Prevention Force

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Chapter 8

A poutine foodtruck is parked in front of Spot coffee. Six people craving fried starch wait in line. Hidden inside is the vehicle is the command center of the PU, Panhandler Unit, walls lined with surveillance equipment. The team consists of Smoob, Hatch, and a rookie, who are listening to the slurred speech of a woman across the street, being picked up from the directional microphone on top of the truck. Her 55-year-old ruddy, swollen face is topped by a winter cap. She stands in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing people to go around.

The space is cramped for Smoob, in headphones, heading the unit. “Good old Candy. Busting her paid for my new den.” Behind ursa major’s head is a poster reading, “A society’s greatness is measured by how it treats its poorest.”

Outside, a man in a three-piece suit and leather shoes walks past Candy quickly. She garbles, “Can you help me out?” He doesn’t slow down. She mumbles angrily. An old guy in chain clothing and a ponytail comes along. “Excuse me sir, could you help me?” He stops, unsure what to make of her. “I’m hungry. Could you please help me out with some change?”

The man pats his pockets and says, “Sorry I don’t have anything.” Smiles kindly and walks away clinking.

The rookie asks Smoob, “I heard you glued somebody.”

“It was glorious. I love the smell of glue in the morning.”

Candy accosts another ten passersby. A lady gives her a $200 Harriet Tubman bill. A guy gives her a $100 Bobcat Goldthwait bill. These people’s identities are noted, to be tracked down later.

Hatch says, “Boy she must really be hungry. That’s enough right there for several meals.”

The camera zooms in on the serial numbers of the bills. They will be traced.”

The rookie squawks, “Look at her go. She’s already taken in more than I do in a whole day.”

“Excuse me sir. I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

Hatch raises his eyebrows. “Add another count of fraud to the list.”

A nude man walks by.

She blurts out, “I’m homeless.”

The young man politely suggests she go to the Open Door Mission.

She yells back harshly, “My father didn’t love me either!”

Smoob tells the rookie to make another note. “Verbal harassment and non sequitur.”

Then an elderly woman in a hoop skirt passes by.

“Please help me. I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

“I can buy you a meal, dear.” They walk together into Spot.

The rookie cries, “She’s going to eat again?!”

Spot Coffee is located in a building that use to be a Chevrolet dealership in the 1950s, back when such places were like luxurious palaces. Ornate art deco style. Polished chrome siding. Giant round windows that fill floor to ceiling.

Inside, an enormous portrait of the building fills an entire wall. Crystal chandeliers hang from the 100 foot ceiling. People work on laptops, meet with business colleagues, and gather with their families.

Candy approaches the cashier and barks, “I want a cheese omelette with onions and potato chips and a large coffee.”

Her patron saint takes out her credit card.

“And a piece of chocolate cake.”

Hands it to the clerk.

“And a ham sandwich.”

The generous woman laughs. “Okay. Okay.”

Inside the truck, the rookie shakes his head. “Greedy.”

Candy commands rudely, “And no onions.”

Smoob adds, “And no manners. Make a note of that. Don’t worry. We’re going to make her watch every one of these videos during behavior therapy.”

While waiting for the order, Candy goes to the condiment bar, and takes a five inch wad of napkins and a handful of jelly packets. She grumbles to herself angrily. Has trouble finding the silverware. Puts cream and sugar in her coffee, spilling both all over. The sugar dispenser says, “Warning: You have exceeded the daily recommended serving.”

“No one asked you!”

The assistant manager, a young lady with purple hair and pandas on her sweatpants comes to wipe it up.

Candy yells at her, “I was abused.”

She replies politely, “You’re going to have to wait outside. Okay?”

“I want to eat it here.”

“You have to take it to go.”

She mumbles something nasty, and leaves.

“We’ll bring it out to you.”

Candy sits at the outside tables. Her food comes. She spills a lot. A group of college kids pass by. “Excuse, me could you help me out with some change. I haven’t eaten in days.” Sauce all over her face.

They laugh and keep walking.

The rookie says, “That’s her eighth breakfast in the last two hours.”

“Yeah, but she spills 80% of it.”

She gets up, leaves a total mess, and crosses paths with another passerby. “Please ma’am, could you help me out. I haven’t eaten all day.”

The woman sees the crumbs on her face and onion on her shirt and keeps walking, containing a smirk.

Another passerby says, “I don’t give money, but I can buy you something to eat.”

“I don’t like that food. Can you give me some money?”

“I’m sorry.” She walks away.

“[email protected]# you, b%^&.”

The rookie is chomping at the bit. “That’s two counts of harassment. Can we grab her?”

Smoob calms his with a wave of her paw. “Let’s give her a little more rope.”

“Please ma’am, I’m hungry.”

Another woman, who took it upon herself without even being asked, comes out with a styrofoam container and hands it to Candy. “Here you go. A delicious pita sandwich.”

Candy smacks it out of her hand onto the ground. “I said money!”

Hatch says, “That’s it. We got her on littering. Pick her up.”

The rookie jumps out. “All right. That’s it. Let’s go.”

“F$%^ you, b^%$. Take your hands off me.” He’s ten feet away. She runs.

Smoob commands, “Let her go.”

The rookie throws up his hands dumbfounded.

Candy gets five feet before tripping over herself.

“Okay. Now.”

The rookie and Hatch advance. Candy realizes they’re going to arrest her and starts screaming.

The rookie says, “You have a right to remain silent.”

She waives that right with a loud string of curses.

“What did I just say?”

Smoob says kindly, “Take it easy. We’re trying to help you.”

“My brothers and sisters are all against me!”

The rookie takes out a long box of cellophane, struggles to put it on the fighting woman, rolls it around her a couple of times and cuts it with the jagged edge of the box. They sit the squirming spring roll on a bench. She yells, swears, kicks, and spits.

Bystanders watch, listen, chuckle, and comment as she rages non-stop for twenty minutes. “She did this to herself.”

“She’s got a pretty good set of lungs.”

“She’ll get the help she needs.”

The happy wagon comes and takes her away.

As soon as she’s gone, another legend in the Panhandlers Hall of Fame fills the gap, Shuffles, so-called because he scurries in short fast steps. In his sixties, short, pants torn. He’s been expertly navigating the crowds for years. Knows how to go into a coffee shop and hit up all the tables before the managers sees him and tells him to leave for the fifth time that day. He goes straight up to a group of men in suits, and mumbles, “Spare some change? I’m homeless.”

“Why don’t you go to the Open Door Mission, buddy?”

“They beat me up there. I can’t go there.” He whimpers and holds out his shaky callused hand.

The guy puts his arm on his hip, pulling aside his jacket to reveal the handcuffs on his waistband. Without a moment’s hesitation Shuffles turns and walks away from the group of undercover detectives over to the display case. He whines loudly to the worker behind the counter, “Buy me a cup of coffee?”

“You can’t be in here.”

He leans in. “I’m not doing anything,” sneaks a bag of chocolate- covered nuts from the shelf to his pocket and scurries, mumbling, out the door.

At a table is Sketch Guy. He draws people in the coffee shop for five minutes, then goes over and hands the portrait to them. Most are flattered. Then he asks for a donation.

“This is very nice.” He pats his pockets. “Unfortunately I don’t have any cash on me.”

Sketch Guy points out the ATM machine. The guy withdraws a$200 and gives it to him.

He does another sketch and hands it to the person who responds, “Sorry buddy, you’ve already drawn me twice before.”

Calendar Guy is there too, going from table to table offering six-month-old calendars for sale.

Outside on the sidewalk, a tall curly-haired Eastman student holding a trombone case is being worked by The Professional, who is dressed in office casual shirt with khaki pants and nice shoes. He tells the young man about losing his job, how he normally doesn’t do this sort of thing but is desperate, and that anything he could spare would be appreciated so much, just as he has been telling it for years. The student fishes a $200 out of his pocket and heads to class. The Professional thanks him, signals his buddy across the street, then starts off in the direction of the crack house. The second panhandler runs up ahead to intercept the kid at the next corner.

The surveillance van turns its camera towards Arena’s. Exotic flowers, and attractive home furnishings can be seen through the display window, a carved lion, a two-foot-tall amethyst geode. In front of the store a man with bushy hair is yelling loudly and incomprehensibly, roaming the sidewalk aimlessly.

They scan him. His rap sheet and medical records pop up.

The rookie asks, “What about this guy?“

Smoob answers. “This is what psychosis, LSD, and cocaine does to a person. He has been treated many times.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“He likes coke.”

“Why don’t they give him the operation?”

“He’s been offered, but he refuses.” Smoob fills an air syringe with a beer colored liquid. “Okay let’s do this.”

Smoob and the rookie exit the truck and approach him. The subject gets loud, “No you don’t. Don’t even think about it.”

The rookie says from six feet away “How you doin’ today, Rodney?”

He flails his arms violently.

“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Take it easy. You have a right to remain silent. Do you understand?”

He yells something incomprehensible and charges at them.

They each grab an arm.

He tries to break free.

The rookie shakes his arm. “Stop resisting!”

Smoob passes a wand over Rodney and reads the display. “Oh yeah. Someone got into the cookie jar again.” She gives Rodney an injection and he sobers up instantly.

He says soberly, “I’m okay.” They let him go and he walks away calmly.

The rookie asks, “That’s it?”

“It’s all we can do.”

“But he’s just going to end up right back here.”

“And so will we.”

Inside Spot three more panhandlers work the room. Flower Guy walks from table to table, not drawing attention, holding a bouquet. He approaches a group holding a business meeting. “Can I offer you beautiful ladies a flower?” He hands them out. Some are not sure how to react. One puts her hand on her chest, charmed. Another sizes up his dirty clothes and hands. The wilted flowers have stems only two inches long. He asks her, “Would you like to make a donation to breast cancer?”

The rookie says, “Breast cancer, huh. Can I bust him now for fraud?”

“Let’s see what he does. Maybe he’s going to drop the money off at Gilda’s Club. He didn’t the last ten times, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”

A couple of cops follow him to the liquor store, where he buys a bottle of Hennessy.

The uniform officer walks up to him. “You’ve got expensive taste.”

He looks him up and down. “Nothing but the best.”

The detective’s radio blares. “I thought you were going to donate that money to breast cancer?”

He grins and puts his head down and says somberly, “My mother died from breast cancer.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Where did you get these flowers?” They show a video of him picking them out of someone’s yard, and take him away. “I hope you like gardening. You’re going to be doing a lot of it.”

* * *

Back at the station they cut Candy out of her cocoon, and Smoob carries her by the scruff of the shirt, legs trying to run three feet off the ground, cursing like a possessed sailor.

Several cops say, “Hey Candy.” They all know her like an old coworker.

Hatch says, “You might as well relax, sugar. You’re not going anywhere. We’re gonna take real good care of you.” He sits her down, binds one wrist with e-tape, attaches it to the chair, and turns it on.

She barks, “They stole all my belongings!” In the late stages of alcohol psychosis, she’s been through rehab many times. She doesn’t want to change. All they can do is dry her out a little. Give her some fresh clothes. Be nice to her.

The captain sits with her. “I’m offering you a free apartment.”

“I don’t want it. I like the bridge.”


“I don’t like landlords. I like being free.”

“What about winter?”

“I can always stay at the shelter.”

“You’d rather stay at a shelter than have your own apartment?”

“They have coffee and donuts. Everyone knows me.”

“How about some new clothes at least?”


“We draw the line at asking people for money.” The captain fastens a string of pearls around Candy’s neck.

“What’s this?”

“You’ve been warned eleven times. Go ahead, ask me for money.”

Candy doesn’t understand.

“Ask me if I can spare some change.”

“Ca--” Her voice stops. She can’t speak. She holds her throat. “Get this thing off me.”

“We’re gonna try it for a week. If you learn your lesson, we’ll take it off. But after we remove it, we’ll still be listening, and the first time you accost someone, you’ll be right back here.”

“Can I go?”

The captain nods.

Hatch comes over. “Well chief. Looks like business is booming.”

“Where else can you make $2000 a day with no skills?”

“I don’t know, show business?”
“It was a rhetorical question.”

Humphries, a humanoid robot of chrome complexion in police uniform drags over a filthy guy, giggling like a moron.“This guy defecated on the sidewalk.”

The captain says, “Take him out there and make him clean it up.”

He stops giggling and they take him away.

She shouts, “And do a good job. I want to see my face in that sidewalk.”

The psychiatrist comes over.

The captain says, “What I can’t understand is why. If they wanted some crack, all they had to do was go to the dispensary. Why go around bothering people?”

“Some people like attention.”

“But we offer all kinds of social groups.”

“Some people don’t like structure.”

The captain watch one panhandler flops around on the floor wildly. “I guess not.”

Smoob brings another one over. “We picked him up for verbal obscenity.”

The man, suffering from schizophrenia, known as Pretty Tony, says, “I’m gonna lay some big d^#% on them b%^&*es. It might be the Royal Bethel Christian Holy Bible Child. I’ve got a big [email protected]# d%*&.” He laughs with his mouth open and tongue hanging out.

The captain cries, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Give him the bleeper.”

The psychiatrist puts it around his neck. “Unfortunately this man has an unusual case that doesn’t respond to the magnets.”

“I’m gonna lay some big (BLEEP) on them (BLEEP). I don’t know who that is. It might be the Royal Bethel Christian Holy Bible child. I’m gonna lay some big (BLEEP)(BLEEP) on them (BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP)”

“Okay, let him go.”

He goes, ranting and bleeping.

The rookie stands next to the captain taking in the scene of a room full of panhandlers. “What a mess.”

“You think this is bad? In the old days, we had to prosecute them all for tax evasion.”

“What’s that?”

“There used to be this thing called income tax. People were required to report their income. It was a totally corrupt system. That’s why we have universal sales tax.”

Nancy the file clerk, a petite woman in a pencil skirt and keds, comes over to the captain with a clipboard. “74 panhandlers were picked up in a two-hour sweep.”

The captain nods with satisfaction.

The clients wait to be processed in a pleasant lounge. Some benefit from social responsibility training. For others the answer is drug rehab, which means either abstinence or better drugs with fewer side effects. For others, Electronic Brain Stimulators do the trick. Those with suicidal tendencies are counseled. Those willing receive job training and placement.

Many choose not to change. All that can be done is to manage symptoms and prevent harm.

* * *

Another round of mass media PSAs goes out to educate the public:

Do not give money to panhandlers. Doing so makes you an accessory to a crime.

If someone asks you for help, refer them to the government dispensary for free counseling, food, shelter, and cash.

If you wish to donate money, please give it to a professional charitable organization.

Thank you.

* * *

Later that day Smoob takes the rookie aside. “We don’t do that.”


“You shook him.”

“It wasn’t hard.”

“Grabbing is one thing. But shaking is another.”

“He wasn’t harmed.”

“You shook his arm. The brain scan shows he suffered psychological trauma. You’ll have to take some remedial training.”

“Oh come on. You saw how that guy was. He was swinging his arms. He could have punched one of us.”

“It doesn’t matter. Our job is to prevent violence, not partake in it. Shaking leads to trauma which leads to escalation which leads to violence.”

“So I’m the one being punished?”

“This isn’t punishment. You’re going to receive training to improve your skills.”

* * *

The rookie is in a classroom among ten other trainees. A grainy film shows an old-time police officer with his knee on the neck of a man on the ground. Everyone gasps in horror.

“Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” The teacher takes his pointer and slaps each word on the cardboard poster mounted on an easel, stating in bold letters:


“Never harm a client. No matter how violent a subject becomes, there is ALWAYS a non-violent response.”

Two instructors in sweat clothes come out for the demonstrations. Many scenarios are played out where the attacker punches or slaps in various ways. The trainer shows how to sidestep and deflect each kind of attack, and the proper way to restrain without harm.

The trainees practice the moves on each other.

* * *

Healy is in the statistics department, waiting for the results of the panhandler sweep to come out the printer. She flips through the stack of pages going straight to the responsibility analysis. Her eyes scan down to the line for Unexplained Variance. “Twelve percent?!” She bites her lip, and a look of determination sets on her face as the wheels of her mind spin.

Elizabeth comes over. “How did I guess you were going to be here?”

“Look at this. Why is it so high?”

“That’s how random error works. Sometimes it’s low, and sometimes it’s high.” She smiles.

Healy says sternly, “12% is unexplained and you’re laughing about it? Something is going on, and I’m going to find out what it is.” Her eyes dart back and forth.

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