OAKLAND, CA—Often referred to by his superiors at the Oakland Police Department as a "loose cannon," Lt. Buck Roth and his unorthodox policing methods have been the subject of controversy for much of his turbulent career. But the renegade detective who acts as judge, jury, prosecuting attorney, bailiff, court reporter, and executioner maintains that his approach gets results.
"Whatever it takes to clean up Oakland, I'll do it," Roth said Monday. "After all the laziness and corruption I've witnessed during my 13 years on the force, I've learned you can't trust just anyone to apprehend, arrest, fingerprint, photograph, delouse, interrogate, arraign, hear testimony from, and set bail for the low-life scumbags I deal with day after day."
Roth triggered a firestorm of controversy last Thursday when he ambushed and gunned down a suspected killer in a Bay Bridge–area warehouse, even though the suspect was not armed at the time. He further angered area law enforcement when he admitted to single-handedly securing the scene, taking fiber and DNA samples, notifying the killer's next-of-kin, and performing ballistics tests on his own weapon, all before calling for backup, which is the required procedure.
Roth, who is officially assigned to the OPD's Vehicle Theft division, said that he is not a one-man corrections officer, polygraph technician, sketch artist, parole officer, SWAT team marksman, death row chaplain, and evidence room supervisor because he wants to be, but because "the Alameda County criminal justice system has failed its citizens time and time again."
"Am I supposed to just stand by and watch the clowns at HQ let these depraved bastards slip through the cracks?" said Roth, cleaning his service revolver as he scanned the two dozen subpoenas he personally issued and planned to serve later that afternoon. "The whole system is rotten to the core. Not one of these detectives, assistant DAs, court clerks, process servers, or parking enforcement officers knows his ass from his elbow."
When asked whether he weighed the ethical ramifications of taking the law, and the subsequent triplicate filing, into his own hands, Roth said he doesn't "have the time to sit back and philosophize" when public safety is at risk.
"The worst part of this job is knowing that some piece of garbage is going to be back on the streets in six months," said Roth after sentencing a convicted methamphetamine dealer to six months in prison on a plea bargain Roth himself authored. "And having to witness it firsthand, too, as I file his release paperwork and reissue his civilian garb to him."
Despite major qualms with the bureaucracy and red tape he creates and then has to deal with, the maverick cop is confident he is doing the right thing.
"When you prepare a cold-blooded murderer's last meal, strap him down, inject him with potassium chloride, send him straight to hell, and officiate at his burial service in the prison cemetery, you realize it's all worth it," Roth said.
According to a source within the OPD's internal affairs division, Roth's loner tactics have alienated him from virtually every colleague, and he has clashed heatedly with the heads of Narcotics, Vice, Fraud, Missing Persons, Information Technology, Records, and the Police Athletic League.
"The man is out of control," said Lt. Larry Carling, head of the OPD's Forensic Science unit. "Goddamn it, if I hear about another rape kit gone missing or a surprise exhumation, I'll personally order the son of a bitch to lock himself up."
As a result of the Thursday incident, Roth is now the subject of an internal investigation, headed by himself.
"We've got our best man on the case, and if he thinks Roth committed a serious infraction, Roth'll have his badge, gun, robes, gavel, stenotype, and Bible," said Det. James Lafferty, Roth's immediate supervisor.
Roth said that despite the constant resistance he runs up against, he will not be deterred from performing the many jobs he has set out to do.
"Sure, I know I'm just 17 cogs in the machine," Roth said. "But I'm still gonna be out on these mean streets come hell or high water, cracking heads and busting creeps. And if they kick me off the force, I'll still be a punk's worst nightmare, as a vigilante, private detective, bounty hunter, bail bondsman, and repo man all rolled into one."