On a bone-chilling February morning, two Kansas City police officers, Tim Griddine and Albert Villafane, cruise through the low-income housing complexes near 12th Street and the Paseo with the car's heater blasting. They peer out the side windows, looking for cars to be towed from the squatty batch of apartment buildings they patrol called Charlie Parker Square. Without periodic cleanups, the parking lots here can turn into stolen-car graveyards.
Griddine and Villafane patrol Parker Square both for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department and, when they're off-duty, for the complex's management company. This is an off-duty shift. It started just an hour ago, but they've already made one arrest. Villafane recognized the face of a man who'd previously been banned from the apartments for allegedly assaulting a woman who lived there. But when they stopped him for trespassing, they found a counterfeit $20 bill in his pocket.
One stop, two charges. Griddine seems pleased.
"I'm a little guy," Griddine (who's 5 feet 5 inches tall) says now, as the officers cruise the neighborhood. "But I'm fast." He talks fast, too, like the words themselves are in a race.
"I may not get you later, but I'll get you tomorrow," he goes on. "You won't be able to live in peace 'cause I'm gonna get you. I'm a finisher."
Two gold-capped teeth catch the light as he talks. A thumb-sized patch of gray, planted squarely at the center of his hairline, hints at his age: 44. He has patrolled the streets of inner Kansas City — the streets he grew up on — for more than 20 years.
At 2:30 p.m. on this frigid weekday, 12th and the Paseo looks more Kindergarten Cop than Training Day. The last of the winter's ice crunches under tires on asphalt that once sparkled with broken glass. Kids mob the sidewalks in school uniforms: khakis and polos. Moms exchange waves while ushering their children inside.
Griddine greets a postal worker, pointing out the peanut-butter-colored cat trailing her door to door. With little action since that first arrest, the officers roll through the parking lots, noting cars with obviously fake temporary tags.
"You break these rules — we can't pick and choose whether it's minor or major," Griddine says. "This new generation do not want to follow the rules."
Nickel-and-dime, nickel-and-dime — that's the job, Villafane says: "Honestly, it's just patrolling the property, recognizing a person, stopping them and talking to them."
But their approach results in a lot of tickets, towed cars, trespassing charges and accusations of overzealous policing — accusations that pile up against all of the officers who work Parker Square, but especially against Griddine. He estimates that he's had more complaints filed on him than any officer in the entire department. Twenty in the last six weeks, he says.
"Down here, folks have a lot of free time," Griddine says of Parker Square's residents. "They watch Court TV." They're also just walking distance from the Office of Community Complaints at 635 Woodland, he says.
The OCC's staff tries to distinguish the valid accusations of officer misconduct from the petty or outrageous ones, which are often dismissed. But a spike of grievances against Griddine in recent months caused some concern up the chain of command, he says. Now Internal Affairs is investigating them all.
"I get called Uncle Tom. I get called all type of stuff," he says. "Because I'm doing my job."
Most of the Griddine-related gripes come from a small cadre of tenants who paint Griddine as a pervy, pint-sized menace. In the process, they've unearthed some documentation that lends an air of legitimacy to their claims: a decade-old lawsuit filed by a former police officer who accused six of her male co-workers — including Griddine — of sexual harassment.