The Star-News


When making it past roll call was a good day

Sun, Jul 17 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

According to the most recent FBI statistics, Flint has the distinction of being America’s most violent city. Flint is also the “Triple Crown” winner of crime because it took first place in burglary and arson, sort of a trifecta.

When people hear I was a Flint cop, they often smirk and laugh. But, the embarrassment I experience now is nothing compared to the embarrassment I suffered on Dec. 27, 1975.

I was a patrol officer in Chula Vista when the national news reported that two Flint police officers were involved in a shootout in the parking lot of the police station. No terrorist snipers were involved. They shot each other.

Thirty-four-year-old veteran officer Walt Kalberer, a white guy, and 20-year old black rookie Madeline Fletcher were the shooters. I was starving for details. Fletcher wasn’t even hired when I left. I knew Kalberer and worked with him. I didn’t like him. I never saw him do anything illegal, but his badge hung rather heavy on his uniform.

“Badge heavy” cops were the ones who were rude to the public and threw their authority around.

Many of my friends were still on the Flint department so I pestered them for information. It seems that Madeline Fletcher was hired during the Affirmative Action craze. When I hired on in 1969, an applicant had to have a bachelor’s degree. Most of the Flint cops were white males.

Some think that is bad. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.

When Affirmative Action entered the picture, the standards of physical size and education were done away with. Race and gender played big in the hiring equation. My sources told me that Fletcher was an abrasive rookie who wore a racial chip on her shoulder as big as a large pizza from La Bella’s.

The problem between Fletcher and Kalberer was that Fletcher wanted to drive the patrol car.

Because of the dangerous climate in Flint, most cops rode two in a car. The driver drove, and the passenger manned the “working side.” This meant the passenger took the reports and handled the radio.

Fletcher arrived at the car first and slid behind the wheel. When Kalberer ordered her out, she refused. There was a tussle, including mutual striking with batons followed by Fletcher drawing her weapon and shooting Kalberer in the thigh. Three other officers shot at Fletcher.


Because she was only shot once, in the abdomen, all but one of the guys missed. The investigation did not reveal who hit her.

The media were all over it. Because she fired first, Madeline Fletcher was charged with a crime. She spent six weeks in the hospital. Kalberer was in the hospital for a few days.

Upon her release, Fletcher was fired. She stood trial for assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. Perhaps because Kalberer revealed his arrogant overbearing demeanor to the jury, Fletcher was acquitted of the crime. The department was ordered to reinstate her and give her $7,000 in back pay.

Fletcher was suspended for 60 days, and Kalberer was suspended for 5 days. Because of other problems, Fletcher was sent to remedial emergency driving school. She flunked out and later was fired again. This time the firing stuck. Kalberer continued his career until retirement.

Kalberer died in 2005 at age 64.

Fletcher’s present whereabouts are unknown, and I was afraid to look for her. I didn’t want to become the next notch in her gun.

The Chula Vista cops couldn’t believe what happened back then. There are no young hothead cops on the Flint force today because there are no young cops, period. Usually, the goal of the patrol officer is to go home healthy after the shift ends. In Flint, the goal was to get out of the parking lot healthy after roll call.


© 2009 The Star-News