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

CRUSH's favorite targets are people who lost their Fourth Amendment rights when they agreed to parole or probation conditions that allow police to detain and search them without cause.

Dealers and users are good marks, too. They're most likely holding, and a cop can say -- truthfully or not -- that he or she has seen a drug deal go down and use that as cause to detain and search them. If drugs are found or if the police perform a warrant check and discover a suspect is wanted by the court, they have the necessary leverage to go to work. And work means milking the dealers and users for information, putting the pressure on, cutting deals, and turning them into snitches. Cops call them confidential informants. Makes 'em sound more respectable.

At Turk and Leavenworth, Nash and Lozada spot a drug deal going down, a young woman passing crack from her mouth to the mouth of a young man. Nash jumps from the unmarked squad car, a filthy maroon Olds, and grabs the girl around her neck from behind before she knows what's going on. He tries to open her mouth, but she resists. The struggle becomes almost violent, and Nash has wrestled her nearly to the ground before she stops resisting. "Open your mouth," he yells.

"I ain't got no dope," she mumbles furiously between clenched teeth.
Nash gives up, apparently not wanting to escalate the wrestling match, and lets the girl swallow. "It was candy," she says.

He opens her mouth and shows me white specks on her cheek wall. "See there, there's some of it."

"I was being nice to you," Nash says. "But you're a liar, girl, a liar from your mama's womb."

In the meantime, Lozada has detained the woman's male companion and called in a warrant check over a cellular phone. Coming up cold, Lozada has to release him.

The girl, Tara Glenn, tells Nash she's 19. No warrants come up on her. "Damn man," she says, leaning against a car. "You really had me." She's smiling because she knows she can't be arrested.

"You like that feeling, huh?" Lozada asks her. "Like rough sex."
Getting back in the car, Nash issues a parting warning. "You made your money today, now get off of my turf. I don't like it when I don't get dope. Come back tomorrow."

On Eddy, Nash sees a pregnant woman walking down the street with a group of men. "Go home," he yells at her from the car window. "What are you doing out here smoking cigarettes, hanging out. Give that baby a chance."

Minutes later, as we launch onto 280 at Brannan and Sixth Street, Nash goes into a stirring rendition of Malcolm X's speech: "You who slick back your hair with pomade and hit your women like a dog. You call yourself a man."

Heading to Potrero Hill the conversation suddenly turns to boogers. Nash tells Lozada about an old friend of his named Ronnie Rat who picked his nose in a friend's car and wiped it on the seat. "Why didn't he roll it up between his fingers and fling it out the window?" Lozada asks in all seriousness.

"I don't know," Nash says.
We exit the freeway at 18th Street and drive over the peak to the Potrero Hill projects. All the children returning from school stop and stare at the car. You can almost hear it in their heads: "5/0," the universal appellation for police.

"Hey where's the R.I.P. [graffiti] for Ronnie Hodges?" Nash asks a laid-back kid with dreads. "I'm glad as a motherfucker he's dead," the kid says. Nash just laughs.

Lozada sees a guy sitting in a car who he knows to have a felony warrant. "Want to get him?" he asks Nash.

After a head nod, they roust him from the car, cuff him, and put him in the back seat of the Olds.

Nash goes to work. "You know Jerry Banks. He just smoked Ronnie."
The man, who with his close-cropped hair and gold-rimmed Lennon glasses looks like he could be a lawyer or a professor, asks, "What are we talking about?"

Lozada leans over the back seat and cuts the crap. "Put him down somewhere." (Translation: Give us an address.)

Nash clarifies, as if the situation weren't already clear. "It's let's-make-a-deal time. You like freedom? Know about anything else. Guns? Drugs?"

"Check this out," the man, who is wanted for parole violations, says. "All I know about that boy is he lay sometime in the Fillmore on McAllister, where his mom is."

The felony warrant is too good to let the man go, so Nash and Lozada drop him off at Potrero Station. "I ain't tripping," the parole violator says as they lead him into the station. "I'll see you out there again in 60 days anyway. But you could have at least let me stay out for my birthday."

Most of the time while I was riding with CRUSH, the unit respected the Fourth Amendment rights of people they rousted. They were mindful of reasonable suspicion and probable cause standards when they detained and searched someone. But sometimes, in the legitimate pursuit of killers, they appeared to cross the line.

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