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July 1, 2005

Independence Day: Cops and Me

Roy Meachum

In the pre-dawn black last Sunday morning, Pushkin's frantic barking pulled me out of an induced sleep to discover flashing lights under the door to the stairs.

Leaving hearing aid on the side table, I stumbled around the bed and found myself confronting two shadowy figures. Seeing my confusion, the leading man turned the light on his badge. "Police," he said.

They had come to inform me water was pouring down from the side of my house. Going to the bathroom in the dark, I had lost balance and hit the toilet. I had no idea it was bad. The leakage on the tile floor had seemed shallow; I had gone back to sleep.

Upon assurances I would call a plumber, the officers left. The clock said 5:30. I figured on waiting until eight; nobody likes to be disturbed on Sunday morning.

A half-hour later the front door bell prompted the English pointer to do his duty; Pushkin understands when you live with a deaf man you have to make a racket about strange noises.

A police corporal was standing on the stoop and raised his voice to let me know he wanted to turn off the water. And he did. I pulled up the covers and eventually went back to sleep, comforted because he had taken my problem out of the crisis stage. With two other toilets in the house, I didn't need to deal with the problem until Monday.

For the record: Corporal Michael Pue was the gentleman who saved not only considerable money but restored tranquility. Officer Robert Pierce was the second shadowy figure. I owe them both great thanks.

The last time a cop had come to my door in the middle of the night he informed my then-wife someone had broken the door to her antique shop; I was out of town, returning from a visit to mother in a Louisiana nursing home.

Sharon Meachum dressed and hurried over to Lady on Skates where she found three entirely different officers; she never saw the first cop again. As I reported to readers the following week, she wound up that early morning, picking up glass, all by herself on East Patrick Street. She was scared.

We later reached the conclusion it was the second attempt by Frederick police officials to get back at me for columns critical of their conduct, especially by their harassment of the NAACP. (The first time was a traffic stop that ended in frustration for the would-be arresting officer. I had broken no laws.)

Six months after Sharon left Frederick and me, I was stopped after leaving a party where I had been drinking; friendly cops told me later that arrangements had been made for police officials to be informed when I left my "friend's" house. I was guilty of DWI, no doubt about it.

The twist to the story was that then-mayor Jim Grimes came down to the station and took me home. Before Mr. Grimes surrendered his office to the present occupant, he managed to oust the chief who had approved the NAACP harassment and what happened to me. The man from Baltimore's name no longer matters.

Last weekend provided a more typical example of my experience with police, as a private citizen and a veteran journalist. Even when stopped for a traffic violation, I never had reason to complain; cops had their jobs to do, as I had mine.

My defense of Frederick's Fraternal Order of Police against Mayor Paul Gordon's brazen attempt to castrate the department, making them puppets, brought the friendship of several officers; let me give their present ranks: Lt. Patrick O'Brien, Lt. Kevin Grubbs and Capt. Jim Ledwell. (Not incidentally, during the last chief's attempted harassment, I took great delight in wearing a sweat shirt emblazoned: FREDERICK POLICE, a souvenir of the Gordon wars.)

Before moving here from Washington, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Maurice John Joseph Cullinane was one of my best friends. "Cully" and wife Carol drove up for the housewarming party on East Fourth Street. We kept in touch for years.

Working for D.C. media, I discovered a natural affinity between our professions, including a tendency to withhold trust until earned. But, as I told a graduating Frederick academy class, I learned reporters and cops have lots in common.

But my chief teachers were on the MPD. They included a plain clothes detective who pointed a .38 special straight at my bald head when I moved up behind him, looking for a place to set up my camera crew. A drug bust had busted out, endangering officers who tried to make the arrest. The .38 was not fired, obviously. I never crept up behind a cop again.

At the time of that 1976 incident, Kim Dine's MPD badge was fairly new. He learned his trade under Cully, one of the few white men who could move around the District's black ghetto while the Martin Luther King assassination riots' fires still burned. His knee took a crippling brick thrown during the Vietnam anti-war demonstrations. He was a "homeboy" who had clout at the White House while staying scrupulously out of backdoor machinations.

That's the tradition Kim Dine brought up from Washington where he last commanded the police district that, not incidentally, included the White House.

Chief Dine restored the warmth that I first found in Frederick Police Sgt. Buddy Cashour, who died 20 years ago this October on my birthday. From a family that supplied more than several relatives to the city force, Buddy ducked politics but made it his business to get to know the people and what was happening in the city.

When Kim Dine moved here he received criticism because he refused to make changes and appointments until he learned his new territory. Some of the critics were on the force, including a now retired captain who was touting his wife, then a lieutenant, for his former post. Both were heavy players among Frederick's influential few.

Maurice John Joseph Cullinane chuckled every time I called police officials "white shirts." It made sense to me: sergeants and below wore blue.

That's my way of suggesting: When you're out and about this Independence Day weekend, look for a cop in a white shirt. If he has glasses, moustache and a slow smile, it just might be Chief Dine. You'll want to shake his hand.

He's the guy who made it safe for all city residents, black and white, to take comfort in the fact anytime an officer appears at their door (or in their house, as with me) he should be welcomed.

Kim Dine has fashioned the Frederick Police to the highest standards; they do whatever it takes to protect and serve - including turning off a bathroom pipe in the middle of the night.

Thanks, Kim.

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