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A Journey to the Center of the Mind, Book II, The Police Officer Years

James R. Fitzgerald
Bonus Chapter 16A

(It was August of 1978 when Jim and his wife decided to take a two-week vacation to Ireland. It
resulted in some interesting after effects in both Jims personal life and his professional life.)

Chapter Sixteen-A
After being shot in the MOVE incident, my friend John Welsh recovered completely
from his neck wounds and returned to work at his Philadelphia Fire Department ladder company
within a week or two. With that knowledge, it was decided that my wifes and my trip to
Ireland, which had been planned and paid for long before the MOVE shootout and Johns injury,
was now back on course.
So, off to Ireland we went for two weeks in late August of 78.
It was a great trip. It was nice getting to know some of Eileens relatives while there.
She had only heard of these people her whole life and had just seen grainy photographs of them.
For her to meet them for the first time was very moving for her and for me too. They treated us
very well while we stayed in the area of County Donegal. For the first time in my life, I felt very
Irish, and very proud of my ancestral roots.

While visiting the town of Donegal on one of those days with my wifes extended family,
and as we walked by a local Garda (police) station, I told them I was going to stop inside and
attempt to strike up a conversation with one of the officers. They were fine with that and we

agreed wed meet up in the town square in an hour. That sixty minutes resulted in a very
edifying experience for me.
Inside the station, which was really just a barely noticeable storefront along an otherwise
busy street full of various shops and other business and commercial enterprises, I introduced
myself to the lone officer behind a counter. I showed him my badge and he quickly and very
politely made me feel welcome in his relatively small facility. He was at least twenty years older
than me and with graying hair and a skin texture that told me he spent more time outdoors than
At this point in my embryonic law enforcement career, I realize that I had really not met
many LEOs from anywhere other than Philadelphia and its immediate environs. Now, I was on
the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in of all places, Donegal, Ireland, talking to a senior
member of the Garda. We were brother LEOs, even if working on separate continents and him a
veteran and me a rookie by comparison.
Our conversation over the next forty-five minutes or so consisted of us basically trading
stories about our respective careers (mine being much shorter than his, of course), what our daily
tours-of-duty were like, our schedules, how we were trained, various local crime trends, types of
arrests, etc. While I already knew my Irish police counterparts did not carry firearms during the
course of their work, what surprised me, at least from this officer, was the fact that he was
genuinely very content not to have one. He was quite satisfied with just his Garda issued
nightstick. He reinforced this sentiment when he told me that most of his on-duty confrontations
and arrests involved men who had been drinking in one or more local pubs who would get drunk
and either beat up each other or occasionally their wives or kids when they got home. In view of

this, the general consensus was that there was no reason for him or his colleagues to carry guns.
As the drunks didnt carry them either, I suppose that made sense.
The officer went on to tell me that besides the various alcohol-induced assaultive type
crimes, occasionally someone in the area would report their car stolen. Invariably, he would
continue, the car would have been stolen by members of the anti-British group, the Irish
Republican Army (IRA). The cars would later be used somewhere else in Ireland or Northern
Ireland in the commission of one of their tactical operations, to include bank robberies,
bombings, shootings, etc.
The officer showed me a pin map of Ireland on one of his walls which was used to graph
the locations of where the cars were stolen and where they were subsequently recovered, if in
fact they were recovered at all. That was an interesting concept on his part to track these cars,
especially since County Donegal had fewer car thefts in a calendar year than the Neshaminy
Mall had in an average month.
Hmmmwould something like this work for me and the Bensalem PD? Maybe when I
get back home I can figure something out related to this. Well see.

I told the Garda member about Bensalem Township, the BPD, and how we averaged
anywhere from three to six murders a year, lots of stolen cars, a fair amount of drug use,
robberies, many residential and commercial burglaries, etc. I told him my town wasnt all that
different from many large suburban areas adjacent to large cities in the U.S. at the time. He
responded that none of these crimes (other than the occasional car theft) was a problem to any
extent in his area of Donegal. I had to remind him that I was an officer in a smaller U.S. police
department, not the Philadelphia or New York City PDs, for example, which experience these

violations as well as many additional crimes and to a much higher frequency. He smiled at that
notion and said hed much rather be a law enforcement officer in his area of Ireland than in the
cities that I mentioned, including Bensalem. He was polite about it, of course, and expressed that
he thought the U.S. was a great country and would love to visit it someday. But he wondered
aloud how we American police officers kept our sanity, and our lives, dealing with the amounts
of crime that we did with the potential of getting shot at every time we went to work.
I told my Irish counterpart that it wasnt quite THAT bad in North America, that the true
Wild West days were long over, and doing our job and surviving the streets just came natural to
most Americans as, for better or worse, its what we were used to. I added that U.S. police
officers were well trained (at least as of recently), and most people in my country knew how to
cope and get by in our seemingly lawless society, at least as compared to County Donegal,
Ireland. I didnt dare tell him that even our firefighters got shot in the U.S., as in my friend John
Welsh. This would have been too complicated of a story for this short of a visit with the Garda
The officer did go on to tell me that some Garda in Dublin and in other large cities in
Ireland do, in fact, carry firearms. However, from his personal experience, most were okay
without them, and he hoped it stayed that way.
I thanked the officer for his time, gave him one of my business cards and a Bensalem PD
arm patch (many LEOs like to collect and trade them), and told him if he ever planned on
coming to the U.S. to please look me up. I would have been glad to extend the courtesy to him
in my country that he extended to me while in his. The officer provided me with one of his
Garda patches and I left the station to rejoin the others in my party who were busy shopping and

taking in the peaceful atmosphere that is the town of Donegal. It was peaceful in no small part
due to the professionalism and dedication of members of the Garda such as I had just met.

My two weeks in Ireland affected me in very positive ways, both in-country and upon my
return to the U.S. It was my first ever international trip. It opened my eyes and mind to a land
beyond my Philadelphia roots and to a people with whom I may have had some things in
common but yet with noted differences in our respective histories and thus outlook on life. I
learned a lot about myself, as well as my newly acquired profession too. The memories carry
over to this day.

Before the end of 1978, Eileen and I found out we were going to be parents for the first
time. The baby was due in July of 79. We agreed, boy or girl, we would give the child a
traditional Irish name. Exactly how traditional was yet to be determined, and the choice of the
childs middle name would be influenced by yet another upcoming event in my personal life, and
definitely not a positive one.


Upon my return to the North American continent, and to the BPD, it was back to work as
usual for me on the plainclothes Tactical Squad. After a refreshing, relaxing, and thoughtprovoking two-week vacation and away from the job, on my very first shift back I found myself
thinking in ways outside the box in terms of how I approached my assigned duties, and how it
could be done more effectively and efficiently. For some strange reason, of everything I

experienced during my trip to Ireland, that stolen car pin map on the wall of the Garda office
stuck in my mind. And since I was assigned to the Neshaminy Mall detail that first day back.

What had bothered me from my earliest days on the Tac Squad was the lack of any
pattern recognition abilities or trend determination in the thefts of cars from the Neshaminy Mall.
That is, at little more than a very basic and anecdotal level, we really had no large-scale idea of
what days of the week the thefts tended to occur, at what time of day they took place, what types
of cars were being stolen, in what precise parts of the malls large parking lot were they being
removed, etc. Yes, our squad caught our share of car thieves while assigned there in our
unmarked vehicles, and interviews with them post-arrest helped our detectives close out some
small to mid-sized car theft rings in our area. But we still missed catching some of them,
probably the more sophisticated ones, as they drove away from the mall with their stolen cars
with the freshly popped-out and hotwired ignitions every month. That bothered me and at least a
few of my colleagues.
Was there a way we could do this better? Was there a way we could do it with more of a
purpose, a goal, with some stats to back up just what it is we were doing every day?
Obviously, our squad wasnt assigned to the mall every day, as other crime-related needs
within the township sometimes took precedence. Unfortunately, cars would be successfully
stolen on those days from the mall. Also, and this I acknowledge quite embarrassingly, even
when we were assigned to the mall on some days, cars would be stolen, arguably from right
under our noses. Needless to say, it was a very frustrating moment when we would be cruising
the mall in search of car thieves and hear the radio call go out to the sector car to meet a
complainant at the mall main entrance to report his or her car having been stolen.

My squad mates and I knew there were some return offenders who were stealing cars,
perhaps even on a weekly basis. We knew they were good, didnt make the mistakes of the
everyday amateurs, and preferred certain days and times and specific mall areas to do their thing.
It was their M.O. They of course knew it, but it wasnt very clear to us on the Tac Squad.
I decided I was going to be the one to help bring some semblance of understanding to this
ongoing crime problem. No one else on the squad seemed interested in taking this to the next
level, so why not me? My idea was simple, and readily borrowed from a police officer
approximately 3,000 miles from Bensalem.

I needed an overhead view of the mall and its adjacent parking lot. No commercial or
other versions of what I wanted existed. As I learned in my research that week, the mall owners
had engineering and architectural schematics of the mall buildings themselves, but there was
nothing which included the exterior, expansive parking lots. They had no apparent need for it,
and for that reason it didnt exist. So, one rainy Sunday, while off-duty, with my own purchased
supplies to include a 3x4 white poster board, some black and red marking pens, a yardstick, a
ruler, and multi-colored stick pins, I went about designing a workable map for our squad to
chart future car thefts, if not right away, at least within twenty-four hours of their occurrence.
This would hopefully assist us in our needs here, at least as they related to the ongoing mall car
theft problem.
Andit worked, well, for me, and for two or three of my more proactive and interested
Tactical Squad members. Now, for the first time, my colleagues and I could plot the thefts at the
mall within a day or so of them taking place, to include the date, the time, and at what precise
section of the parking lot the cars went missing.

Each day of the week was represented by a different colored pin, with a small sticky
piece of paper affixed to it which denoted the window of time in which the theft occurred. Each
pin was stuck in the exact mall aisle and approximate parking slot where the representative car
had been stolen. Before long, the patterns started developing. Of course, the sector officers who
took the initial car theft reports had to now make sure they included the exact parking lot aisle
number on their paperwork. They had not been required to do so before this new map came into
existence. So, they had to be educated in this new initiative too. And, of course, we all had to
hope that the theft victim did, in fact, recall close to where he or she had parked the car. Most
did, but unfortunately some didnt. Wed just have to work around those folks and their stolen
cars in terms of where to stick the pins.
In the past, it had been more or less anecdotal for us Tac Squad members in regards to
this type of detailed mall car theft information. (Yeah, I heard the Ford pick-up was stolen
yesterday from somewhere in the southeast corner.) But, that wasnt good enough. Now it
could be visual, and right on the wall of our squad area, to be studied at our informal roll calls.
Of course, this meant I had to peruse the car theft reports every morning and update the
map. So, thats exactly what I did. I took that new task upon myself and I began doing so every
day over the next few months. It didnt take long for clusters of pins of certain colors to be
found on certain sections of the overhead schematic. As it turned out, it seemed certain thieves
liked certain days of the week to steal their cars, and they did so from certain specific areas of the
mall parking lot. For example, we learned that on Tuesday evenings, at the northeast side
parking lot area, certain foreign cars were being stolen. We never had that kind of specific
information before, or at least no one at the BPD ever bothered to track it. Now, we were doing

it. (And yes, I eventually came up with another sticky piece of paper for each pin with the
precise make of the car on it.)
My daffy sergeant even admitted the map and the car theft trend plotting was a good idea.
Well, sort of. He didnt directly compliment me, but when one of the lieutenants was overheard
telling him it was an excellent tool to help our squad and that Fitzgerald did a great job
creating it, Sgt. Whacky was reluctantly forced to agree. I hoped it didnt hurt him too much
to do so.

My rudimentary Not Drawn to Scale, but nonetheless pretty darn accurate mall map
stayed on the wall of the BPD detective division for years, even after I left the Tac Squad and
stopped updating it every day. I was told it was there even after I left the police department and
it was still being used for various mall assignments and investigative purposes. Im sure its now
long gone and replaced by a Google Earth map, or the equivalent on paper or on a computer
screen, somewhere in the BPD which would much more clearly depict the mall and its parking
lots, certainly more so than my primitive hand drawn version. And thats fine with me. Thats
progress, and how it should be. But, back in the day, Im proud to say the few hours and the
$5.00 or so I invested out of my own pocket helped our squad be able to focus just a little bit
better on the car theft problem at the mall.
And, yes, we did arrest some of these recidivist car thieves, in no small part due to the
use and interpretation of this not-so-fancy hand drawn schematic, by knowing where precisely in
the mall the thieves would be targeting, on what day, the time of day, and even the type of car
they were after. It was all in the pattern recognition and the response to it.

This map was the result of me thinking outside that proverbial mental box, even on a
relatively simplistic level, the seeds of which were planted during a 1978 trip to Ireland. I
suppose I have the IRA car thieves to thank for this idea and the Garda response to it, all of
which eventually came together for the BPD in the form of this simple pin map.

If only the politically-motivated Irish car thieves and the greed-motivated Bensalem car
thieves knew what they had in common back then.
In reality, not much, except for a couple of pin maps.