This last week, while my wife was away visiting her father, I went into town and I stopped at a McDonald’s. It was breakfast time and I thought I would go inside and enjoy one of their breakfast selections. I have done this on several occasions and I find that there are a lot of senior citizens sitting inside McDonald’s eating their breakfast on any given day. As I got out of my truck I observed a skinny middle-aged man walk up to the passenger side of my truck and begin to do some sort of inspection. As I got out of my truck I walked over to the man. He immediately looked at me and asked me how old my truck was? I told him that it was two years old. He then went on to explain that he used to paint trucks for General Motors. He had spent 30 years in the paint department and so he was always interested in the quality of the paint job on any General Motors product. Without hesitation, he looked up and down the side, front and back of my truck, pointing out some of the blemishes in the paint job. Then he asked me if I lived in the area and I answered that I had only been in the area for couple years. He went on to give me a quick resume of his jobs since he had retired from General Motors. While giving me the lowdown, he mentioned to me several times that he was a busybody. I hardly was given any time to respond as he went on to ask me what I used to do. Unbelievably, I actually told him that I was a retired police officer. He then went on to tell me that he had been a jailer at the local Sheriff’s office and he asked me if I knew how corrupt the local sheriff office was. He again proclaimed to be a busybody and he would go online to compare the arrest record in this county as compared to the counties. He continued to announce that he was a busybody and that he monitored most of the activities in the town. I do not know how many times he told me he was a busybody, but it did take a long for me to get a irritated at his remarks. I started to walk away from the man towards the door of McDonald’s and he continued to inform me about local affairs. I finally looked at the man and told him that I was not interested in the local affairs and that I was just happy being retired on my tree farm. He quickly asked me where I lived at and that he used to work on a tree farm. Once again, I gave him a general idea of where I lived and that my tree farm was not far away. He began asking me more questions so I finally turned my back to him to walk inside the restaurant. Upon doing so, he explained that it was nice visiting with me and I should have a good day.
After I got into the restaurant and ordered my meal, I began to reflect on what just happened. First of all, I was amazed of all the information that man got out of me. As a retired policeman, I’m usually very careful about answering any questions from strangers. For that matter, I am uneasy about answering questions from anybody. But this man’s rapid fire method of making statements and asking questions resulted in me answering his questions. So I further examined what had happened. I thought about the man’s description of being a busybody. I do not think I’ve heard that word since I was a teenager living in Indiana where my mom used to complain about a woman in the neighborhood being a busybody. I looked up the word busybody and found Webster’s definition as.”busy·body noun \ˈbi-zē-ˌbä-dē\ : a person who is too interested in the private lives of other people”. I also found another definition of; a person who meddles or pries into the affairs of others. These definitions are pretty much what I’d always thought a busybody was. I had looked at being a busy body as a negative comment about someone. The man that I met looked like what I imagined a busybody would look like. He was middle-aged and skinny with a squeaky, irritating voice.
What amazed me about the man was how effective he was in getting information from me. He spent little time talking to me and yet he was able to get a lot of information. He also seemed to be very proud of the title, busybody. I am usually very short and rude to people who come up to me and ask questions. But this man’s technique was very successful in getting information from me. I thought back about my years on the street as a policeman and how I got useful information from informants that were busybodies. I remember that in talking to those informants it was always a challenge to get them to stop talking when giving the information. They seemed to ramble on and on without taking a breath and eventually I would extract some useful information from the rambling.
I then remembered some of the training that I received from Israeli police officers on gathering intelligence. They gave a class on how to get information from strangers who had just arrived at their airport in their country. Rather than using a physical profile, they would just walk up to people and start conversations. They did not identify themselves as police officers, but rather just a busybody at the airport. It was surprising on how much intelligence and information they receive from this informal act of just talking to strangers. I was so impressed by the training that I used this technique while working in an undercover capacity on the streets of LA. If I thought that there was something illegal going on in a neighborhood or on the corner of two streets, I would use this technique. I would casually walk up to someone and just begin a conversation. The secret of this technique is to act like a busybody. I employed a rapid fire method of asking questions and making crazy statement that I thought would put the person at ease. It was amazing how close I could get to a person dealing drugs on the street corner using this technique. Once that person dismissed me as just another old man busybody, that person would continue dealing drugs right in front of me. Some were so bold as to tell me to move on so that they could continue dealing drugs and not put me into jeopardy. It was the technique of being a busybody that allowed me to get a lot of information and intelligence.
During the riots of 1992 in Los Angeles, I was sent out into many crowds to get information. I would use the busybody technique to mingle amongst the people and get as much information as possible. As soon as the person that I was talking to classified me as just another old man busybody, the flood gates opened up with information on their activities.
My thought today is on how effective the busybody technique is in getting information from someone you don’t know. The man at McDonald’s was a pro at this. He was even more effective as he explained over and over that he was a busybody. That made it so that I initially discounted his questions and activities. I don’t think that there was anything I said that will come back to haunt me. But who knows’ Interesting.