C.R.U.S.H. (Part I)

Five months ago, two black homicide detectives got fed up with the Police Department's inaction on black-on-black murders. Thus was born the Crime Response Unit to Stop Homicide (CRUSH): six cops with the grit and guile to tackle the toughest cases in the

But CRUSH's main purpose goes beyond solving the 33 cases. Hendrix and Saunders know that the Police Department needs to weave itself into the fabric of life in the southeast part of the city. It might take years, they concede. But if peace is to be brought to that wide, forgotten swath of San Francisco, cops are going to have to show that they give a damn, that killings, no matter how sordid, will not be forgotten.

Imparting that to the community is perhaps CRUSH's most critical task. Once the message is anchored, law-abiding residents might just begin to see the police as approachable public servants.

But the CRUSH team is dogged by a twin paradox: To regain their footing, the officers will have to begin by vindicating the memory of dead killers, dead rapists, and dead drug dealers. And to make progress on the cases, the team has to apply substantial pressure to witnesses, informants, and suspects -- actions that could exasperate rather than dispel the antipathy and distrust the community feels for the police.

Team members gather around a table to discuss the day's work, as they do every day at noon. They convene in a locker/meeting room adjacent to the Bureau of Inspectors offices on the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice. The room is coldly institutional. Oddly matched lockers line the walls. A blackboard on the back wall bears the crude illustration of an intersection where a crime occurred. The table is covered with warrants, mug shots, and police reports. Deputy Chief Fred Lau walks through on the way to his office next door. "Hey, chief!" the men shout out.

Around the table sit:
Officer Maurice Edwards. Studiously reading a report, Edwards is removed from the clubby banter around the table. The 17-year veteran is fondly referred to by his teammates as "Maurice the police" or simply "Mo." He's the newest member on the team, and everyone is still getting used to his pace, which is slower and more measured than his colleagues'.

Inspector McMillan. Called "Mac" or "Max" by cops and criminals alike, he leans back in his chair and listens. He is taciturn but friendly, the wisest member of the team. He also has the most experience, 18 years, all of it in the southeast sector. He calls himself a "black man trapped in a white Irishman's body." (Hendrix endorses that assessment. "He's black out there," he says.) "If they put me out in the avenues, I'd just get in fights. I love the people out here," Mac says, referring to the southeast. While some team members have a tendency to wind people up, Mac puts them at ease. He chills them out. I will learn later that Mac is a sentimental family man who carries scores of photos of his three children in his wallet and is prone to teary revelry when drinking. He has also been known to do karaoke versions of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." He handles the high part.

Officer Philpott. The youngest member of the team, he laughs off a reference to a date he had over the weekend. "Let's just say I made out well for myself," he says. Philpott is Irish San Francisco to the core. In the fourth grade, he campaigned for Dan White -- for a free lunch at Mickey D's, he stresses. He comes from a cop family. Aside from his father, Deputy Chief Diarmuid Philpott, his brother, Brian, is an officer at Southern Station and his sister, Teresa, is the secretary in the narcotics division. His slightly flattened nose testifies to his former boxing career. Pot, as he's called, illustrates his phi-losophy of life by frequently repeating a line from The Last Waltz. "I just want to break even," he says, quoting Richard Manuel, the Band's late piano player: His romantic adventures and misadventures are a frequent topic of conversation, especially his crush on Van Morrison's daughter, Shannon, whose band plays at Ireland's 32. "I'm going to be calling Van 'Dad' by Christmas," he says. Pot is prone to bearhugs when drinking and recently bruised Mac's chest while trying to squeeze him out of a cocktail-inspired funk.

Officer Michael Bolte. Fiddling with the straps on his bulletproof vest, he passes photos of suspects across the table to another team member. Bolte is 10 years in the department, and sometimes he's not too happy about it. "If I won the Lotto, I'd just say, 'Fuck it,' " he says one day. Bolte is pissed about the department's reputation for brutality and misconduct, which he thinks is unfairly earned. He constantly harps on the Office of Citizen Complaints and defense attorneys. "It really gets to me," he says of the media's portrayal of the department. On duty, Bolte is one big twitch, crackling with energy for the job. His hands knife the air when he makes his points. But his most notable physical attribute is his constantly arching left eyebrow. His eyes are like icy fire. "He wants to be in on every arrest," Hendrix says. Bolte has the kind of computerized memory for detail that helps break cases. Entering a potential witness' home, within moments he's boring into his subjects by citing who has had a kid with whom and where so-and-so lived back when he was selling drugs for what's his name.

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