back to the U.P. She was tapped out, so I gave her a few bucks for a bite and coffee to pass the time. As she stepped out of my car, she pointed over to Washtenaw and said: “There it is!”
She hopped back in and we closed on the van at Sheridan. There was a license plate on it now, but those calico curtains confirmed it was Lisa’s. Just as I called for assistance, Officer Jim Stephenson flipped on the van coming the opposite way. I was in a “slick top” semi-marked patrol car, so he took the lead. Department policy prohibited civilians in a pursuit. In case one started, I dropped Lisa off in the 2300 Block of Washtenaw with my phone, across from Tappan School. Stephenson activated his top lights and the chase was on, one of the shortest pursuits on record.
They slowed momentarily near Toumy, looking as if they might stop, but revved up again heading into the congested intersection at Devonshire/Austin and Washtenaw. Four lanes stopped in both directions left nowhere to go but up over the curb. Both doors opened with the driver and passenger poised to leap. The van slammed head on into a utility pole. The right door catapulted the passenger back ten feet, but he hit the ground running. I chased him onto Devonshire on foot.
The driver’s timing wasn’t so good; the left door sprang back on his head and tossed him to the pavement. Stephenson captured him on the spot and called an ambulance. I caught the other guy a short distance away. Six feet tall and 170 plus pounds each, both suspects were built like men but only 14 and 15 years old. They had been trying to sell crack in Ypsilanti to buy gas and enter a carnival. My Shift Captain described the thieves’ evening as a “Tale of woe”.
Lisa’s uninsured van was wrecked, but she recovered everything else, including her untouched savings. She elected to remain in Ann Arbor, so we drove her back to work to arrange lodging. She took great satisfaction in solving her own crime. A bit of luck and good fortune, except for the car thieves.
The Reluctant Ride-Along
I had a number of patrol ride-alongs in my police career: my sons George and Tyler, close friends, and distinguished city co-workers. None was quite like my ex-wife's Uncle Gale. Gale was a burly, bearded outdoorsman, avid woodworker and firearms collector. He was encumbered by permanent injuries suffered in a motorcycle crash, the hefty settlement check allowing him to indulge in his hobbies. One of these was watching Court TV.
The Rodney King trial was underway and Gale was sold on the officers' defense description of each blow being designed to elicit a prescribed response. Whatever. They all added up to ineffective and badly executed tactics. We didn't operate that way. I carried a traditional wooden baton every shift of my career and deployed it to much greater effect. Gale spent the first part of the shift being gung-ho and wanting to see some action. Then we got the bank robbery alarm.
A Main Street bank had been robbed of $5,000, demanded in a note, by a 30-year old suspect wearing a trench coat and slacks. Soon after that robbery, a call came in from a loan officer at a neighboring bank. One of their depositors was on work release from the Department of Corrections (DOC). He had come in to check the status of a car loan and was told he was $5,000 behind in his payments. He excused himself, left for about 20 minutes, and returned with the precise amount due and brought his account up-to-date. The depositor had been in prison for bank robbery and was well known among Ann Arbor detectives.
Detective Mark Parin and downtown beat man Mark Hoornstra were staking out the street where the DOC bus picked up the work release inmates. I parked down the street with the increasingly jittery Uncle Gale. Sure enough, the suspect wandered up the block wearing the trench coat, and as Parin and Hoornstra closed in, I pulled up the block to assist, leaving Gale to observe. There was a tussle getting him handcuffed, but we got him secured, and I walked him back to the patrol car. I went to open the back door, but it was locked. I motioned to Gale to unlock it, but he just shook his head as if to say “This car is taken” and refused.
A crowd was gathering, including several other DOC passengers, waiting for their bus to arrive. Mark and Mark were giving me quizzical looks. A bank robbery arrest had morphed into a "barricaded uncle-in-law" situation. At the time, officers didn’t have a master key to police cruisers. Several minutes of awkward negotiations finally convinced Gale to unlock the door. To help allay his anxiety, Hoornstra rode in the back next to the prisoner.
Court TV seemed as close as Gale wanted to get to criminals, but we had the rest of the shift to finish. A few hours later, we responded to a fight at the Crystal House Hotel on Washtenaw Avenue. Multiple suspects were arrested and once again, Gale locked the car while I stood outside with two handcuffed brawlers. He reluctantly unlocked the doors, and the two suspects asked me if he was a politician or something. He was something. So was the car ride home. We haven't spoken since.
Patti F. Smith is a special education teacher and writer who lives in Ann Arbor with her husband and cat.