Friday, January 26, 2007

Get The Cuffs, Ponch

Like many women her age, my lovely wife Korrin harbored a rather substantial teenage crush on Erik Estrada. For six seasons the Puerto Rican-American television performer (calling him an “actor” would leave the truth with a severe contusion) essayed the role of a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer saddled with the improbable name Francis Llewellyn “Ponch” Poncharello on CHiPS.

When she caught a glimpse of a recent photograph of Mr. Estrada, Korrin's expression silently quoted Milton's famous lament, "Time, the subtle thief of youth...." To my eyes it appeared that the erstwhile pin-up boy wears his decades well, even though a toupee is now necessary to supplement his once-luxuriant hair. (In that respect, at least, I have the better of him, since my hair -- what remains of it -- is all mine, and not in the sense that my check to Sy Sperling cleared the bank.) [It turns out that the foregoing comments about the authenticity of Mr. Estrada's hair are misinformation arising from a "Stupid Human Trick" he once performed for David Letterman; please see the first comment below, and forgive me for my error.]

Estrada was recently rescued from the purgatory of 3:00 a.m. reruns and Mexican telenovelas by an offer to do a new prime time program called “Armed & Famous,” in which he can be seen swaggering around in a police uniform, but this time it's for “real” -- or at least as real as “Reality TV” gets, which isn't very.

The program's gimmick is to take Estrada and four other quasi-psuedo-demi-semi-celebrities (LaToya Jackson, who's never been seen together with her alleged “brother,” Michael; former female professional “wrestler” Trish Stratus; Jon “Wee Man” Acuna, professional skater and semi-professional human projectile in the imbecile-chic “Jackass” television and movie series; and Jack Osbourne, the spawn of Ozzy and Sharon), put them through police training, and deploy them on the streets of Muncie, Indiana as sworn officers of the local police department.

At this point, the second question that naturally occurs to a rational person (the first being, “Where's Steve Guttenberg?”) is this: If law enforcement is such a dangerous profession and sacred trust, why is it being used as 'Reality TV' fodder?

The insidious thing about “Armed & Famous” and other specimens of “criminal verite programming,” notes Richard Rapaport, a visiting scholar at the UC Berkley Institute of Governmental Studies, is that “they have helped set a national tone in which both the police and the policed have been convinced that appropriate law-enforcement correlates with high-speed chases, blocking and tackling, drawn weapons, and a shoot-first, think-later mind-set.”

Rapaport's point is illustrated quite nicely in an on-line video clip from “Armed & Famous.” One of the police instructors, expressing what is most likely scripted frustration over the delinquencies of the faux-celebrity rookies, decides to play an allegedly hysterical joke on them: While the group is gathered in a room to discuss their SWAT training, the instructor throws a flash-bang diversionary grenade in their midst and charges into room with another officer, unloading several paint-pellet rounds at the startled trainees.

Doubtless because of reflexes honed by playing Officer Ponch decades ago, Estrada's reaction was to hit a knee and begin shooting back “at anything that wasn't my partner.”

The incident was framed as a playful stunt; I mean, who wouldn't get a charge out of throwing a flash grenade into a knot of easily startled people?

Well, how about rational people who appreciate the dangers of fooling around with grenades of any kind?

Last July, the town of Hempstead, Texas was forced to more than half of its police force, and felony charges were issued against them, for incident in which officers were accused “of setting off SWAT team grenades just for fun,” reported the Houston NBC affiliate KPRC.

The first flash-bang grenade blew up under a police car at a Hempstead truck stop, sending police running out with guns.... Hempstead's police chief promised he would investigate, but then the same reserve officer was accused of setting another grenade off at a back-yard party. One party guest lost a foot. Two full-time officers and five reserve officers have been charged with felony evidence tampering, accused of trying to cover it up.

Hempstead is a town of fewer than 5,000 that doesn't seem to be exceptionally prone toward violent crime. It has a 13-member police department. Yet – in keeping with the general trend toward militarization – it has access to paramilitary hardware. And in keeping with the increasingly common “warrior elite” mentality prevalent in too many law enforcement agencies, more than half of Hempstead's police were involved in a cover-up of the criminal misuse of that hardware resulting in grievous injury to one person, and potential lethal risks to many others.

Obviously, flash-bang grenades aren't toys. Like Tasers and other increasingly familiar elements of the “non-lethal” police arsenal, they can be deadly – particularly when used with insouciant abandon by police steeped in a militaristic mindset.

[I] never quite understood why flashbangs are considered `non-lethal,'” writes Radley Balko, author of an authoritative study of police militarization. “There are a few cases where people have died when flashbangs set the house on fire, a few more cases of lost appendages and third-degree burns, and, of course, the cases where the shock, noise, and bewilderment caused by flashbangs triggered heart attacks.”

Marines storm a building in Baghdad after using diversionary flash-bang grenades to disorient anyone who may lurk inside.

Not so long ago, police were peace officers, not paramilitary poseurs or action hero wanna-bes. In that not terribly distant era, “local cops had the authority to take the car keys from a tipsy, mortgage-paying citizen and drive him or her home,” dealing with the problem as gently as possible, recalls Professor Rapaport. “A deputy sheriff might confiscate a couple of joints from a high-school student and send her off with a warning. Confronting a marital dispute, community-savvy beat cops could decide to walk mates to different corners of the house and allow emotions to cool. Police stops then did not seem, as they do now, to be confrontations chilled by the potential for misunderstandings and even bloodshed.”

Today, across America, there is a growing schism between police and the communities they are sworn to serve,” Rapaport continues.

That divide is not likely to be narrowed anytime soon, particularly if “Armed & Famous” is in any way typical of current efforts at community outreach.

Obiter dicta

I have been informed that Aaron Russo, writer/producer/director of America: From Freedom to Fascism, has undergone cancer surgery. Please take a second to remember him in your prayers.

Kevin Shannon, host of a daily nationally syndicated radio program, has invited me to co-host the program with him on Fridays. Please listen, and let your friends know as well.

Kevin's program is available through The Right Source, a daily news site I'm helping to edit. Please check our "Breaking News" and"Commentary" sections, which are being updated several times daily -- and, once again, please let any interested friends know as well.

In coming weeks, The Right Source will be expanded and most likely receive a face-lift. One section of it accessible to subscribers will offer our new e-zine, Pro Libertate. When my forthcoming book "From Republic to Reich" is finished, it will likely be available for purchase through the site as well.

Finally, the forthcoming issue of The American Conservative will carry an article written by me about the new, RFID-equipped "e-passports," which couple some of the worst elements of the unfolding surveillance state with huge liabilities where personal security is concerned.


mrsponch said...

Hello William! Having just finished reading your comments about my husband, the new CBS Reality show 'Armed & Famous' and the other four cast members, I feel compelled to address just a few of the points (if you don't mind).
First off please thank your wife for her continued support of my husband & his work if only based purely on her 'teenage crush' of 'Ponch' (his TV character from CHiPs). She was not alone in that crush and we still have many that contact him with fond memories of the show, their crushes and comments from what seems to be a slightly more innocent time.
Thank you for the comment on how he has aged, because at 57 years old, I & our 7 year old daughter think he looks terrific! He credits that to being P.R. and for doing his best to keep up with a very active 7 year old!
I do need to let you down easy though William about the toupee mention because the truth is what you & your wife sees on his head is the real thing. Doesn't wear a rug. Years ago while appearing on the Letterman show, he did a stint where he moved around his scalp thus appearing as though he was adjusting 'his hair' and then asked Dave if it was on straight. That one funny moment has followed now all these years later. In fact our little girl tells Erik to 'do your hair thing' occasionally if we are all out together. And it's really funny to see people's reactions to it when he does that too!
As for your comments of 'the purgatory of reruns & Mexican telenovelas'... we are very content in the fact that 'CHiPs' has aired almost continously since the day it went off air well over 20 years ago. We enjoy catching the reruns (when we see them) with our daughter who loves seeing her Daddy get the bad guys. The telenovela, 'Dos Mujeres Un Camino' also was a phenom of sorts because what started out to be a simple 3 month, 100 hour typical spanish soap turned into over 17 months, 400 + hours and was the biggest novela in the history of spanish television (Televisa-Mexico City) airing in over 82 countries worldwide when Rupert Murdoch purchased it. So please go easy on these re-runs because if there were not people out there wanting to view it again & again, the networks would not schedule it.
The new CBS show, 'Armed & Famous' whilst being 'a reality show' is in actuality REAL. My husband and the four other participants (LaToya Jackson, Trish Stratus, Jason Acuna & Jack Osborne) 're-located' to Muncie, Indiana for 8 weeks. When they all left right after Thanksgiving to begin production, they entered into the Munice Police Dept. Academy and went through all the training that other Cadets were put through. Unfortunately what you have not seen during the airing of the shows episodes so far are the five going through their training. They did all the physical tests (ie: running, sit ups, push-ups, hand-to-hand combat, etc.) they also did alot of studying the penal codes and specific laws for the state of Indiana and were given written, oral and physchological tests. They all qualified as Reserve Police Officers, were sworn in by the Mayor & Police Chief at City Hall and were paired up with 5 very experienced, qualified & professional Officers who patrolled the graveyard shift in Muncie (6:00pm - 2:00am). They had paperwork to do, reports to fill out and then try to get some rest before the next days' shift.
While many assume that the show is staged because it has been described as a 'reality' show, what people should know is that it is real. The calls were real. The altercations were real and the officers responding to the situations were real too. The only difference in these situations were that the reserve officers happen to be known for other occupations prior to being sworn in as reserve officers.
I know that my husband wanted to become a NYC officer from the age of 7 - 17 and was all set to enter the academy but after signing up for an acting class in high school he decided to try acting first. Fortunately for him he landed a role as Frank L. Poncherello of the CHP and was able to portray an officer for many years and has continuously supported the efforts of law enforcement. Now at age 57 he was able to make a childhood dream become a reality - and it is something he is very proud of and it is something he has taken very seriously. He plans on keeping his reserveship up and in fact will return to Muncie for requalification later this year. From what I understand the others have indicated the desire of doing the same.
We have received hundreds of emails telling us that the show has given the viewing public an insight of what police work is like. Comments from officers young & old across the country have given their approval saying they liked the show.
Bottom line, the show has given a slightly different insight into the world of law enforcement with respect for the uniform & badge, with seriousness & commitment to the undertaking and even alittle humor that can make a dangerous, challenging job abit easier.
Given the opportunity of signing on for a challenge like this, would you commit to it? I congratulate all five of these reserve officers, the Munice Police Department for allowing the production to go forward and all of the thousands of men & women who have made the commitment to protect & serve the streets on a daily basis.
I wish you & your wife well William and hope you will enjoy the remaining episodes of the show and realize that the commitments were as real as your 'remaining hair' is!
God bless,
Mrs. Erik Estrada

William N. Grigg said...

Mrs. Ponch --

I appreciate your very interesting comments, and apologize for retailing misinformation about your husband's enviable crop of hair. That must be a Puerto Rican trait!

Best regards,


dixiedog said...

...if there were not people out there wanting to view it again & again, the networks would not schedule it.

Yep, indeed mrsponch. There ya go, Will. Whatever the commoners clammer for, or want, they get. Couldn't be any clearer than that ;).

However, I think mrsponch is possibly misreading Will's incisive "big picture" prognosis on law enforcement, confusing it perhaps with steadfast disdain for any and all individual folk who constitute the law enforcement rank and file. Obviously, all police are not corrupt and exhibit militaristic conduct in performing their duties, but those folk also usually don't last long in the profession either.

But then, I tend to distill a "big picture" from human actions, interactions, and behaviors on a societal or otherwise large scale.

With few exceptions, I view his critiques and criticisms as not, for the most part, aimed at any particular individual law enforcement official, but at the conduct of the law enforcement establishment nationwide (local, state, federal) and the increasing centralization and militarization of the law enforcement profession in toto due in large part to federal involvement and attendant subsidies.

dixiedog said...

BTW, Will, when your forthcoming book is ready for sale, please notify us here, even though it will be sold from The Right Source site. I'm sure you will, but just want to make sure.

Is there any chance you'll be able to peddle the book on or B&N? You'd certainly get a lot of exposure through those channels.

However you market it, I'm certainly looking forward to reading it when it's published.

Anonymous said...

Here is my question about the program:

Jack Osbourne has been in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse so how could he be sworn as a law enforcement officer? When I had to fill out forms for carry permits I've had to answer questions about drug abuse. Do these not apply to law enforcement officers? Maybe they're above the laws that applies to us "civilians". This should be looked into by whoever is in charge of law enforcement in that city. I would bet if Joe Blow citizen walked in off the street walked in and admitted he had drug and alcohol problems he would be handed a gun and be given arrest powers.

Anonymous said...

I would like to congratulate Mrs. Estrada on offering such a graceful rebuttal. Blogland would be a much better place if such civility were more common, rather than as rare as it is today.

Fred said...

Will wrote:
Obviously, flash-bang grenades aren't toys. Like Tasers and other increasingly familiar elements of the “non-lethal” police arsenal, they can be deadly – particularly when used with insouciant abandon by police steeped in a militaristic mindset.

Insouciant abandon? More like criminally negligent and reckless.

While such devices have been called "non-lethal" they have since been renamed "less-lethal", because death or serious bodily injury can occur if incorrectly used or misdirected at a subject. There have been plenty of deaths from 12 gauge "bean bag" rounds. Flash bangs can cause a fire. And they can cause some serious damage if they contact a person. But overall they are just noise makers if used properly and under the right circumstances. They are a tool that too many immature brutes have access to.

Professor Rapaport cites the way things were in the good old days. These are the days many wish we could return to. But we can't if laws are created preventing the journey back in time. Yes, giving an otherwise law abiding fella a ride home because he had a few too many after a rough day at the office is a nice gesture. But when he gets home and beats his wife because she read him the riot act after embarrassing the family with a cop car in the driveway, the cop will be severely punished. The SADD and MADD people will want his head on a stick, as will all the "survivors" of domestic violence who work the women's shelters. Heck, the local District Attorney will go on the record as saying the police didn't do what they were supposed to do; arrest the drunk, let him sober up, then prosecute him. In that scenario it wouldn't surprise me if the drunk sues the cops for NOT arresting him- saw that before.

The professor's domestic dispute scenario is actually funny because in many instances there is little room for police dicretion. If a state has a law directing what the police MUST do, then the cop MUST do it, or suffer the consequences. Oftentimes the victim wants nothing to do with the police. In other words,"We're from the government. We're here to help whether you like it or not".

There's no shortage of problem cops with a propensity to commit stupid acts or violate the rights of citizens. A problem indeed. Add to this the fact that most state legislators are tripping over each other trying to get to the podium so they can introduce yet another law that'll force more police intervention into the lives of the citizens. Enforcing the laws of the state is part of a cop's job. Many will be unwitting pawns, too stupid to know what they're doing. Some might call them useful idiots.

Fred said...

Although I am not fond of a bumper sticker unless it promotes withdrawal from the UN or the safeguarding of the right to bear arms, the one encouraging the reader to, "Shoot Your Television" is high on the list of options if I'm in need of filling the space created by a vandal who removed from my "ghetto cruiser" one of the aforementioned. Which brings me to the professor's quote:

The insidious thing about “Armed & Famous” and other specimens of “criminal verite programming,” notes Richard Rapaport, a visiting scholar at the UC Berkley Institute of Governmental Studies, is that “they have helped set a national tone in which both the police and the policed have been convinced that appropriate law-enforcement correlates with high-speed chases, blocking and tackling, drawn weapons, and a shoot-first, think-later mind-set.”

This is true. People love this kind of "programming". Expectations
of the public are important, but they are not always based on reality. For example, a madman holding a carving knife charges a cop. Cop shoots madman. Some scream he shouldn't have been shot. He should've been hit with a Taser- no, a bean bag- no, pepper spray- no, baton- no, shot in the foot or shoulder. Some would even say the cop should wrestle the madman. These demands and debates go on everyday in different parts of the country. Really. Everyday.

I can't bring myself to believe the professor's suggestion. If what he says was true there would be little to no debate about excessive force allegations. All would be content with the outcome of a high speed pursuit, shooting, or whatever. After all, they saw it on TV, and know that's the way it ends.

I don't think we are at that point. Yet.

dixiedog said...

Indeed fred. Except "Armed & Famous" and similar ilk are merely reality dramas as mrsponch stated. The real "entertainment" TV are the docu-drama shows consisting of car chases, shootouts, etc. of the COPS staple.

In the Review of the News, November 22 thread I said in essence the same thing you're sayin':

...I’ve noticed an ominous trend on the booby these days. There seems to be an endless parade of pro-police documentaries SWAT, COPS, Shootouts, Car Chases, Most Scariest…[insert activity], etc., etc., ad nauseam. Yes, COPS has been on the booby for years, but it just seems that there's now a plethora of COPS-like shows on the booby, many more so than in the past. I think these programs are produced for the implied purpose of subduing the commoner mind and to accede to to the state’s preeminence and power without question.

Nothing like real police showing their true colors literally. The other night I happened to turn to Court TV and one of those shows "Hot Pursuit" was on. I don't remember the exact details now, but the gist of this particular pursuit that was playin' out when I tuned in was an Ohio man being stopped by several police cars. The cops all had their weapons drawn and one even had an AR15 beaded on the man as they commanded him to exit the car. He came out the window because they kept stipulating LOUDLY that he better keep his hands visible the entire time and while he exited the vehicle. This particular "hot pursuit" happened because some stooge commoner called 911 because he had been walking around in public with a holstered pistol in the open and some of the commoners were fearful. could hear on the cop car camera audio that the guy is asking why he was stopped, why the cops have assault weapons aimed at him ("Big mistake!" I remember him saying), did they not know that open-carry was legal in Ohio, and so on. He was asked if he had a CCP on him. The guy said he did in his wallet, and he did have one, but the guy asked what that had to do with carrying a holstered firearm openly.

All the while this is playing out the narrator is flapping his lips trying to portray the guy in a negative light.

Anyway, they didn't have jack on the man and the narrator said he was only guilty of running his mouth off.

Arrgh! He simply stated what his rights were and what the law was in his area concerning firearms. He didn't cuss out the cops or act belligerent.

If Hollyweird vaporized tomorrow, I wouldn't miss a beat. Perhaps many of the commoners would afterwards shed their love affair with at least TV-based "bread and circuses."

It'll never happen, of course, but one can fantasize every now and again.

Fred said...


It is true some discretion is permitted, but you have taken my statement out of context. Please allow me to clarify.

I mentioned discretion in the paragraph referring to a domestic dispute. I stated "in many instances there is little room for police dicretion." This was and is accurate. For example, you and a buddy have a heated argument. You pop him one in the eye because you believe he deserved it. Unbeknownst to you a nosey passerby called the cops to report a fight. Cops arrive. Your buddy has a shiner he was asking for. You both acknowledge a disagreement ocurred and you are responsible for the black eye. Your partner, realizing he asked for and received what he deserved, says to the fuzz he wants nothing to do with filing any criminal charges. The coppers bid you both farewell.
Now if that situation occurred between man and wife, the cops would have zero discretion. The one responsible for the punch MUST be arrested- despite the desire of the victim.

You are correct in that discretion can be exercised in many instances. But I can assure you that is not the case in domestic violence situations.

Now keep in mind that not every town, city, or state is the same. They are different in many ways, including their respective political atmospheres. Giving a drunk guy a lift home in one town might not be a big deal if or when it becomes known to the public. Doing the same in another town where there was a tragic accident involving a drunk driver would invite public outcry.

I mention the discovery of discretion and "breaks" because it is something cops have to consider. As soon as Tom hears that Dick got a ride home instead of being arrested, and Harry- who's bumming a ride to work from his buddy because his license is suspended for a DUI arrest- finds out Tom wasn't subjected to the same exact treatment, things get ugly. Letters to the editor, complaints to the chief, DA, Judges, etc. Before you know it there's an IA investigation underway.

Some decisions are more difficult than others.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your very interesting comments, and apologize for retailing misinformation about your husband's enviable crop of hair.
Thanks for the clarification.


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