Cover image for Police heroes : true stories of courage about America's brave men, women, and K-9 officers
Police heroes : true stories of courage about America's brave men, women, and K-9 officers
Whitlock, Charles R.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
xxi, 264 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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Table of contents
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HV7914 .W6113 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Police Heroes honors and celebrates those members of America's police force who take the oath to protect and serve seriously. These men, women, and K-9 officers are asked to put their personal safety aside for a greater good on a daily basis, but sometimes the call of duty is above and beyond even their expectations. You're about to meet some remarkably courageous individuals, all of whom acted bravely in the most trying, life-threatening situations.

Who among us can truly second guess the life-or-death decisions that police officers may be forced to make on any given day, despite the demands and frustrations of the job? The criminals want to put the officers out of action, while law-abiding people are fearful of receiving a traffic ticket. The politicians often exploit law enforcement issues for personal and professional gain, and everyone--including the media--Monday-morning quarterbacks the lightning-fast decisions that must be madein the field.

But it's easy to be critical when you're not the one forced to react in seconds. What would you do if you came face-to-face with a kidnapper who's holding a twelve-year-old girl at gunpoint? Alone in the Alaska wilderness, could you arrest five armed men? Would you risk your own life to save a methamphetamine manufacturer from dying in a fire he intentionally set to avoid being served a warrant? These are just a few of the heroic acts you'll read about in Police Heroes.

Following the destruction of the World Trade Center, Ron Shiftan, who served as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 1998 to 2002, wrote this to the author: "To those who have not come home, we say with conviction that you continue to live on in our hearts and memories." And that is the very essence of Police Heroes -it will inspire you to appreciate the everyday heroes in the law enforcement community and the amazing work they do to keep us from harm and protect our way of life.

Author Notes

Chuck Whitlock is an award-winning investigative correspondent and author who is a recognized expert on scams and white-collar crime. He has produced TV segments on scams, con artists, and consumer issues for Hard Copy, Inside Edition, Extra, and other shows. He is the author of six pervious books, including MediScams, Chuck Whitlock's Scam School, and Easy Money . He lives in the state of Washington.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Investigative reporter Whitlock (MediScams) switches from his usual subject of crime to crime-busting as he "honors and celebrates members of the law enforcement community who have distinguished themselves and their departments by acting in a courageous manner under extraordinary circumstances." Along with a chapter on police dogs, he recounts the stories of more than 100 officers from two dozen cities. Interwoven throughout is informative background material on techniques employed by various law enforcement organizations. With much material to choose from, Whitlock has selected diverse incidents-a kidnapping, an escalating riot, a child hostage situation, armed robbery, high-speed pursuits, rescues, firefights and burglaries-and captures the action with effective, fast-paced writing punctuated with fascinating facts illuminating little-known aspects of police procedures. Whitlock offers vivid descriptive details on everything from SWAT team gear to a Shreveport bicycle patrol. This book includes a chapter on more than 60 WTC heroes, but the abbreviated profiles seem thin compared to the potent preceding chapters. Nevertheless, those profiles should add to the appeal of this tribute. 85 b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Peter Miller, PMA. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Police Heroes 1 OFFICER JOHN GRUBENSKY Oakland (California) Police Department "Guardian Angel" "He was my best friend, and he was my partner," said Officer Bariwynn "Barry" Howard. Officer John Grubensky and Officer Howard worked in District 3 in the city of Oakland, California, and as a team they were tight. Looking back, what happened to Officer Grubensky might have been predicted because, as his partner Howard put it, "John had a habit of overworking his guardian angel." John Grubensky and Barry Howard worked the third watch, covering the evening hours, patrolling the 23rd Avenue corridor of Oakland. They were busy every night. "You've got to understand," Howard said, "that we were in a high narcotics area, and the drug sales would be made right in front of our police car." Officer Grubensky had a knack for making drug arrests. He was aggressive, but not in the tough cop way one might imagine. "To him it was more like a game, more like fishing than police work," said Howard. "We would detain a suspect, knowing their dope wasn't actually on them, and Grubensky would try to figure out where they had it hidden.He'd keep working, and working, and then he'd find it while the dealer was watching. It was like fishing to him, and he was real good at it." As officers working their beat, Grubensky and Howard knew these dealers well because they'd arrested a lot of them. Officer Howard explained, "Sometimes I had to help him, sometimes he'd help me, but I'm talking about pushing his real guardian angel, because he had no officer safety sense. He really pushed the limits. I think he believed he'd survive whatever hit him." Howard said that Grubensky developed this sense of confidence relative to his safety with these criminals because he always treated them with respect. He was honest and direct in his reports--even the drug dealers knew he was a fair guy. They treated him with respect too, even though he and Howard were arresting dealers nearly every night they worked. Since he had good relations with the dealers in his district, Grubensky told his partner that if he ever got into a fight, he honestly felt the dealers would come to his aid. Howard said, "I mean it was easy making a felony arrest, because the dealers were all over the place. But imagine, a dealer helping an officer in a fight? I always thought John was crazy for thinking this, but he did. That was him pushing that guardian angel again." In one instance, Officer Grubensky was pursuing a vehicle when the car abruptly stopped in front of a house and the four armed suspects bailed out of the car and ran inside. Knowing they were armed, and that he was alone, as backup units were still en route, Grubensky still ran up to the house to try to capture the gunmen. The suspects escaped out the back of the house, and fortunately, Grubensky wasn't hurt, but he clearly exposed himself to potential gunfire. For Howard, this was Grubensky pushing that guardian angel too far. "I told him," Howard said, "'You're going too far! Those guys are going to shoot you.' Well, John didn't hear me, or he didn't believe me, because he never slowed down. He was always pushing things to their limits." Some described John Grubensky as a perfectionist. He was a hard-working officer. He could be critical in some ways, but he was also very generous to his friends. Howard said, "We got off work late every night and went to breakfast. We talked about everything, and I mean everything--he was my best buddy. We socialized with our families and we were very close. We bonded because we shared the same values. I never worried about his professional ethics. I'd trust John with my life, and I trusted him with my family. I miss him very much. Very much." Grubensky wasn't with Howard when he died during the terrible firethat started in North Oakland Hills. Grubensky was working overtime on a day when he normally would have been off and at home. Had they been together, maybe John could have survived, or at least maybe Barry could have kept him away from the street that exploded into flames. But truth is, had they been together that day, they would probably both have perished. As partners, they most certainly would have died together, because no one could have survived. The fire was simply too swift, too destructive. On the morning of the fire, Grubensky noticed the smoke coming from the hills above downtown Oakland. The weather was warm and there were unusually high winds. When the fire took off around 10:30 A.M., it didn't take long for the flames to race through the area. This wasn't the first time a fire had gutted this section of the East Bay. Nor was it the second. Sadly, it was the third time, but it was as though no one had learned the lessons of their own local history. Oakland, California, sits across the bay from San Francisco. The city grew from a small population in the 1860s to about thirty-four thousand by 1886. A developer had an idea to grow eucalyptus trees to be used for railroad ties and furniture. That was a bust, because eucalyptus wood is too hard and warps too easily to be used for either purpose. But the trees grew fast on the hillsides, eventually starting to choke out the native oaks. Development continued at a fever pitch, and by the turn of the century, beautiful Queen Anne--style cottages covered the hills. By 1920, the Oakland hillsides were fully developed. There had been a building boom in the East Bay Area because of people relocating out of San Francisco after the Great Earthquake of 1906. On September 17, 1923, a fire broke out in midmorning. Wildcat Canyon was ablaze, and people all over could smell the smoke coming from the burning eucalyptus groves. By one-thirty in the afternoon, the fire was burning in a line about sixteen hundred feet wide, spreading across Berkeley and moving toward Oakland. The narrow roads were clogged with people running from the flames. Panic was everywhere. Although the damage was great, it's a miracle the losses weren't worse. In all, 584 homes and buildings burned to the ground. Four thousand people were left homeless. The fire burned everything right up to the edge of the University of California at Berkeley. Nothing like this had ever hit the East Bay Area. The fire was simply enormous, and the people were unprepared to fight something so fierce. Within a few years after the fire, the eucalyptus seedlings had again spread out along the hills. To try to prevent a future fire, builders constructedlarger boulevards that could act as firebreaks while designing the hillside neighborhoods to be less dense than before. They replaced the wooden sidewalks, which had brought the fires right into the neighborhoods, with concrete ones. They buried the telephone cables to keep communications open since the phone lines had burned down the last time. But they still missed the mark. They initiated legislation to outlaw wooden shingle roofs and mandate fire-resistant tiles, but it was rescinded before it took effect. Worst of all, the eucalyptus trees with their tall, canopy-style growth were springing up everywhere on the hillsides. They again would be the agents of destruction in the next fire some forty-seven years later. Between 1923 and 1969, dramatic changes hit the Bay Area. The roads, bridges, and transportation systems, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) light-rail system, allowed San Francisco workers to live out in the East Bay. The population of Oakland skyrocketed to nearly half a million people. In 1970 an arsonist started a fire that was to destroy thirty-seven homes. The hillsides had become covered with old growth trees, and the canyons were dense with brush. The fire burned a large area around the hills before it was stopped, but the necessary changes still weren't made to help prevent future hillside fires. In fact, things got worse. People who moved into the area started planting more trees, adding to the fire hazard. Some natural firebreaks were heavily planted--residents evidently liked the countryside look of the overgrown canyons. The eucalyptus groves spread their seeds everywhere the wind carried them, and residents added Monterey pines to the hillsides' mix of fuel. On Sunday, October 20, 1991, the scene was set for the third and largest fire to hit Oakland. The fire actually started the day before, on Saturday, when a brushfire hit a canyon and burned about three acres. Oakland City firefighters attacked the flames with picks, axes, shovels, and high-powered hoses that drenched the area. The firefighters thought the fire had been extinguished, but the burning embers in the leaves and dead brush smoldered deep within the canyon. Because the undergrowth was so dense, no one saw that the fire was still lurking, burning slowly through the night. By morning, the warning signs first appeared as dark smoke. At about ten-thirty on that Sunday morning, Officer Grubensky along with every other officer in Oakland was alerted that a fire had been spotted in the North Hills area near Caldecott Tunnel. Emergency service personnelraced to the scene as firefighters hit the same areas they had hit the day before. But on that day, conditions were different, and the fire would soon get out of control. The "Diablo winds" that raced through the canyons fanned the flames. Then there was the dense brush. Firefighters couldn't get through some of the areas that were tinder-dry: the flames moved through the grass as if it had been sprinkled with gasoline. The area simply exploded when the fire ran up the trunks of a grove of eucalyptus trees, igniting their leaves. The canopy at the top of the trees allowed the fire to leapfrog from one grove to the next, then from one house to the next. The conflagration was in full force; the flames suddenly controlled the city and its people. Fire ran up the canyons, while millions of burning embers rained down everywhere. Within one hour of the fire being reported, 790 homes were fully engulfed or completely destroyed. Many of the homes that burned in that first hour were in the exact location of ones destroyed back in 1970. They had been rebuilt, but the owners had again designed and planted their landscape to give it a "natural" appearance with heavily wooded areas and thick underbrush. To maintain the bucolic feel of the area, the roads had never been widened. The lack of fire-resistant materials in the structures, the awnings, the decks, the wooden siding--all contributed to the blaze's fury. As the fire continued to spread into the neighborhoods, the temperatures reached an astounding 2,000 degrees. At that heat, everything burns. Even the concrete melted away and burned. As the officers drove up Alvarado Road, they could see where the destruction had occurred. Once they actually hit the fire scene, it was clear what was lost; one could see where the million-dollar homes and the forested areas had once stood so stately above the hills. But they had become nothing but fuel for the hungry fire that was consuming more as each hour passed. Nothing slowed the angry flames. The pine and eucalyptus groves were exploding like bombs above the firefighters. As one tree ignited, another would detonate right behind. Soon the air superheated, and flashovers consumed entire blocks of homes all at once. It was hell on the hillsides of Oakland. As the disaster grew beyond the city's resources, police and firefighting agencies from around the Bay Area began responding. Firefighters would identify the most likely path of the moving blaze and request that whole neighborhoods be evacuated. The Oakland Police Department took the lead in the evacuation detail. At about 11:15 A.M., police officers were clearing residents from the Charing Cross and Tunnel Road neighborhoods. Officer Grubensky was on the front lines, choking in smoke, as he helped clear out the panicked residents. Some people were screaming without making sense, others were quietly scrambling to load their vehicles with pictures, artwork, personal records, and whatever memories they could salvage. But no time remained. It wasn't smoke they were running from: they felt the heat in the air as the eucalyptus trees began exploding nearby. Homes down the street erupted into flames. They weren't just evacuating; these people knew they were leaving their homes forever. The parade of sport utility vehicles, trucks, cars, and motorcycles followed the narrow roads down the hill. Many people abandoned their cars and started to run down the sidewalks. As neighborhoods were engulfed in flames, streets were blocked and alternate routes were jammed up with cars. Some irrational drivers honked their horns as though the road might miraculously open for them. Tempers flared, judgment failed, and order dissolved into chaos. But the police and firefighters persevered, remaining focused. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they were going to save lives. The city would survive. Many people followed Officer Grubensky out of the fire's path as he bravely led them to safety down the hill. He encouraged them as he directed them around the stranded vehicles and finally to support personnel in a safe zone. Again and again he returned, for he was on a mission. As he drove back up into the hills to continue his rescue effort, he was pushing his guardian angel too far. Everywhere one looked, cars and burning debris were scattered about from the traffic jams that never cleared. Tires had burned, and huge bright silver piles of aluminum were all that remained of custom wheels and engine blocks. Car frames were planted in melted asphalt. Water lines and hoses, which were connected to hydrants, began to burst. Water, colored black with ash and carrying burned debris, rolled uselessly down the hill. When the electrical system caught fire and burned, the water pumps stopped filling the reservoir. The water system was drained, and everything went dry by 5 P.M. And this fire was to burn for two more days. As he made his way back up Charing Cross Road, Officer Grubensky found five people who had been driving down the hill around disabled cars and debris but had gotten lost on the side streets. When they saw Officer Grubensky, they knew he would lead them to safety. Slowly they followed him down the narrow street through the thick smoke. Then, on the hill above him, a garage that had been fully engulfed burned to the point where its support frame failed. When the structure suddenly collapsed, a car that was inside plummeted down the hill. The car became a flaming missile that plowed through the guardrail and careened across the roadway where it stopped in the center of the street, blocking the roadway and preventing any more traffic from coming down Charing Cross Road. Grubensky's escape route was closed. Undaunted, he ordered the people from their cars and instructed them to follow him down the hill. With the brush on both sides of the hill burning, they proceeded down the middle of the street. The heat was intense, the air temperature had risen to the point where it began to burn their lungs, and the carbon monoxide in the thick smoke began to take its toll. Officer Joseph Kroushour heard Officer Grubensky's call on his radio as John yelled into his microphone, "You've got to get me out of here!" But it was too late. That would be Grubensky's last call. As the treetops rained fire from above, Grubensky and his five followers lay down on the pavement trying to find cooler air, but there was no escape. They covered up, trying to limit their exposure, but when the flashover hit, it consumed everything in its path. Even the concrete melted around them. Officer Grubensky and the five people he was trying to rescue were all burned. Their remains were found in the center of the street where they sought refuge. Grubensky's body was found on top of a woman he was trying to insulate from the heat. But there was no way they could have survived the 2,000-degree temperatures. Barry Howard, now a veteran with seventeen years on the job, talked about his memories of John Grubensky and what a loss his passing was to so many people, especially to his wife and family. Howard said, "You know, I'm black and John was white, and we came from different backgrounds. We talked about race relations and the importance of taking care of people and doing the right thing. He was truly the professional peace officer." Officer Howard gave a eulogy at Officer Grubensky's funeral. He reflected on the special things that Grubensky brought to the Oakland Police Department. He remembered their days as partners, the great times they had, and how he missed him. "We were young and dumb. We'd come in to work on our days off to check our beats and develop intelligence on the dealers. John would watch the dealers, and without making an arrest, he'd watch deals go down so he could figure out where the dope was being stored. Then we got the sergeant to allow us to take out a detectivecar so we could make an arrest next time. We got lucky and found a guy who was selling a bunch of stolen guns." And this was on their day off. Howard knew that his words couldn't bring solace to the family who had lost so much. He choked up a little while talking to me, remembering the time that has passed, and lamented the loss of his partner. He said he would have liked it better if he could have let John's wife, Linda, know how much John cared for her. He said, "He was my best friend, and we talked about everything, including things about our families. And to this day, I don't think he told his wife how much he loved her. How much she satisfied him as a man and how good she was for him. I'll tell you, she was great to him, and he loved her with all his heart, physically and emotionally, he was in love with her. I'd really like it if Linda knew she was everything to him." John was also survived by three children who were very young at the time of his death: John Robert (then seven), Jaime (then six), and Joshua (then four). No one would question Officer John Grubensky's bravery, integrity, or fidelity as a peace officer. He was credited with personally saving more than 150 lives in the North Oakland Hills fire. He will forever live in the memories of the families he so valiantly protected as well as with the members of the Oakland Police Department whom he made so very proud. Thirty-two-year-old Officer John Grubensky had been a policeman for a relatively short time when he fell in the line of duty. But in that time, he made a difference for himself, his family, his partner, and his department. He was asked to give a lot on that terrible day in October, but he gave even more. On that day, he gave it all. POLICE HEROES. Copyright © 2002 by Chuck Whitlock. Foreword copyright © 2002 by Richard T. Long. Excerpted from Police Heroes: True Stories of Courage about America's Brave Men, Women by Chuck Whitlock All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.