The line was six cops deep.
Each officer touched the shoulder of the man in front of them. Everyone crouched low, weapon out, fingers indexed away from the trigger.
Up front a cop carried a battering ram. The next guy had a ballistic shield.
Six helmets, six weapons, six officers holding their breath tightly in their chest.
While a dog barked incessantly.
Not even six in the morning yet. Today we were in a neighborhood a few steps down the ladder from the one the day before. These houses were not quite as manicured. There was no color-coordination, the yards were scraggly, the cars decorated in post-modern rust. It was an older neighborhood, where the best years were years ago and exhaustion was the only thing remaining.
The entry team was grim. There was, after all, the chance of gun play and violence if their knock was ignored; or worse, if it wasn’t.
And still that damned dog barked.
I had nothing to do with the entry and yet I was nervous. Because of the guns and shields, because today’s suspects had extensive rap sheets that included violence, because the dog’s barking gave us away.
Because if this operation went bad, the bad would happen during that entry.
Generally, entry is when teams are most vulnerable. Dynamic entries – either a ‘no-knock’ entry or a ‘knock-and-announce’ but with forced entry – are scary. They involve a chaos designed to confuse the suspects. Because confusion lessens the chances the bad guys will flush evidence or shoot hostages or kill officers.
But that very created chaos also puts the cops at a disadvantage.
I am not a huge fan of dynamic entries. I understand the need for them, they just make me anxious. And that day, with a dog that wouldn’t shut the hell up, I was extremely anxious.
This family was not the family of the day before. Where the previous subject politely opened the door and showed us where he kept his kiddie porn, this family had a number of convictions between them…including resisting the police.
Yesterday we’d been looking for one of the top traders in the state. Today it was a man who traded kiddie porn less frequently, but what he did trade was of rougher grade, grittier and harsher.
“Damn dog’s fucking announcing us,” one of the officers said.
The team, with the commander, myself, and the computer forensics man behind, moved silently through neighbors’ front yards, hugged tightly up against neighbors’ houses. We saw no shocked faces staring out, no one grabbing a phone to make a call.
Except at the very last house before our target house.
“Hey, wha’choo doing?” the lady asked.
She sat on her porch, drinking her morning coffee, holding a newspaper, and staring goggle-eyed at the cops in front of her. The commander took her aside and a moment later she went inside…where she watched carefully through the curtains.
Between her house and the subject’s house, we found the dog. It belonged to the subject and was going batty inside its run. The team got worried the owner was awake and wondering why the hell his dog was so cranky.
At the door, I heard the knock, then the announce. Then I waited for an eternal twenty seconds before the team entered the house.
It was like the morning exploded. Voices everywhere. Clear all the way outside. Commands and demands, orders and calls of “One male in basement,” or “One male secured in front bedroom,” or “Where’s (suspect)?”
And a cacophony from the subjects, too. Confusion, anger, disbelief, a lack of comprehension, that mumbled nonsense that comes when you’re awakened loudly and suddenly.
But within minutes, all the subjects were secured in the living room. No one had gotten hurt and the search team went to work.
It was a nightmare.
There were computers, hard drives, thumb drives, and discs everywhere. But also hundreds of music CDs, thousands of movie DVDs; software instruction discs, hardware driver discs.
Every conceivable square inch of that house was awash in media. It was a cyber buffet for American males raised in a media-saturated environment.
And it all had to be checked. Much of the music and many of the movies were commercially available and so probably weren’t a problem, but much of it was consumer-recorded and that had to be reviewed.
Ninety minutes of ‘Hunt For Red October,’ then an hour of sex with pre-pubescent boys, then forty-four minutes ‘Hunt For Red October.’
Happens that way with music, too. A few five-minute tracks that are visual – or sometimes only aural – hidden in the middle of a metal mix, or a dance mix, or the best of whatever flavor of the week is melting the pop charts.
Everything had to be checked.
So we started with the media that probably wasn’t involved, with the computers and external drives that belonged to the sons and the visitor. The father was our focus and while I personally believed the sons probably knew about his tastes, I wasn’t convinced they were directly involved in it.
The sheer amount of media belonging to everyone but Dad took us the better part of two hours to scrutinize. While we did that, the team continued searching the house, bringing us even more media, more internal hard drives that were scattered and stored everywhere.
The entire time, command plagued us.
“We’ll let you know.”
“Anything? We gotta find it.”
“Damnit, we’re looking.”
Every fifteen or twenty minutes command came into the bedroom where we worked and demanded their evidence. They gave us space, but an oddly constricted space. It was nerve-wracking and made my job that much harder.
Eventually, we closed the bedroom door and forced command to stay out. We got through the sons’ toys…no kiddie porn (though massive amounts of adult porn). We got through the visitor’s toys…no kiddie porn.
Then we started on Daddy’s toys, beginning with Daddy’s brand new, high-powered computer.
And two hours later had found nothing.
“Damnit,” the primary investigator said. “He was trading on-line last night.” He stormed through the bedroom. “Where is it?”
The main computer forensics guy shook his head. “He’s used a cleaner.”
“There are file names that indicate possible child porn, but no actual files. He’s cleaned this computer. There’s nothing here.”
“Are you saying I have to let this guy go? I know he’s dirty.”
“You may know it…but we can’t prove it.”
The entire team stood in that cramped bedroom now. No one said anything. This forensics guy was the best in the state. Everyone used him, from Springfield all the way up Interstate 55 to Chicago. There simply was no one better and he was coming up dry.
The Commander sighed. “Pack it in, boys. We’re done.”
“Hang on,” the computer guy said. “I think I’ve got an idea. Might be a shitty one, though.”