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Standing Orders

by Michael Z. Williamson


Officer James Rogers sipped his coffee and waited for roll call.  He hated getting up early, but it was part of the job.  Theoretically, one got used to it, but ten years of service hadn’t enabled him to do that.  The door opened and he hurried to stand to attention, beating the rush.  Not only the shift supervisor, but the Chief was coming in. 

Must be a chewing out, he thought.  He was wrong.

The Chief was four minutes into his statements before Rogers figured out what he was saying.  Then he had to run it through again to believe what he was hearing.

“--the law required everyone to turn in handguns or military style weapons.  So far, over three hundred thousand have.  But there are six hundred thousand registered weapons, and the Attorney General believes the actual number is five or six times higher.  That last bit is not for public statement, by the way.  We don’t want people scared by the idea that their neighbor might have a gun.”

“So, effective today, we are going to be taking a proactive role in seizing illegal weapons.  Any call to a residence will be used as an opportunity to search for weapons, simply to protect the officer and the householder.  We’ve got a list of areas to hit hard, and also a list of suspected possessors of illegal weapons.  We’ll be hitting those houses and searching them--you have a question officer--?” the Chief prompted Rogers.

“James Rogers, Sir,” he replied, standing.  Are you saying we have warrants for several thousand homes?”

“I’m saying we’re going to search those homes, Rogers.”

“But, Chief, we can’t just enter a residence because we feel like it.  There’s a civil rights--”

“What do you suggest, Officer?  Do you expect me to stand in front of a judge with ten thousand requests?  Do you expect us to dig up a file on every single gun nut in this town and ask permission to be allowed to search their house?  Do you think we’re going to knock on their doors and ask them ‘pretty please give us your guns?’”

He couldn’t believe he was hearing this.  “Yes, Sir, that’s exactly what I expect.”  He flushed red at the gales of laughter, partly in embarrassment, partly in rage.

“Well, in the real world, Son, we have a job to do,” the Chief said, chuckling.  “And we aren’t wasting our time with any of that constitution and civil rights crap when public safety is at stake.  Every last one of these people is a felon, and they are to be stopped.  End of discussion.  That reminds me, if you respond on a domestic and they refuse to allow you in, that will be used as probable cause for an officer-initiated probable cause search...yes, Rogers?”

“Sir, you can’t do that!  You’re arguing that anyone who won’t let us in is guilty--”

“They are!” the old man snapped back.

“But, Sir--”

“Just shut up and follow your goddam orders, Officer, or you’ll be ticketing cars.  Now then--”

James sat silently, fuming, heart pounding, trying not to weep in rage and frustration.  This couldn’t be happening.  But it was.

He made his way to the front after the Chief finished.  He knew what he had to do.  He didn’t have to like it.

“Yes, Rogers?” the Chief asked, looking exasperated.

That look changed to shock when James handed over his gun and badge.  “I cannot in good conscience accept an order to violate civil rights.  I respectfully refuse to accept this order, and demand an inquiry by the state,” he said.

The Chief’s mouth worked silently for a few seconds.  Finally, he said, “How about you just take your cowardly ass home and stay there, and we’ll just pretend you never were here?  Meanwhile, officers with guts will enforce the law.”  He turned away.

“Chief, I--” Rogers began.

“Do not speak to me! Just DO NOT speak to me!” was the response from the turned back.

Eyes blurring, James faced the Captain, who snorted and looked away.  After a few seconds of uncomfortable stares, he sought the door by touch.

Lisa was shocked, but understanding, and Jenny simply crawled into his lap and said, “Love you, Daddy.”  Thank God for the uncomplicated honesty of a two year old.  She didn’t care why he was home, just that she had him to snuggle with.  That wasn’t going to pay the bills, though, and he was the only wage earner.  They’d decided when Jenny was born that for Lisa to work was enough to pay for child care and taxes and very little else.  Far better that she stay home and raise the child properly and save them the paperwork at tax time.

“Can’t you get a security guard job?” Lisa asked, trying to help.

“Not with a black mark from the department,” he replied, shaking his head.  “I can’t do much with that.  Nothing to do with money, or security, or anything that has to be secure.  As far as anyone is concerned, I may as well be a felon.”  Worse, he thought, for at least a felon got a trial.

That evening, a pounding on the door disturbed his moping.  He answered it, and found four officers in riot gear on his stoop.  “Step aside, Buddy,” one of them said, shoving him.  “You got any guns in here?”

“No,” he replied.  “I turned mine into the Chief.”  Calm down, he thought to himself.  Calm down or get beat up for resisting.

“And you never had a holdout or throwdown, you’re saying?” was the mocking reply.


“Well,” the SWAT officer laughed.  “We have a by-the-book kind of guy here.”  The others laughed with him.  “Well then, let’s do a courtesy the book, of course.”

Thirty minutes later, he stood in the shambles of his living room.  All furniture had been upended and slashed, the bookshelf dumped across the floor and books stepped on.  DVDs were strewn and broken under foot, including Jenny’s Pooh Singalong.  She held the broken plastic and said, “Dad, fix!”  He couldn’t raise his voice enough to tell her he couldn’t, and she clung to him in fear.  Lisa was sobbing in the kitchen, and pans clattered as she tried to create some semblance of order.  James realized he’d need to get a bucket for the waterbed, then blow up an air mattress for two, well, three, as scared as Jenny was, to sleep on.  If they could sleep.

At least he had things to keep him busy, he thought the next morning, reinflating his spare tire with a foot pump.  They’d let the air out to search, along with slashing the van’s upholstery, dumping out all his tools in the garage, ripping open the washer and dryer.  Very efficient squad, he thought, and thorough.  If he’d had a holdout gun, he shuddered to think what might have happened.  He looked at the tools again.  His torque wrench was missing, along with the level he’d gotten from his grandfather.  He’d have to see what else was missing, then bundle up the remains to be sold at the pawn shop.  There was almost no food left, especially after the goons dumped all the containers in the fridge looking for his non-existent gun.  He wondered what type of gun was supposed to fit in a milk carton.  And what Jenny was supposed to drink.  He knew at least two of those guys had kids.  How could they act like this?

I’ll never ask again why people go on shooting sprees, he thought.  They may not be legal or moral, but I understand the level of anger and pain.

That night there came another pounding.  Jenny wailed and ran into the kitchen, and Lisa ran after to calm the terrified child.  She hadn’t slept the night before, and probably wouldn’t tonight.

He answered it, expecting another squad of thugs, and saw Billy Gomez, one of his shift mates, standing there.  “What’s up, Gomez?” he asked, feeling relief that it was only one person. 

Gomez snarled and tossed a newspaper at him.  “My partner was shot this morning when we went into a house.”  He spun on his heel and stomped away.  “Thanks for backing me up, friend.

They were down to rice, noodles, and a couple of cans of soup in the pantry.  He couldn’t worry about it, but felt he had to.  A trip to the food bank was the next option, or maybe one of the churches.  One had already told him that anyone who “supported criminals” wouldn’t get help from them.

Finally, there was an interview.  Channel 8 was coming over, and he would get a chance to tell his side.  Maybe someone would take pity on his child.  He assumed he had no support coming.

The press was on schedule, and he had the door open and waiting.  Jenny couldn’t handle knocking noises of any kind now.  He invited them in, and watched and waited while they plugged lights and cameras into kits and told him where to sit.  Then they began.

“I’m Shirley Adams with Channel Eight.  As I speak, the police continue with their tireless sweep to confiscate illegal weapons and arrest those people who have refused to comply with the law.  So far, there have been three thousand homes checked--” she didn’t say “raided”-- “for weapons, more than two hundred arrests, six shootouts and seven officers shot, two of them killed.  While surveys continue to show that most people support the safety measures, Councilman Gunn, who Jeff just spoke with, and his group of self-proclaimed civil rights activists are still fighting for a Supreme Court hearing on the issue.  The prosecutor and the mayor insist that the searches will continue until and unless the Supreme Court issues an order to stop, and says that the District Court’s order suspending the searches is quote, invalid and without legal merit, unquote.

“Gunn’s group is at least peaceful.  There are others who have taken to the rooftops and streets to obstruct traffic and business, and as my earlier numbers show, several have taken the law into their own hands to shoot police for enforcing the law.

“Now we’ll hear from one officer who supports these vigilantes.  Officer James Rogers was ordered to turn in his badge three weeks ago after refusing to obey his orders to seize illegal weapons from this lunatic fringe.”  While James gaped in shock at her statement, she turned to face him.  “So, you’re afraid to enforce the law because you might get hurt, is that it?  Didn’t you know it was dangerous to be a police officer?” she baited.

“I’ve got a Purple Heart from a shootout three years ago.  I’m not afraid.  But I’ll tell you who is:  these gutless little jerks who whine, ‘it’s my job to follow orders.’  That’s what the Nazis said, too,” he said, anger building.

“How dare you compare our police department, which has been cited by the State for excellence, to Nazis?” she asked, shocked.

This wasn’t coming across right, he realized.  Dammit, I should never have agreed to an interview.  “That’s what they said.  That they were following orders.  If we get orders to shoot traffic offenders, would you want us to do that, too?”

“Don’t you agree there’s a difference between a traffic offender and a person with an arsenal of military weapons?”

He wanted to argue, but realized anything he said would be misused.

“I don’t know,” he said sadly.  “I’m doing what I think is right, and paying the price for it.  That’s fair enough.  But Jenny’s the one who’ll suffer because of it.”

“And you think you need to make her suffer so you can prove a point?  A point that no one else agrees with?”

“Damn you!  I’m not making her suffer, the Chief is!  I told him I’d take any assigned tasks, but that I wouldn’t violate people’s rights by kicking in their doors!” Jim snapped.  He was getting very angry with these ghouls.

“But isn’t it your job to enforce the law and follow orders?  You can’t just pick and choose which orders to follow,” she asked.

“Have you ever had a warning for speeding?” he asked.


“Then that officer chose not to enforce the law by ticketing you.  And that was a very minor matter.  This is a matter of a person’s right to live unmolested.  There’s no warrant to seize property without compensation that’s Constitutionally valid,” he said.

“I think it’s up to the courts to decide what’s Constitutional, Mister Rogers.”  She replied.

He awoke at 8 to a knock at the door.  He dragged on a robe and stumbled bleary-eyed to get it.  What now?  Another reporter?  Another officer to insult him?

He saw no one through the glass, and opened the heavy wooden door carefully.  All that was there was a box.  It was open at the top, and wasn’t a bomb or anything else threatening.  Instead, it contained groceries.  Milk, bread, meat, frozen vegetables, salad, fruit, cookies, diapers for Jenny, and a six pack of beer.  There was no note, and no one in sight.  After a few moments of pondering, he dragged it in, spirits cheered slightly.

The mail arrived at 11.  Bills, circulars, and a hand-written envelope with no return address.  It contained a money order for $500.

Well, this was getting interesting, he thought.  Lisa cashed the money order and took care of some bills.  He stayed home, spirits raised.  Perhaps there were some good people left.

That night, he jumped out of bed to a loud crash.  Grabbing a ball bat, the only weapon he had, he made his way flat along the walls.  The living room window was broken, as he’d suspected.  On the floor was a rock with a note taped to it.  “Another officer died today, you traitor.”  It was unsigned.  At least it was a rock.  It could have been a Molotov.

Lisa was sitting upright and shaking when he went back to the bedroom.  “W-what was that?” she asked, eyes like saucers.  Jenny was screaming again.

“A message,” he said.  “I’ll stay up.  You go to sleep.”

He spent the day taping cardboard over the window and trying to get a police report filed.  Dispatch kept getting “disconnected” when he was on hold.  He gave up and took a nap to recover from his exhausting vigil the night before.  In truth, it had been more outrage and fear keeping him awake than the ability to do anything.  He ate a sandwich, drank a beer--thoughtful gesture on someone’s part, that--and wondered what the evening would hold.  The news was full of reports on the day’s activities.  One officer wounded, one gunowner shot dead, and a dozen arrests of people who refused to comply with the law.  Sirens could be heard even at this late hour.  There’d also been a handful of liquor and convenience store robberies.  Councilman Gunn made a brief, snide comment that if the police weren’t repressing honest citizens, they might have the manpower to do something about it.  That got him jeers from the press and the Chief, but it was true, Jim thought.  Gunn also mentioned the rocks that had come through both his and Jim’s windows.

About thirty minutes later, there came the sound of voices, car doors and a vehicle driving away.  Jim sighed, grabbed his bat and went to the door, leaving the lights out.  He cracked it and looked out.

Two men, one in his twenties, one retiree, dressed in military field jackets and jeans, were flanking his driveway.  Both nodded briefly, faced the street, and stood to parade rest.  They held bats, also.

When he woke at 6, they were still there.  A car came by to pick them up shortly, and no one mentioned the brief shouts and squealing tires that had occurred around 3am.  There were no more holes in his windows, however.

At 8 o’clock a truck pulled up.  “On-site Glass Repair.”  The weather worn driver asked, “Are you Jim Rogers?”

“Yes, Sir?” he answered.

“Got a work order here to fix your window.  Just need you to sign.”  He held out a clipboard.

“Um...I can’t afford it right now.  Thanks, but...” he tapered off, embarrassed.

“It’s prepaid.  Got the request in our box this morning, with a money order.  Said to give you the change.”  The man handed over eighty-seven dollars and some coins.  He signed in silence.

He showered, dressed, and went back out to examine the repair.  There was another carton of food on the porch.  “Who brought that?” he asked the window man.

“No idea,” was the response.  “Some lady pulled up in a minivan, her kids got out and left this here, then left.  I thought it was just a delivery.”

The mail the next day contained a receipt for his mortgage payment.  He hadn’t made a mortgage payment, as he had no money.  More friendly gremlins.  That was offset by the official notice from the city that they were charging him with dereliction of duty and seeking all back wages as compensation, plus punitive damages and legal fees.  He called Councilman Gunn.

“Officer Rogers!” he was greeted cordially.  “You seem to be something of a focal point in these proceedings.”

“Sure am,” he agreed.  “And it’s “Mr,” not “Officer” anymore, Councilman.”

“It’s “Officer” as far as I’m concerned, Sir,” the young man replied.  “What’s appalling is that you’re the only real one on the force.”

“Well, thanks,” he replied, embarrassed.  “These friends of yours who are helping me out...who are they?”

Gunn chuckled.  “I have no idea, Sir.  Same group that fixed my window and was guarding my driveway.  Is that the group you mean?”

“Yes,” he agreed.  “And brought me groceries and money.”

“This gets better all the time!” Gunn laughed.

They agreed to stay in contact and exchange information.  He took a glance out the repaired window as he went to bed, confirming that his volunteer sentries, this time a different retiree and a husky woman, were in place.

The mail two days after that had another legal notice.  He tore it open in disgust, and scanned the page.  Then he read it again.

It directed him to forward all legal correspondence to the Karlson law office on a pro bono basis.  It also informed him that if he needed legal relief for any cause that a substantial retainer was on file for use at his discretion.

That evening, after another interview with Channel 8, he got a call.  “Jim, it’s Doug,” the caller said.  That would be Doug FitzGerald, from the motorcycle patrol.  They’d been friends at the academy, although it had been hard to stay in touch in different sections.

“Yeah, what’s up man?” he asked.  Doug sounded friendly enough.

“If someone wanted to get hold of these friends of would he go about it?” Was the cautious inquiry.

What he was really asking was if he could expect the same support.  “I dunno, Doug.  They seem to have ways.  I couldn’t tell you who they are.”

“Are they good people, Jim?”  The question hung in the air for several seconds.

“Very good people, Doug,” he assured him.


The next day, sixty officers called a press conference.  The local channels hastily cut into programming to show it, while their camera people worked frantically to hide cables in a borrowed church gym.  Jim was drinking the last of his six pack and watching TV with Jenny when it happened.  Lisa had gone to bed, exhausted from the stress.

Doug was the spokesman.  He looked nervous in the camera eye.  “When it comes right down to it,” he said, “our job is to stop criminals from hurting people.  ‘Serve and Protect,’ they tell us.  And breaking into people’s homes, harassing them or getting into shootouts isn’t serving and protecting.  A civilian friend of mine was killed two days ago because we were hassling gun owners and not keeping an eye on the liquor stores on 10th Street.  Another friend, a cop, was wounded because he got into a shootout with a former Marine who refused to turn in his competition rifle.  The Marine could have killed him, but said the war is between the Mayor and the people, and that we shouldn’t be involved.  We agree.

“We’re done with this.  If the Chief and the Mayor want us to, we’ll be glad to Serve and Protect.  If they want us to violate people’s rights and kick down doors, then they can have our badges,” he concluded.

“Any other comments, Officer FitzGerald?” the blonde reporter asked.  She looked unsure as to what stance to take on this.

“Yeah, one other thing,” Doug nodded.  “Jim Rogers gets his badge back and all charges against him dropped, and a public apology.  There’s sixty of us here....but there’s five hundred names on this petition.”  He held it up to the camera.  “Either Jim gets his badge, or we turn in ours.”

The reporter asked him, “Aren’t you concerned about the risk to the city if you all resign?”

“Not really,” Doug replied.  “We took guns from five hundred people in the last month.  The mayor can give them their weapons back.  That’ll solve both problems.”

Babbles drowned out further comments as the camera shifted to Gunn.  “Just in case common sense prevails at the executive level,” he grinned, “I have prepared a proposal that the Police Department be tasked primarily with responding to citizen’s complaints, second with preventing crime through presence and education, and that statute enforcement be reduced to an as-called for basis.  That’s how the original charter reads anyway.”

Jim raised his beer in toast.  For the first time in days, he smiled without reservation.

“Wazzat, Dad?” Jenny asked.

“Those are good people, Little Girl,” he said.

The Mayor had a different view while watching.  This had blindsided him badly.  He called the Governor.  “You watching this, Pete?” he asked.

“I see it, Tom,” the old man replied.  He sounded relaxed.

“What the Hell do we do about it?  I thought we had a good plan, but it isn’t going to fly in this town.”

“It’s okay, Tom,” the Governor reassured him.  “We know who to deal with now.  All we have to do is work on discrediting them, a bit a time, and then we’ll try a slightly different tack.  There’s some good approaches coming out of Massachusetts.”

“In the meantime, I look like an ass,” the Mayor groused.

“Not at all, not at all,” he was told.  “Next time, we can honestly claim that you bent over backwards to help these extremists and vigilantes.  We’ll point out that it didn’t work, and sooner or later one of them is bound to do something stupid.  You only need one idiot to take down an entire organization.  It might cost a few bucks, but we’ll manage.  Just be patient.  We’ll win this thing in the end.”

Copyright 2001 by Michael Z. Williamson, all rights reserved.  This work of fiction appears as a public service on   All other publication rights remain with the author. Other works from Mr. Williamson can be found at


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