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An hour and a half later, at yet another loud-music call -- this one on South Gramercy Place -- Ureña demonstrates his "knock," a tap as timid as that of Ed Norton, Ralph Cramden's Bronx sidekick. Renee McAlonis, who often cracks a crooked smile and with wry disbelief utters, "Yeah, right," as part of a running monologue she maintains evaluating her own conduct and the conduct of others, strides confidently to the door, lifts her arm, forms a bruising George Frazier fist and with exaggerated glee pounds away. "Your police knock doesn't match your police voice," she quips as the officers return to their cruiser. They both laugh. Shuttling to and fro in the deep of the drowsy night, it is easy to believe that Ureña and his comrades are no different from the civilians whose lives they fleetingly enter.
But police are different. It goes beyond feeling special or powerful because you wear a badge and a uniform and carry a gun. Countless hours imbibing the petty, the menacing, the tyrannical, the brutal, the ugly -- as well as the good -- make officers feel, in Ureña's words, "above the public." He does not mean better. He means that police officers have an encyclopedic perspective, a view of things with the lid pried off. And even for an officer as idealistic as Ureña, the awareness persists that you stand apart from the crowd. Concrete warning: The cop as target
This sensibility cannot be shaken, even when an officer is off duty. Asked why he carries a sidearm at those times, Ureña replies, "For personal safety, and for the safety of my loved ones. I guess the thing is you know how things can happen to people who are unsuspecting, and you want to be prepared in case something does happen to you or to somebody that you love. I don't try to live a life that's full of paranoia, but basic things, such as going to the movies and stuff, I look around. I look around to see where the exits are. I look to see who may be a problem. I don't know these people in a theater, so I have to go on the image they are presenting to society. The image they want to portray to the public. If it's a male Hispanic, with a shaven head, baggy clothes, well, in my opinion, he wants to portray the image that he's a hardcore guy. He wants to give the image that he's a gang member. That's what he wants me to see. And for that split moment that I happen to have him around my surroundings, that's the way I look at him."
"From where I sit, that sounds paranoid," I say. "I suppose from where you sit, I seem naive?"
"No," Ureña says. "I think if there is a difference, I'd say you are willing to take more chances than I am."
AND YET, THERE IS ALWAYS FUN. FUN IS ONE OF THE most frequently used words around Wilshire Division. Ted Ureña parses it this way: "Let's go have fun. If we're lucky, we'll have fun. Did you have fun?Now, that was fun."
Fun means "chasing after the bad guys, chasing after real criminals, hardcore criminals, and eventually catching them. It's chasing after a car, it's proning a guy out, it's catching a guy with a gun before he's able to do something. It may look intense, it may be scary to some people, but when you can actually do what you initially thought this job entailed, now, that's fun." Ureña's voice quickens. "Those are stories that you form for the rest of your life. And those are stories that you share with your partners. 'Ah, remember that moment?' 'Yeah, that was fun.'"
Talking about fun is fun. It inspires Ureña to have more fun. He puts it like this: "I have such a great time out here. It's not just that cliché that every day is different. There are possibilities out here for an endless number of things to happen. I want to be part of that. More stories. You can add more stories when you're out here. Just all the things you can get into when you're out here on the streets, that's what matters to me."
Here is a story about fun. "I was working with Frank Dominguez, my partner in Southwest. We were working F.B., foot beat. There was this one guy, a local gang member. We knew he sold dope. But as soon as we came down the street, he would lock the security gate behind him. What can we do? We don't have enough to do anything with him, but we know he's dirty. So one day, we see him in an alley, and we come up with our game plan. We temporarily separate so that we can cover all angles of what he does. A lot of times gang members carrying narcotics, they'll run, and they'll start tossing the dope to get away. Something similar happened here. This guy would just talk and talk and insult and insult. Then he started running directly toward my partner and screaming as if he was going to attack him. So at that time we were able to take him into custody, and upon searching him, you could feel that he had something in his pocket. And people were coming out of the apartment complex, 'What are you guys doing with him, why do you guys always mess with him?' We found a little baggie of marijuana, no big deal. We said, 'Well, he has this.' 'Is that such a big deal?' We searched further, came out with a little revolver. 'Well, we found this.' 'Oh, well, we didn't know about that.' Now, this guy is a hardcore gang member, an admitted gang member with the Black Freestone Gang. But the public wants to side with him, because he's a local. Because they know him. Maybe they've seen him grow up. But he's part of their problem. He's part of the problem that brings shooters into their area to do violence, to do ADWs and stuff. And yet the people who live in those buildings look at us as being the bad guys.