Roll call 10:00 PM. The sergeant shares the status of current events internal and external. Reminds everyone to be careful, even reiterates the importance of how to hold your flashlight when you approach a traffic stop. Holding it in the wrong hand can get you killed....has gotten some killed. The roll call ends in every officer simultaneously testing their Tasers in unison and then one lone offer, my officer, leads the group in prayer. That's it. The night has begun.
Around 11:30 PM we are called to a "emergency" call to inform a unsuspecting person his identify may be being used without his knowledge. This is the simplest call of the night.
Around midnight, a call comes in that a car has hit another and kept going. The car, in this case a taxi, pursues the other car several miles, all the while communicating with dispatch, communicating with us where they are. As we travel several miles at high speed we pass several infractions (speeding, DUI, texting while driving, driving without headlights, illegal switching of lanes). We finally reach the incident we are pursuing and it changes one family's lives forever....DUI, no license, certain deportation.
Next, another call. This one a supposed DUI. A thirty something young man. He says he swerved because he was texting, gave no cognizant excuse for his blood shot eyes. One beer he says that's all...hours ago while watching a game on TV. He, it turns out has a great job, out of state plates, masters degree. He submits to a car search and a field sobriety examination. With the grace of God and my interjection he goes home. I asked the cops to give him the benefit of the doubt. He did well in my estimation. It was mostly my heart talking perhaps not my head.
Next, driving without a license while going to pick up a husband from work. That's all. Trouble is in GA that is a mandatory jail sentence. The kids were asleep in bed at home, all under the age of 11. Broke my heart again in one night. She cried out for my help from the back seat. Nothing I could do, nothing I could say.
Then there were the neighborhood and business checks. Inoculant at best, routine even. These stops break up the night as everyone is happy to see you, glad to see a police presence in the environment. Minutes later back on the beat. The 20 something that "hits the ground" (runs) rather than stopping. Turns out he has a blood alcohol level of 1.55 over twice the allowable limit of .08. Or the woman who is so intoxicated she urinates on the officer's shoes, or the undocumented person who has zero command of the English language until the cuffs go on. All sad, all heart wrenching. At least to me.
Then there is the perspective we place on all of this. The fact that for me this is only one night. For my partner this is a career. A career that pays at start around $30,000 and not so great benefits. A career that we depend on to protect us from the demons of the night. The evil around the next corner.
We did a neighborhood check, just for kicks in my neighborhood. My partner could hardly restrain his sense of wow at the accomplishment. The manicured lawns and circular driveways. His face, even in his discerning profession, could not disguise the "if only" of his psyche. My heart dropped. He pulled away saying, "De De" I will come back and check on this neighborhood often. I breamed.
This was a long way from his career's $30,000 paycheck plus any additional work (nearly all police have a second job) would yield. I felt guilt, I felt a greater sense of appreciation for his effort.
My biggest drop in altitude? The trip to the jail, one of the toughest in the southeast. The female intake officer asks, how many, one of two? I was the "two". My heart stopped. I realized in an instant how close each of us can be to number "two". Lord I hope never. I wanted to scream, "tonight was my first night in a police car. A half hour ago I was wearing a yellow police rain coat in the freezing rain. I am not one of them." But what is one of them?
We choose that I suppose, with every smart or dumb or survival decision we make. It is about choice.
Dang that night was complicated. I came away better but subdued. I do know that I will work as hard as I possibly can to leave that work to those who live to do it. I will my life setting the example to keep mine from becoming a "subject" in it.
I respect the field of law enforcement. Perfect? Not a bit! But I will err on the side of counting on them in a time of need for mine or yours!
Below is the note I wrote the precinct at the end of my ride along and I meant every word today and always! They sent me an immediate and gracious response in turn.
I had a wonderful time traveling with Sergeant P. He was so professional, helpful, insightful and sensitive to my position in this endeavor. He made the night meaningful in so many ways. I learned more than I anticipated. I at times wanted to shout and others cry. Mostly because this evening was a night in my back yard, a community I care so deeply about. I so appreciate his professionalism and the care that the entire precinct took to make my experience meaningful and real. I had a hands on and that is more than I ever expected. I enjoyed it, I feared it, I respected it! Thanks so much to everyone. La Detra White