Free form poetry.

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Policing a Community


A salty policeman struggles to lift his hand

to the hand of a stranger.

Community meetings force him

from the comfort of a cruiser.

He walks along an uneven path

through downtown streets

leaving muddy boot prints,

each one crushing his aspirations.

Stress is part of the deal, but where trust once existed,

media has stripped completely away.

The pride once gained by risking our lives for strangers,

is gone. “Stranger” never meant what it does today,

like it did back in the day.

Back when “neighborhood” meant something.

Back when you didn’t ask police to raise your kid,

or scare them straight because they embarrassed you in public.

Back when civil disputes were handled by adults,

when simple things wouldn’t tear at the very foundation

of our society.

Yes, we’re wired for scary things.

Yes, we hunt active shooters

and run toward the gunfire… the evil you pretend

does not exist, that which looms in the back of your mind daily.

Why I risk everything for people who want me dead

is my own mystery. One for me to work out on my own.

My sisters and brothers will continue to protect the innocent,

enforce antiquated laws, and do what we can to crush

the stereotypes.

So we’re far from simple nuts and bolts,

robotic if you will. Strip away the badge and the gun.

Beneath the pain and suffering is a man or woman,

same as you. Nothing too fancy.

Beneath a ballistic vest and forty-pounds of accoutrements

we want the same thing, and we’re prepared to make

the ultimate sacrifice to obtain or provide it.

-C.L.Swinney (c) 2017

On Citing People, Part One

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On Citing People, Part One

I’m in vehicle sixteen and parked in

plain sight. Words-with-Friends may

be open, but I still study an intersection.

A tiny green “Smart Car” roars through

the limit line and I grin.

My cell phone hits my duty

bag as the accelerator is smashed.

The stares and mouths agape never

gets old. Within moments, I’ve tracked

my prey and call it in cautiously

checking for hazards. Patiently, I wait

for my gut and eyes to

digest what’s in front of me.

Ticket or warning? The egregious

violator pulls over. Cautiously, I creep

along his mini vehicle, tapping my

gun handle and peering  into the

cab, searching for the driver’s hands.

I start my spiel… anger and

saliva are his rebuttal. Geez

guy, it’s just a ticket…verbal

Judo fails, a soft smile fails,

hands conveying peace fails. I consider

a hasty retreat, walking away since

it’s not worth it, but I’ve

seen this routine before. Ah ha!

Now I smell it, the “medicine”

that causes some people to act

imbecilic. I’m into the car now,

sniffing and searching like a canine.

I find his stash, the reason for

the deflection, his attempt to throw

me off my game. Now he’s

in handcuffs, and I smirk.

I impound the “Smart Car,” which causes

the tow truck driver, a mean,

gruff, and burly man, to point

and chuckle at the accused…judging

him without a robe or wig.

Badge Bunny

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Badge Bunny

Stranded alone, submerged within concrete walls,

amidst squabbling voices, it finally strikes

me that an ulterior motive is

at play. Instantly, a room choked

with bodies is nearly empty-it’s

just me and her. Gold strapped

around my finger tightens and becomes

too heavy to carry. Puppy-dog

eyes continuously bat and she flutters

closer. Lust in her eyes smacks

me in the face like a

two-by-four. I retreat, she

advances. I’d been warned before, but

my age and inexperience drowned the

cautionary, unbelievable tales. She’s up against

me now, gyrating, moaning, and whispering

unmentionable things. My face flushes. Slowly

her hand travels from my shoulder

toward my gun-belt. I take off

like a rocket, up through flights

of stairs, and find the door.

Clean, pure fresh air pierces my

skin. A gaggle of co-workers roar

and point as I flee to

my patrol car. Drenched in sweat,

I reach for the air conditioning

button, then look up to notice

a senior deputy shaking his head

at me. I’ve failed the initiation.

I’m not one of them. A

career shroud in speculation, based on

being honorable, with integrity, is my

punishment, what defines me with them.

-C.L.Swinney 2015

Far From Routine

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Far From Routine.

Deputy Sheriff Smith arrived to work carrying his work boots and weathered ballistic vest. His damn locker combination didn’t work, and the bastard he couldn’t fathom working with again was standing naked a few lockers down flaunting his steroid-laden physique. Smith slammed his boots and vest on the floor, “Big deal, I’d still scrape the floor with you,” he muttered a little too loud under his breath.

“What was that?” asked “Beefcake” while he strolled over to Smith pounding his chest like a low-land silverback gorilla. He stood mere inches from Smith, invading his personal space cushion, and clenched his fists as if he was trying to squish oranges into juice.  Bustling and murmurs in the locker room slipped away, scurried to the shadows, clinging to the walls anxious for drama.

“I said big deal, I’d still scrape the floor with you,” Smith answered defiantly. He’d had it with Beefcake, his job, he’d just received a text from his wife talking about divorce, and he hadn’t even had his Peet’s coffee yet. To hell with them all. He bladed himself to Beefcake preparing for a physical altercation.

Beefcake kicked Smith’s gear out of the way and stepped even closer. His pride and integrity had been challenged by Smith’s comment, and he couldn’t let it go. The other gorillas would call him out and his place at the top of “Idiot Mountain” would be threatened if he let this comment slide. He telegraphed his next move while winking at Smith just before trying to punch him in the jaw. Smith ducked as Beefcake’s fist rammed into Smith’s locker. The others noticed a sergeant walk into the locker room and grabbed Beefcake and Smith while trying to break up the pissing contest. Some of the remaining men snickered hoping Smith would pummel Beefcake because no one liked a hot-shot.

As the sergeant walked into the gladiator arena between two rows of ancient lockers, he raised an eyebrow after noticing Beefcake was naked. He looked him up and down, pointed at his groin, and chuckled. Beefcake turned red in the face while the others realized they were still hugging a naked man. Just before they let him go, Smith’s locker magically popped open.

Smith grinned and looked at Beefcake. “Thanks ‘Fonzy.’” The room erupted in laughter and the tension exited as quickly as a parolee would after hearing, “Police search warrant!” Smith and Beefcake exchanged glances.

“You good?” Smith asked Beefcake.

He nodded. “Yup, see you out there.” Two grown men, one still naked, shook hands and the force was back to normal.

Now they suited up for the real battle. The one where a punch to the jaw would be much better than what potentially waits for them. A treacherous environment full of guns, dope, gang members, robbers, killers, villains…not to mention the crazies plotting and training every single day to kill a cop or deputy. If only I could get the opportunity, Smith considered as he laced his boots tight and donned his mangy ballistic vest.

After briefing, Smith, Beefcake, and the rest of the team went their separate ways. Some have traffic details, others have meetings, Beefcake’s headed to see one of his lady friends, and Smith rolls to Peet’s coffee. They had twelve more hours to go. If they survived, they’d get to go home…some to happy homes, some to not-so-happy homes. For most of them, work is an escape. It’s an extremely difficult job, but the stress at home, with family, mortgages, kids, bills, and the rest of it was like a pressure cooker for them. Sometimes these guys became ticking-time bombs.

Routine, if there’s such a thing, patrol continued without too much excitement. There was a parking complaint on Middlefield, and a fifteen year old girl was reported missing. The dispatcher sent Smith to the missing child call and he rolled his eyes. He assumed she would be off with her boyfriend and let me guess, her parents don’t like her boyfriend. He chuckled as it seems he’s going to be in the middle of yet another pissing contest. Beefcake was sent to the parking complaint. He didn’t respond. “Imagine that,” Smith said out loud. Hopefully the sergeant tracks him down.

Smith drove to the location of the missing child report. On the way, he stopped at a red light. For some reason he noticed a lowered Cadillac in his side and rear view mirrors. It was occupied by four people, and it was slowly pulling up next to him. A red flag in his head was hoisted, and he went from condition orange to condition red.  He heard and felt hip-hop music and saw the juveniles and young adults in the car were dressed in red. Instantly he classified them as gang members, and wondered why the younger ones weren’t in school.

They inched closer to Smith. There was a lot of discussion and pointing coming from the Cadillac. Smith didn’t like it and he found himself trying to see their hands. He slowly let off the brake to inch forward to use his door panels as cover should a fire fight ensue. The Cadillac also inched forward. They were taunting him. He disengaged the safety measures of his holster and unlocked the rifle holder. If it’s going down, I’m gonna take as many of these bastards I can with me. His pulse accelerated. He wondered how long until the light turned green. What’s my escape route? Where are the third passenger’s hands? Are they reaching under their seats? What’s my backdrop? All these thoughts raced through his mind as a bead of sweat ran from his forehead down into his cumbersome ballistic vest. He wondered if the expiration date was past due on the damn thing. I’ll check the date after my shift.

A loud bang went off behind Smith and he nearly had a heart attack as he spun his head behind him to see where it came from. He saw an old Volkswagen bug and a yuppie grinning sheepishly. Smith whipped around to look for the Cadillac. It was gone. He looked up and the light was green. Jesus, that was wild. He was still in one piece, so he continued to the missing child call.

Smith met with the parents at the front door. The father’s eyes bulged and he started gnawing on his fingernails at the sight of Smith. Smith found it odd that the man was so freaked out by his presence. He tried to be professional, but this was the third time this family had called for service. Each time he responded he found the missing daughter with her seventeen-year-old boyfriend. Smith finally figured out that the missing child’s family wants the Sheriff’s Office to do their job…raise their child. They say their daughter is out of control and won’t listen to them. Smith, during the course of his investigation of said child, had contacted the child’s school. The school felt the same as him…the family wants the school to raise their child. She received stellar grades, was involved with school activities and sports, and she volunteered time to help the homeless-far from incorrigible in Smith’s eyes.

“Can I come in?” Smith asked the father. The man shook his head and kept looking at Smith’s firearm. He didn’t answer. Smith had detected something wasn’t right, but he wasn’t sure what.

He dug further. What’s really going on here? Something about the case and the way the mother looked at him concerned him. The father seemed paranoid and kept looking down the hallway like he was waiting for someone to come from a room. He made a few phone calls and located the missing child…she was at school, where she was supposed to be. The only thing missing is the parents, he thought.

Smith was frustrated because he felt the family was playing him and the Sheriff’s Office. He had two calls for service pending now, and he was stuck dealing with a call that really wasn’t a call.

“Look, I’m not sure what to tell you guys. She’s at school and you knew it. Why’d you report her missing?” Smith was trying to read their faces, get a sense of what the hell was really going on.

The father looked at the mother, she turned away, and he looked back at Smith. He looked down the hall again and back at Smith. He looked at Smith’s firearm and back down the hallway. The hair on the back of Smith’s neck spiked. Uh oh.

“Come on guys. What’s up, and what’s down the hall?” Smith said to them while pointing down the hallway. The mother began to shake and the father looked like he’d seen a ghost.

Smith walked toward the hallway. The mother trembled and the father shuffled in front of him. He towered over the father and physically moved him out of the way.

“There’s nothing! You can’t go down there. You need a search warrant to search my house,” the father said in an almost robotic tone. Smith noticed the man was terrified. He had seen that look before, and now he was asking for a cover unit on the radio.

Smith peeked in the first room, nothing out of the ordinary. The mother was sobbing and the father continued to plead. “Stop, you can’t go down there!” Smith forged on. He checked the bathroom and the closet and saw nothing.

A hysterical scream from the mother caused Smith to shudder and then he heard it…a loud thump that came from the last room. The door was closed and he grabbed the handle. It was locked from the outside. The father was shaking now…he was white like a corpse. He stood near the kitchen with a blank look on his face.

“Give me the key, or I break the door down,” Smith growled. The father didn’t respond, but continued to shake his head. Every fiber in Smith’s body told him something bad was behind the door. He heard a siren close by. It was time to act.

“I called! I called, he’s in there,” the mother whined while fleeing out the front door.

Without hesitation, Smith shouldered the door and barreled into the room. He saw the seventeen-year-old boyfriend gagged and bounded to a chair that had fallen over. The thud! The visual and what it meant registered in Smith’s mind. He spun and pulled his firearm then bang! In the blink of an eye, he lost his hearing and immense pressure pushed him to the floor. Two more loud bangs followed during the confusion.

Smith looked up to see the father standing in front of him. He was holding a gun and time had slowed way down. The gun slipped to the floor and Smith saw bullet holes covered in blood in the father’s chest. The man slumped over and his lifeless body made a sick gurgling sound after hitting the floor revealing Beefcake standing in the doorway- smoke still lingered from his duty weapon. Smith cracked a wry smile. He unbuttoned his shirt and saw the ballistic vest had caught the bullet fired at his chest by the father.

“Damn Beefcake, next time leave her house a little quicker,” he said with a grin and wink after noticing Beefcake’s uniform was un-tucked and lipstick was on his collar.  

Copyright by C.L.Swinney 2014

Day I Die.

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Day I Die

The bullet grazed my temple searing the fine hair while leaving a thin blood trail trickling down my cheek. Instinctively I dove for cover behind a vehicle and reached for my handgun. What the hell just happened? I scanned the alley for the shooter and checked the wound. The ambient light from the street corner pole revealed fresh blood, my blood, and I decided at that very moment today was not the day I die. There was no image of my wife or kids flashing in my mind. I didn’t say a prayer or give up. Nope, all I saw was a poorly lit alley and all I wanted to do was kill the son of a bitch who’d just ambushed me. My heartbeat pounded in my chest and I exhaled after realizing I’d been holding my breath.


“Come on out ‘piggy!'” yelled the suspect. He fired off more rounds wildly in my direction. It was a catastrophic mistake for him. Now, based on his voice and the muzzle flash, I knew almost precisely where he was hiding. The only problem was I didn’t have a clear shot. I reached for my radio microphone to request cover units. My dive had crushed it, but the emergency button was lit indicating it still had power. I pressed it with my non-gun hand. My exact location was relayed to dispatch. Gotta love GPS, I thought.


“Listen buddy, the troops are coming! Give up and save yourself,” I answered back figuring there was no chance in hell this deranged lunatic would likely follow my lawful order. And, I felt secure in my hiding spot since I wasn’t getting hit by his sporadic gunfire.


“Fuck em’ all! I’ll get as many of you pricks as I can before I let you end it all for me!” Again he fired off more rounds at me. I cringed and fired back when my brain registered his statement. It’s a damn suicide by cop, and I have no way to warn my backup. I was instantly deflated because a lost soul was going to die.


“You don’t need to do this, put down the gun and we’ll work this out.” I felt a strong sense of trying to help him even though he was trying to kill me. Sounds weird, but it’s what we do. Plus, he had me pinned down and desperation forced me to try to negotiate. I was also trying to buy some time, albeit it I chose to try to rationalize with a man I knew clearly was not thinking straight. He responded with a flurry of bullets. Guess he’s not looking for help, he’s looking for death.


I peered under the vehicle I was hiding behind and could see he was basically trapped at the end of the alley. Solid structures surrounded him, except he could get free if he came right by me, and that wasn’t happening. This was going down in the industrial area of town, which meant my cover cars, even full lights and sirens would be a bit before they made it. As I contemplated my next move I felt a sharp burning pain in my shoulder as one of his careless rounds hit me. I yelled out in pain and rolled over on my back. Are you kidding me, a damn ricochet! The pain was unbearable, like a thousand needles gouging at an open wound, but I had to continue. I inched closer behind a wheel and squeezed the trigger slowly and methodically while aiming at the area his muzzle flashes were coming from. The sound was deafening while dust and debris flew into my eyes. Where the hell is my backup?


I combat reloaded my firearm with my last magazine and tried to listen. My ears ringed making it difficult to hear. The wound in my shoulder throbbed and I could see it was bleeding badly. I strained to hear something as I considered, only briefly, that I might not survive this ordeal. I counted rounds that I’d shot in my head and realized I was almost out. I glanced at my patrol vehicle. It was out in the open. If I made a move for it, the suspect would have a clear shot at me.


In a sadistic voice the suspect said, “Is that all you got? Boy, I served in the U. S. A. Marines!” He fired a couple of rounds, “you ain’t shit!” I rolled my eyes and was pissed because obviously I hadn’t hit him with my bullets and it seemed like all I was doing was making him more mad. Compounding the issue was he’d just said he was a marine. I’d read how these guys suffer from PTSD and no one in the government wants to acknowledge or talk about it. These guys feel helpless, many times they are, and now one of them wants me and all my friends dead. A sick mind is caustic.


“Of all the luck,” I huffed under my breath. I gotta do something, I thought.


I pleaded, “Man, you don’t need to do this! We’ll get you help, just throw down the gun and come out with your hands up.” I felt awkward trying to reason with him, but I didn’t see another option. My training and overwhelming need to help people kicked in. I struggled with what I should do next. Then I wondered how I was going to pull it off. And then I heard it. Police sirens. About damn time, I thought as my eyes lit up.


“You don’t know shit! Sounds like my welcoming party is almost here! I’ll see you assholes in hell!” He fired a whole magazine toward me. Bullets slammed into the car that I was using as cover and the bricks to my right causing them to explode. I tried to return fire but felt helpless. Then the shooting stopped. I assumed he was reloading. In the eerie silence, two police cruisers skidded to a halt behind me and positioned their cars to block the alley.


“Suicide by cop! My radio’s busted, I need medics!” I yelled at the two guys jumping out from their patrol cars. It’s a situation in which shooting and killing someone is justified, but I thought if it were me, I would want to know the situation as well. “One shooter, far end on the left, heavily armed,” I wanted to say more, but the suspect began shooting at the two officers, pelting their cars with rounds. They had to return fire in an effort to stop the threat and find better cover. I looked at my arm and could see the bleeding had clotted and it had gone numb.


With the shooter concentrated on them, I finally had an opening. I tried to push myself up to get to my patrol car, but my wounded arm buckled. With my gun still aimed down the alley, I managed to sort of roll over and get up. I wrangled my keys from my duty pants and was able to get the car trunk open. I could see my less than lethal shotgun, but bypassed it for an assault rifle. We were taking rounds and I was injured. I grabbed and slung the shotgun, maybe, just maybe, I thought, this guy can be saved.


More police cars flooded the area. The suspect continued firing from behind a dumpster. He was shooting at me and the other two officers in what seemed like a never-ending supply of bullets. The SWAT team was summoned, but the fact the guy was shooting randomly, at cops, I figured he wouldn’t last another couple of minutes. We stopped to reload and I froze because I could see the man walking out from behind the dumpster. He’d stopped shooting and I noticed he was wearing a ballistic vest. Then I saw the handgun in his right hand. He ripped off the ballistic vest revealing military fatigues. We made eye contact. I thought I’d see fear and sadness, or maybe confusion in his eyes. I was wrong. All I could see was utter rage. He winked at me and raised his gun. I could see an officer to my left who was having trouble with his gun and the suspect had him dead to rights. In a split second the suspect was going to kill him. Then suddenly, without thought just a reaction, boom! It was all over in an instant. I shot him and shook my head. I collapsed and lay on the street looking straight up at the stars. Slowly the sirens and barking dogs and spinning helicopter blades faded away. Then it was over.

The End


C.L.Swinney 🙂


4-27-14 Compassionate Cops?

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4-27-14 Compassionate Cops?

I seem to be having a tough time getting my brothers and sisters in law enforcement to submit work regarding the compassionate side of what we do and how we live. I can’t let this concept go to the wayside; however, and have decided to put my own work up in a serialized fashion. That is, when I see compassion or feel compassionate about something, I’ll post it on this page on my blog.  Among  all the other stuff in my life I can’t guarantee this will be regular, but I’ll do my best to keep this thing alive 🙂

The most recent thing I can recall is members of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office conducting a fundraiser event for Special Olympics. Many people in the general public who are not fans of law enforcement believe officers “just do these events to keep a decent public image.” Not true. The men and women I see volunteering hundreds of hours of time for planning, preparing, soliciting, and running these events is overwhelming. They do it because they are kind people, and feel the need to help others. It’s why they wear a badge and swear to protect society. It runs through our blood, an insatiable thirst to do good for others, particularly for those who may not be able to to it for themselves, or those who need a tiny bit of assistance.

Men and women wearing a badge are ordinary people just like everyone else. Many of them have children with special needs, debilitating diseases, or huge obstacles to overcome. They cry and stress out just like you. We’re not any better than the next person, we’ve just chosen a profession that is highly visible and overly scrutinized. All that we can ask is that society is a fair to us as we are to them every time we show up to a call. Nothing more, nothing less. Law enforcement, in my eyes, is the social glue that keeps society together and allows cohesion to form among all members of society. We aren’t looking for handouts or freebies. Our primary mission is to serve and protect, but it would sure feel great to believe we are on the same playing field as the rest of society.

Thanks and God Bless,

C. L. Swinney