I made my way down to the basement of the old building. There used to be a lot of activity there during the day, sort of like the secret facility beneath Disneyland.
There were three locker rooms, a lab for the evidence technicians, a property storage area, evidence lockers, a briefing room with a small kitchen, showers, a report writing room, an equipment locker, offices for the chaplain and community service officers, a small room where SWAT stowed their gear, a passageway for prisoners being escorted to the court next door and a fully functional 25-yard shooting range.
The facility was built during the Cold War, so it was designed to serve as an emergency operations center for civil defense. Today, the faded red signs on the doors still indicate each room had a dual purpose. The men's shower was the "C.D. Decontamination" room. Our briefing room was the "E.O.C. Dining and Recreation" area. The shooting range was the "City Council Emergency Operations" room.
The watch commanders stood at a small podium in the squad room as they briefed the oncoming shifts back then. You would often hear prisoners shuffling down the hallway outside as bailiffs escorted them to and from the court next door.
The watch commander would pause and let the orange clad defendants walk by the open door before resuming his briefing. The prisoner in red was usually by himself at the end of the line. His wardrobe indicated he was in protective custody.
It was always interesting when you made eye contact with someone you had arrested a few weeks ago on their way to court for a preliminary hearing.
SWAT kept their equipment, including all of their weapons, in a closet near the squad room.
If we were called out to an emergency, the first team members to arrive at the station had to spend several minutes lugging everyone else's gear and guns, as well as their own, up to the big white delivery van in the back lot. It required several nearly out of control dashes up and down the stairs.
Now the team has an equipment vehicle that is driven to the incident without delay. Team members drive directly to the scene without having to come to the station.
There used to be silver ashtrays the size of small footballs protruding from the walls in the basement. People actually smoked in the building once upon a time. The ashtrays were eventually replaced with signs that indicated the City Council had passed a no smoking ordinance and you'd better take your cigarette outside.
There are still things in the basement of that show us how much times have changed. The tile and doors in the men's restroom near the main locker room are blue. The décor in the women's restroom is pink.
I checked the room where my locker used to be. Sadly, the lockers are all gone.
The outside of the lockers always reflected the personalities of the people who kept their gear stored inside. Nicknames like "Doom," "Painless" and "Dog Face" were on the doors.
Bumper stickers ranged from the Good Sam's Club to the Dallas Cowboys to the Joker. There were pictures of the officers' children. One employee's locker showed he was an avid hunter and fisherman. At last count, he had pictures of 32 dead animals taped to the outside of his locker.
The room now serves as a storage area for the shooting range. There are wooden target stands piled here and there. The range is still open and we use it to qualify with our handguns every quarter.
I saw there was still a small hole in the air conditioning duct near the ceiling in the locker room. It was a reminder of how an officer learned he had to be a bit more careful when it came time to hang his gun in his locker. There were no injuries.
I remembered one of my first shifts as a solo officer many years ago. I'd made it through the training program and was heading out on my own on the graveyard shift.
I was using a lint brush to tidy up my uniform when an old veteran officer walked into the locker room. He'd been on the department for a long time and the years had taken their toll.
If you came in after he had hit the street, it always looked like a snake had shed its skin on the long bench near his locker. His clothes were spread out from one end to the other. His worn cowboy boots were at one end, his old blue jeans were next to them, then his collared shirt, finally his t-shirt. He'd been through so much over the years and he had earned the right to dominate the bench.
I nodded at him as he came into the room and went back to preparing my uniform. I could feel him looking at me and, after a few seconds, I got up enough nerve to look over at him.
He smiled and growled, "You'll stop doin' that after a year, rookie." Emphasis on "rookie." So much for fatherly advice.
I never found what I was looking for in the old police building. The hallways are silent, the furniture is gone and the locks have been changed. The place that once pulsed with the energy of a lot of good folks trying to keep Lodi safe now waits patiently for a new life.
Those people are gone now but their spirit will always be in that building … and the new one across the street.
Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at firstname.lastname@example.org; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.