Pleasing Mr. Dunbar

By by Pamela M. Starr/compiled by John Wills

Bicycle patrol units in most urban districts are tasked not only with crime prevention and response to criminal complaints, but also with fostering community-police relations.

Because of the large concentration of citizens in a city’s central business district, bicycle patrol squads have the opportunity to interact with a wide range of people, personalities, and problems. Their visibility and lack of a barrier, the squad car, makes them approachable and uniquely noticeable. Outside of police duties, the job is largely public relations oriented. As a recovering tree-hugger and social butterfly, an assignment riding a bicycle in downtown Dallas was my dream job, allowing me to spend duty hours outside while connecting with people from varying walks of life: business owners and the homeless share the streets of Dallas during the day. Experiencing the myriad sights and sounds, problems and concerns of the central business district (CBD) made that assignment my most rewarding to date.

I worked that duty for approximately seven years. During that time, I provided services that citizens typically expect of their police force: responding to 911 calls, providing directions, and answering crime related questions. Burglaries, robberies, and assaults were not uncommon in the CBD, and there were some fun times riding code three through urban areas. Dallas’ downtown population grew by twenty-two thousand or more on weekdays, and the availability of other peoples’ property was too good for some people to pass up. Although many of the calls I responded to were property-crime related, the most common call in downtown Dallas was a Signal 8, intoxicated person.

The homeless population in Dallas, with little else to focus on, tends to drink to fill their time. Dallas is split into wet and dry areas. Downtown Dallas is wet. As such, the homeless, with nowhere else to go, congregate around liquor stores. They panhandle for money, and when the cost of a forty ounce beer is reached, they immediately spend it on the elixir they hope will cure their ills. Whether the drinking itself is the problem or people drinking is an answer to their own problem is not always clear. However, what is clear is that when these individuals pass out among the business class in downtown, police officers are called to resolve the problem.

One of the intoxicated individuals I consistently dealt with downtown was a man named Donald Dunbar. Sober or drunk, he was a pleasant person who was always willing to share a smile and a story. Mr. Dunbar had been struck by a bus several years prior, leaving him partially paralyzed. His inability to walk limited his chances at stable and rewarding work. Without the ability to support himself, Mr. Dunbar began using alcohol to alleviate the woes he suffered daily. Jobless, he eked out a living on Social Security funds. Of course, his idea of living was to drink, and the best place to do that, apparently, was downtown Dallas.

Each month, when Mr. Dunbar’s Social Security stipend arrived, I knew I would find him drinking, drunk, or passed out in the area around the municipal court at Harwood and Main Streets. There is an approximately three-foot high marble ledge around the building on that corner. Directly cattycorner to that ledge is a small store whose profits are made primarily from the sale of alcohol. It is a convenient corner for Donald, who struggles on crutches to the liquor store to get his bottle and then returns to the marble, tree-sheltered ledge to tie one on. Save for the accumulated empty bottles, the ledge is a pleasant place to pass the day people-watching. On one Signal 8 call, I met Mr. Dunbar on this corner and left him with no doubt about the lengths to which Dallas police officers were willing to go in support of the city’s inhabitants.

On this particular day, I discovered Mr. Dunbar unconscious on his favorite corner. While awaiting the paddy wagon for transport to a detoxification facility, I began frisking him to ensure he was not carrying any contraband or weapons. For much of the search, he remained unconscious, lying on his back on the sidewalk. He was dead weight as I rolled him left and right in an effort to empty his pants and jacket pockets. During a search of his right front pants pocket, I found a pill bottle containing his anti-seizure medication. It was a typical prescription bottle—amber in color, about three inches in length and one inch in diameter.

Having become familiar with Donald, and thus his medical history, I was not distressed to find medication on his person, and I continued my search. After extracting that bottle, I moved on to his left pocket. Because David’s jeans were so dirty and tight, I was able to ascertain he had property in this pocket as well. In typical anti-Terry Frisk fashion I manipulated the property in an effort to establish its identity and to maneuver it to the top of his pocket for easier removal. Donald was under arrest for public intoxication and, according to policy, I was searching and removing his belongings so that the book-in process at our detox facility could be streamlined.

In his left pocket, I felt what I believed to be another pill bottle. The size and shape of the object was similar to the first bottle, and I figured Donald had traveled downtown with his full medicine cabinet in tow. I started working on moving the bottle toward the top of his jeans. The task proved more difficult than I anticipated, and I became frustrated at my inability to remove a simple piece of property. Manipulating the bottle through his clothing, I was able to get my hand below the bottle and push it toward the top of his pocket. My goal was to force the property to expose itself at the lip of his pocket so I could remove it without placing my entire hand inside.

As I said, his jeans were old, dirty and tight, causing me to work on that damn pill bottle for a good four minutes. Up and down, up and down, trying to get the cursed thing out of his pocket and into my property envelope before the paddy wagon arrived to carry him away. Drunk, homeless people do not smell particularly pleasant in the heat of a Texas summer, particularly after they have urinated on themselves. Becoming increasingly frustrated at my lack of success in removing the bottle, I cursed at Donald under my breath. “Damn it, Donald! Come on! We have to stop meeting like this. I am hot and need you to come on!”
The entire time I was muttering at Donald to come on, I was working on that damn pocket with the pill bottle . . . up and down, up and down. I tried to remove the bottle without success. Again cursing under my breath, I looked at Donald’s face. To my surprise, he had awakened from his unconscious state and was staring at me with a huge, lopsided smile. His eyes occasionally rolled in his head, but he refocused on me and smiled even wider. I smiled back, oblivious to what had caused his sudden bout of consciousness and pleasure.

I fleetingly wondered what it felt like to be homeless, with few options, and having constant contact with the police. I did not know if I could keep a positive attitude under the same circumstances, but I was glad that Donald had found a spot that allowed him to be happy in such troublesome conditions. Continuing to work on that pocket, I looked at his face again and found him still smiling. Being a good officer, and using deductive reasoning, I soon discovered the reason for this radical change in his demeanor. I was shocked!

Having had no luck moving the pill bottle from his pants I eventually forced my hand into his jeans to remove it. To my surprise there was nothing in the pocket. What quickly became evident was that Mr. Dunbar was in a turgid state! To my dismay, the pill bottle was actually a piece of David’s anatomy, and my repeated attempts to remove it from his pants caused it to grow.

I yelped, I think, and immediately yanked my hand from his pocket as I recalled using the word come several times in my mini-tirade. Glancing around, I searched the area for witnesses and cameras. With hands balled in fists at my side and my face flushing, I fully realized what I had just done. In full police uniform, in the middle of a busy downtown street, I had just given a hand job to a passed out homeless person—I freaked! Donald continued to smile.

I still wait for the images of that day, captured on a hidden camera of some nearby business, to show up somewhere, perhaps at my retirement party or during a news story exposing the exploits of the force. Maybe even in an envelope sent to my grandmother. I lived in fear for a year after that arrest. My anxiety over being discovered has waned over time, even though the images of Donald’s blissful face have not. I doubt Mr. Dunbar remembers that day, but I have no doubt he speaks highly of female bicycle patrol officers and the extreme lengths they are willing to fulfill the city’s mission statement. That statement asserts that the police department will “Increase citizen satisfaction” and “Provide assistance at every opportunity.” In his mind, I am sure Donald believes there is no limit to what the city of Dallas will do to foster community-police relations.

(For more stories by John Wills and “Women Warriors: Stories From the Thin Blue Line,” go to or