The Fleet

The Fleet
By Mark Riddering.

While taking Administration of Justice courses at the community college I met a few nice folks but none better than Jerry Beck, present Commander of the PHPD. When he first became a police officer he invited me to apply for a position. He taught me patiently and even opened his home and fed me. We became family and I’ll always appreciate his kindness.

On the nightly news we often are interrupted with a live police pursuit from the view of a news helicopter. 25+ years ago it was the same but fewer guidelines. There was a period of time I became involved in a series of traffic collisions on duty. For example… One evening I was on Patrol in a police car with a reserve officer partner. A serious call was given on the radio… off duty officer being attacked at a City park on the tennis courts by 5-6 gang members. Naturally I began speeding up. I was headed for the park on a main street that parallels the Navy Seabee Base. As we approached the intersection at the main gate I found traffic backed up at a red traffic light. The reserve officer started yelling, “faster-faster.!” I knew every second mattered in this situation. In front of the Base was a Taxi loading zone. I decided to use this zone but the only problem was the taxi zone was a ‘one way’ road and we were going the wrong way. There was a large Do Not Enter sign I saw as I tried to navigate into the Taxi Zone. I was going pretty quick and the car jumped the curb and flattened the Do Not Enter sign. The front end of the police car was bent but the wheels were still rolling. We got to the park and found our police sergeant battling for all he’s worth with a tennis racket. We battled the gang members and arrested the suspects. The sergeant was extremely grateful assuring us he would never forget us. I told him about the traffic accident and he said no problem. However, the next day the Lieutenant, John Hopkins, called me in gave me a letter of discipline for the accident. The sergeant was in a nearby office and I told him I received a letter. He again thanked me and explained sometimes doing the right thing can get you in trouble. He reminded me in those situations all we have is each other.

John Hopkins, one afternoon before work began, walked me out of the police station to the back parking lot. He asked what I saw. I responded, “the fleet”. Of which the marked police cars were neatly parked in a row, and at the end of the row stood two that I damaged in accidents. John looked at his hands and explained, “On this hand I have Mark Riddering, but on my other hand I have the fleet. He then repeated… “Mark – the fleet – Mark – the fleet… which one do you think will win out?” He then led me to his office and we had a nice father and son chat. At the conclusion of all his encouraging words John leaned back in his office chair and grabbed a nearby Polaroid camera and then took a picture of his smiling face. He gave me the picture saying that’s the face you’ll have to face if you get in another accident. Believe me his message got through loud and clear. At Johns urging I even placed this photo on my sun visor to the police car as a reminder. John even walked me out to the police car reminding me we still were friends but terrible things would happen if I didn’t love the fleet as much as he. He stood and watched me leave the lot that day until I drove behind a tall block wall fence and I stopped at a stop sign near the police station. I paused still hearing John’s somber words and glanced up at his photo. All of a sudden there was loud screeching of tires and a crash. I was rear ended while sitting at the sign. A very apologetic woman explained she looked away and didn’t see me or the sign. As she spoke I could hear yelling coming from PHPD and it got louder. It was John. His boots were clomping pretty fast. He ran up asking if I was out of mind and why don’t I listen. The woman interrupted admitting she had rear-ended me.

John was a famous police investigator and retired as the police chief of PHPD. When he initially trained me whatever he said was done fully. One day we went to a call of loud music. As we walked up to the house the loud music was turned off. As John knocked at the front I took a position outside the front entryway. No one answered the door. John stepped back so I could see him. Next to me was an open window with a cable cord running out of the window. John shouted, “no one answers the door so, Mark cut that cable “. Immediately I whipped out a large Buck knife and started cutting. It then struck me odd I was destroying property. Then John yelled that familiar word, “RIDDERING!!!!!!” Undetected by me –John told me to cut the cord as a ploy—and it worked—the residents opened the door. John was not impressed.

John had me a bit nervous. Latter that day I was pulling to the curb in a residential area. I was going to park perfectly and make John happy as I backed up and pulled forward a few too many times John got bored and opened his passenger door and put his boot on the ground. I continued trying to demonstrate perfection. However, John yelled as his boot scraped along the pavement. He swore I wore off at least a 1/4 inch of leather from his highly polished boot.

One Friday night, during Christmas, we had several loud parties. We had gone out to warn the various party hosts to turn things down. After several warnings it was time to shut a few parties down. At one home where there were hundreds of intoxicated people we began instructing the host. John asked the host what his name was. The host replied, Juan Gonzales, and that the house we were at was his. John called the host a liar. Again the host was asked his name, again he repeated his name, and again John called the host a liar. This time John threatened to arrest the host for giving a false name. The host nervously explained the name he gave us was true but didn’t want to be arrested. John then forcibly explained, “your name is Feliz Navidad, it’s right there on your mail box—don’t lie!” The Sergeant whispered the translation of Feliz Navidad to John. John said “Carry on” and stepped back.

John inspired and taught many a good cops. He’s truly a cop’s cop and leads by example. I kept that Polaroid he gave me of himself throughout 25 years of law enforcement. It’s displayed in my home even today and I admire it daily.

4 thoughts on “The Fleet”

  1. Mark,
    This is one of the most memorable stories you ever told me. I Love it. It’s wonderful how God moves in our lives to mature us on all things, even our jobs.

  2. Is the Jerry Beck in your story the same cop as the Jerry Beck in the film “Dead Bang”, starring Don Johnson? I am very curious about this as I am researching the true story behind the movie. Thank you.

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