Officer Wilson S. Barreto was sent to investigate the "unconscious person" at the Roosevelt Hotel. Barreto knew that was the "police way of saying it's a dead person and I'm not going to eat my lunch on time."
Barreto dreads these calls. He drove to the eight-story brick building at 16th and V streets. Once the Roosevelt had been a stately and grand hotel. Now it has become the last address for many of the 365 senior citizens who live there. Someone was always passing on at the Roosevelt.
Room 622, a brightly lit efficiency, was in disarray when Barreto arrived. Tables and chairs were overturned; clothes were strewn about; the body of an 80-year-old man lay on the floor. Barreto, a former medic, guessed the man had suffered a stroke while eating and had groped for something to hold onto, knocking over furniture as he fell.
Barreto has seen 30 to 40 bodies a year. The murders are bad enough but the "naturals," he says, revive his fears of growing old. Just weeks before, he had gone to the bedside of an 84-year-old woman whose landlord had turned off the heat. Barreto recalled how it had angered him to the bone as he walked into that cold room in the middle of the night and found her barely alive in her bedclothes, blue in the face. She later died.
Now he pondered the body before him. He joked uncomfortably: "It'd really be a surprise to everybody if he took a breath!"
It would be at least an hour before the homicide squad arrived to determine how the man had died. It would be longer till the morgue man arrived with his Playtex "Hand Savers" to remove the body. Until then, Barreto's task was to guard the body. He considered the grim nature of his assignment: Who would want to steal a dead body?
He covered it with a blanket. He looked through some papers and discovered the man had a $95,000 savings account. There was a bottle of aspirin on the bathroom shelf, a hospital tag on the man's wrist, a pair of glasses on a night table, an empty jar of honey and a container of Coffeemate on the kitchen counter. Barreto sat in a chair and almost dozed off.
The ringing of a telephone jarred him. The lobby manager said the maids had found another body--in Room 523. "H"H ours of boredom filled with "H minutes of terror" is how Lt. William Freeman describes working as a street cop in the 3rd District. It means sitting quietly, reacting to the radio, flinging your coffee out the window, driving at breakneck speed, praying a child won't dart in front of you, screeching to a halt, leaping from the car, discovering the burglar is a cat.
It means fear of the unexpected, meeting too many people at the worst moments of their lives, seeing too much of the aftermath, and denying that all the emotion has taken a personal toll.
"You start boiling, you start simmering, and all of a sudden, some guy comes up and calls you a [name] and you've knocked him down--instant ventilation," says Capt. Michael Canfield, who supervises 60 officers. "There are very few legitimate avenues of ventilation."
The police department has only three staff psychiatrists--just one works full-time--to counsel roughly 4,000 officers. Few 3-D officers say they have sought formal treatment.
"I've got 10 'time bombs,' " Canfield says of some of his officers. "We got a certain percentage we can't put on the street because they might violate the law."
Deputy Chief Rodwell M. Catoe says that in the two years he has commanded 3-D, he has temporarily removed at least five police officers from street-duty because he fears what might happen if they carry a gun. Catoe estimates that 7 to 15 percent of his 380 officers have difficulty handling stress.
"They are nervous. They are indecisive. They are insecure. They are ineffective when it comes to dealing with other people's problems because they can't deal with their own," says Catoe.
Each officer has a different way of dealing with the extreme levels of stress associated with police work:
Michael Hodge, a 10-year veteran, has a punching bag in his basement. Besides his wife, it gets the most attention when he arrives at home.
"I'll walk in, kiss her hello, and I'll say, 'I'm going down to the bag.' It gets nothing but low blows for 15 minutes," Hodge says.
"I don't think you'll find anyone who [isn't at some point] scared to death." Hodge says when he is frightened, "I'll have a cigarette and go off to the side until I stop shaking."
Officer William Carbone recalls when he and his partner, Roy Derr, shot and killed a man who tried to run them down.
"I was scared. It was the first time, including Vietnam, when I was scared," Carbone said. "I just wanted to go home and take a shower and go to sleep and say, 'Don't nobody call me till next year.' "
Officer Deborah Weinsheimer says she does not allow herself to worry about the fear. She and her partner, Duke, a 70-pound police dog, are the first to investigate burglaries on the midnight shift. More than once Weinsheimer has pointed her revolver at a looming figure in the darkness, only to find she is aiming at her own reflection. "I see myself in a mirror and scare myself half to death," she says. To unwind, she and her husband Frank, also a 3-D officer, often take Duke on long walks.
Lt. William Freeman says it took him 10 years to confront his alcoholism, a problem exacerbated by his job.
"A policeman's not supposed to be upset . . . . He's not supposed to get angry. He's not supposed to cry," Freeman says. "I stuffed it. I put it down deep inside me."
Joe V. Williams, whose wife left him three years ago, says, "You think about the officers who drink or who commit suicide. When the hurt is there, all of those things enter your mind . . . . I really think that if I wasn't on the department I'd still be married."
Officer Wayne Simpson repeatedly advises Barreto, his partner, to stop agonizing. "I feel as though the more you worry about things, the worse it will seem. I just don't let nothing worry me. I just don't care about it," says Simpson.
Freeman is skeptical about such advice. He says a close friend on the force used to tell him: "It's all a joke . . . look at all this going on around me as a big joke . . . . Back off a little bit and don't get involved." Freeman's friend died of a heart attack at the age of 41. BB ecause a large proportion of D.C. B police officers joined the force in the early 1970s, a number have reached the midpoint of their careers, which generally last 20 years.
For many, it is the beginning of "burn out," the result of too many changes in schedule, not enough sleep, an accelerated bodily deterioration that prompts 10-year veteran Glenn Cornell to claim that "officers age two years for every year."
"I'm sharp as a tack, but lately little things slip my mind that never would. People have bodily functions regularly--we never do. Your body clock never knows. It runs full speed ahead continuously . . . . I don't sleep well in the day. The phone rings. Dogs bark. The neighbor has someone putting up a gutter. A big truck goes down the road. It's hell to rest."
Some officers work it off in the gym or during 3-D's highly competitive athletic leagues or in the equally cutthroat game room. After work, Russell Jackson parks his van at a shopping mall near his Upper Marlboro home and listens to the stereo in the dark.
Ten 3-D officers started a kind of fraternity and refer to themselves as the "Village People" (named after the raucous, multiracial singing group). The VPs include black, white, male and female officers and are sometimes misunderstood by police officials and their colleagues.
"They think we're a bunch of trash, I guess, because we're different," says Dwight A. Hunter. "I think it's because we march to the beat of a different drummer. We don't fit the mold of the average police officer."
"They're supposed to be crazy as hell," said their captain.
"I don't even want to speculate," said their sergeant.
"I'm sure there are more who want to join," says VP Deborah Harris.
The Village People, unlike most police officers, spend much of their after-hours time unwinding together, partying and playing practical jokes. They drive to the shore to eat crabs or hold beach parties, frequent downtown bars and, occasionally, drink beer on the roof of the 3-D police station.
"We are the kind of people who could go to a party and talk about something other than shop," says William Yates, the group's president.
Not all their families understand them either. VP Anthony Patterson says his wife told him: " 'You're too goddamn educated to be hanging out with those guys.' She'd tell me . . . I had to get the 'weeds' out of my life. She'd refer to the boys as 'weeds.' "
The Village People were among the officers called on to assist in recovering bodies from the Air Florida plane crash last January. That night, some of them got together for several hours.
"It was a sense of hopelessness. You knew 50 yards away people were trapped, that people could still be alive . . . . It was good to talk . . . ," Hunter recalled.
Such communication, however, is unusual between officers. Many say they also have trouble talking to their spouses.
One officer said he managed to avoid telling his wife that he was working on the prostitution squad.
Another, Lt. James Dotson, says, "There is one particular officer I've gone through three wives with. I ended up counseling them more than him."
Simpson's first wife walked out on him, declaring, "I'd rather be an old man's sweetheart than a young man's fool." FF reeman said he had been on the F force for just a few years when he learned through several informants of a drug dealer who had threatened to kill the first police officer he saw.
Freeman says he was turned down for one of the first "no knock" warrants, which, at the time, allowed police officers to enter residences without identifying themselves.
Freeman, then 24, and his 21-year-old rookie partner went to the suspected drug dealer's Southeast Washington apartment and properly identified themselves as police officers. The man fired on them, wounding Freeman in the neck and killing his partner.
"It took me about three days for the shock to wear off. When it hit me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to go someplace and I wanted to cry my guts out and say 'Why'd it happen?' There was nowhere for me to go."
His wife, Linda, remembers his eventual deterioration on the job, his spending too much time away from home, his binge drinking, his angry outbursts when she started to probe.
His behavior earned him the nickname of "Wild Bill."
It was only a few years ago that Freeman finally confronted his disease, and reformed. Today he counsels other officers, watching for the same danger signals--the discarding of emotion, the handling of every case in the same manner.
"The guys will come in, and sit down, and . . . finally they'll get around to what they've got to say, and it's really neat to see the relief on their face, to know that it's okay to feel that way, there's nothing wrong with that, it's okay to be a human being." DD etective Lowell Duckett says D many police officers withdraw so far into their own world they don't even recognize that they might have a problem.
"I hate to refer to the community this way but, a policeman's like a Tidy-Bowl man," says Duckett. "And he sits in this toilet all day long, moving items out of the way--alcoholics, drug addicts, abused wives, abused husbands, people who are unemployed . . . . So when we step out of that toilet and ask, 'How do we smell?', you say, 'You stink.' But we can't smell it because we're in it." MM arch 2. 2:13 p.m. The RooM sevelt Hotel. Barreto and the man from the D.C. morgue wrapped the bodies found in rooms 622 and 523 in large canvas bags and placed them on stretchers. Barreto had spent five hours with the bodies--one several days old, the other a week--inspecting them, moving them, carrying them, and finally rolling them on stretchers to the freight elevator.
On the first trip down, the elderly elevator operator said quietly: "Little old man died. He said he wanted to leave here."
After the second trip, the operator said: "That's it, I hope. If they all die, I'll be looking for another job."
Barreto, sweating heavily, could hardly wait to leave.
The station was less than a block away. Barreto parked his car and headed for the bathroom. He stood in front of the sink and scrubbed his hands vigorously. 3-D UPDATE
Here is what has happened to some of the people mentioned in this series.
Officer Larry Greene, who last February saved the life of a heroin addict on Swann Street, says he has been told that his request to become a police dispatcher may soon go through.
Juanita, the addict whose life Greene saved, died of a drug overdose on June 19 in Maryland.
The 13-year-old prostitute whom Detective Gerald Robertson snatched off 14th Street -- and who later escaped -- is still missing.
Lt. William Freeman scored high on the recent captain's exam and looks forward to being promoted.
Det. Robert D. Swygert, who posed as a drug dealer in the 3-D Groundhog investigation, has gone undercover again and is playing a different role somewhere in the city.
Canine officer Deborah Weinsheimer's partner Duke was named "Top Dog" in a recent police dog competition.
After 10 years, Wilson Barreto has decided to resign from the force.