L.D. Martin wouldn't claim he's seen it all, but he's been close up to a lot of things you wouldn't want to see.
We're fascinated by cop stories because they're usually about the dangerous, morbid, sad, humorous things that happen to other people.
If they happen to us? Not so funny.
Martin is a retired San Diego Police Department homicide sergeant who spent years
getting up close with dead bodies and looking for people who made them that way. Do I now have your attention?
Martin lives in a nice home in Rancho San Diego, on the edge of El Cajon. His wife, Sue, smiled (mostly) through three decades of being a cop's wife. He has two dogs that are less welcoming than their master.
He also has two knee replacements that do a nice thing for him: They allow him to walk normally without pain, and to go masochistic on his ego by indulging in the retiree's revenge - a lot of golf.
He's a friendly, blunt-spoken guy of 68 who would no more evade a question than he would a free round at Torrey Pines.
He goes by L.D. because the "L" is a stand-in for Leonard, a name that kind of reminds you of the kid who used to run the projector in grade school. The alternative, "Lenny," sounds like a grifter who just arrived on Greyhound. Thus, L.D.
Perps did not call him Leonard, or even Mr. Leonard.
Martin has a lot of yesterdays. Memory lane is a long stroll for him, recalling funny stories, people he's helped, even saved, and those he put in a safe place.
But then he turns a corner, and the shadows lengthen. The music loses its bounce and gets lower and slower. The victims appear.
Let's start there.
It was in 1985, or thereabouts. Detective Martin was investigating the killing of a woman on the east end of Broadway.
"We were interviewing people, and one said, ‘Hey, she's got a daughter.' I said, ‘Really? Do you know where the daughter is?'"
Martin was directed to an out-of-business coffee shop around the 1100 block of Broadway. The mother, a street prostitute, had been living with her daughter in the back of the closed-up store.
He entered the musty shop and saw a little blond girl of about 6, sound asleep in a makeshift bed in the kitchen amid piled-up equipment.
He remembers looking down on the girl. "I'm thinking what a sad life she has - mother's a working prostitute, and she's living in the back of a coffee shop.
"How do you even tell a crying child that her mommy is not coming back? She was the most streetwise little person I ever met. We were trying to tell her, and she says, ‘My momma dead?' I said, ‘Yes.' She said, ‘Where do I go now?'
"It's one of those things you never forget."
Listening to him, I find myself wondering: The little girl is now in her mid-30s. Where is she now? How did she fare? Is she still alive? Little room for optimism.
Martin grew up in the Midway-Rosecrans area and went to Point Loma High School. He was a regular kid with a normal life. Of course, with almost any boy, "normal" assumes some behavioral latitude that boys love and parents fear.
Martin joined the police force in 1969. "Right out of the academy, the first arrest I ever made was this guy who was in my high school class. I knew he always had a bag of pills on him. ‘Speed' (amphetamines) was big back then.
"He saw me and he goes, ‘Hey! How you doin'? I hear you're on the cops.' I say, ‘Yeah, what have you got tonight?' He pulls his bag out and shows it to me.
"He went to prison for a long time. His defense was: I'd have never shown it to him except that I knew him. That didn't help him much
Some thoughts linger, and some haunt.
Martin can't wash out of his memory a homicide call to the Skyline area of southeastern San Diego in 2003.
This is a part of what a homicide detective takes with him into retirement: A new mother was staying with her in-laws. One night she went into the kitchen, picked up a knife, went into the nursery and killed her baby. She then went into the bedroom where her in-laws were sleeping and attempted to kill them with a whirling circular saw. The sleeping couple were saved by a short cord that was pulled from the wall as she approached.
The woman was found wandering the street in the early morning in her nightgown. She was eventually sent to a mental health facility.
Postpartum depression is real, Martin will tell you. "I think about that poor baby a lot," he says.
Often, criminals are not as smart as they think, or cops as dumb as they hope.
Back in 2000, David Arturo Medina, 24, was an honors graduate of UC San Diego who moonlighted (an appropriate word) as a leader of the street gang Southeast Locos. He was very good at killing, certainly ambitious.
Martin says Medina would play mind games with detectives and tell them incriminating things during interrogations. He knew he was protected because he hadn't been given a Miranda warning against self-incrimination.
Martin describes the case, and obviously savors the memory. "We would invite him to come in and talk to us. He came in seven or eight times.
"We'd sit there, chat him up and ask questions. He would have a good time of it. But we always had a plan. We'd have a couple of key questions we wanted to get information on, remember the last day. I call him and say, ‘Hey, do you think you can stop by today?' He says, ‘Well, yeah, but I got a hot date, so I can't stay very long.' I say, ‘Well, that's fine. We only need about 10 minutes, maybe 15.' ‘Well, I can do that,' he says.
"He came in and we talked to him just for just a couple minutes. Then he stood up to go.' I says, ‘No, we're going to arrest you today.'
"He starts laughing and he says, ‘You can't use any of this information against me or my friends because you never advised me of my rights until today.'
"I say, ‘Well, that's just not true because you came in on your own. You were never in custody, so everything you told us is totally admissible.' You should have seen the color drain from his face. All this time he thought we were just a bunch of dumb cops. Well, he learned."
Medina is serving life without parole and is in the substance-abuse facility at Corcoran State Prison.
(When you come down off your "high" in prison, you're still in prison.)
Back in his early days, Martin was irritated by a quota system for writing traffic tickets, whether he was on the traffic detail or not. Each officer was expected to write a minimum of two tickets per shift, and if you didn't, you heard about it. The city's revenue stream had to keep flowing.
He isolates traffic cops into their own box. "There's a difference between being a cop and being a traffic cop. Some people are more interested in catching criminals, and other people just go around writing tickets. I don't know why. Some people just like it. The guys that ride motorcycles, they write tons of tickets."
Some things were better back in the day. For example, tinted side windows on cars that obscured the driver or passengers were ticket magnets. Today, Martin says darkened windows force officers to approach cars blind, which ratchets up tension.
Motorcycles with thunderous, altered mufflers were a public nuisance back then as they are today. The difference is, back then the cyclists got a ticket.
Tailgating by aggressive drivers is something that wouldn't have been tolerated years ago, but which Martin now sees as seemingly immune from citations.
When Martin joined the force, cops carried 6-inch Police Special .38 revolvers. Only sergeants carried shotguns, so if an officer needed one, he had to wait until the sergeant arrived, which was usually after the need for one had passed.
He contrasts that "Old West" handgun with the armament that police now go on patrol with.
"Today they got semi-automatics, they got shotguns in the car, and they can carry rifles and stuff in their trunk."
Is that a good thing?
"To me, I'm sort of torn. I'm not a real big gun person, but I have (police) friends with trunks full of guns. There's a lot of guys like that.
"Cops have a little bit of paranoia. What I'm trying to say is that there's always a little bit of fear every time you stop somebody out there."
However, Martin says when he was young, an officer's gun rarely left the holster unless there was a compelling need. He could see that gradually changing, and guns being drawn more often.
"I think there's a lot more fear nowadays."
Now, is it more us versus them?
"I really believe that, and that bothers me. Personally, I think 95 percent of people are just trying to take care of their families, go to work, come home and enjoy their lives. I think because of everything that's been going on, a lot of police don't see that as 95-5 good people; they maybe see it 50-50.
"I've heard young cops say, ‘Until they prove they're not a bad guy, I treat them like a bad guy.' I think it should be the other way around. Treat them like a regular citizen until they prove they're a bad guy.
"I think people are taking a lot closer look at what police departments are doing. ... You can't treat people like maybe they treated them in the '30s and '40s. I think a lot of cops still have that mindset - that it's OK to push people around. There's always been questionable shootings, and sometimes people in charge bend over backward to clear the cop.
"In San Diego, we have a pretty good relationship with all our communities, probably a lot better than some other places. But I still think there's room for improvement. We all know there's going to be a few people (officers) who slip through the cracks. We have supervisors not paying attention and managers worried about calm waters."
He also thinks the Ferguson, Mo., case was blown all out of proportion. "That kid had just committed a robbery and was beating the hell out of the cop, and the cop shot him. End of story."
"One time, I was working with a two-officer car with a guy named David Casteel who was more familiar with (southeastern) San Diego. It was right about dusk. We made a traffic stop out on Skyline almost to Meadowbrook. David goes up to make the contact, and I'm the cover officer just standing there.
This young black guy steps out on the street, and he had some real-looking guns strapped to his side. He looks at me and he goes, "Draw, partner."
"Before I could react, David shouts over that he knows the guy and he's mentally retarded."
Even today, many years later, Martin shakes his head, thinking of what might have happened - and sometimes does.
For more than half his life, L.D. Martin routinely left his house and went to work (or on a 3 a.m. call-out) and strapped on a revolver that increasingly became a pop gun compared to what the bad guys had access to.
When he left in the morning, he didn't know if he would return in the evening. Whether he did or not might be in the hands of criminals who hated the job he had to do - and him for doing it.
Well, Martin made it to this point, and so have we who were protected by his shield. We can wish the same for all men and women who serve as he did.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]