Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Tale of The Force

My life took an odd turn this year when I began to do an hour block at the police academy for the P.O.S.T. in-service training. Why was this odd? To be 100% truthfully honest I must say I was scared of police officers. The fear was an unknown fear much like a phobia of something that isn't rational. I've never had anything personally happen, but maybe it was due to the fact that may dad liked to drive fast on the interstate and seeing a police officer was always a stressful experience. Whatever the case I started doing these presentations in January and am currently halfway through as there are a total of 35 sessions between then and May 4th.

From those presentations I also give a presentation to officers in CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training. While I may know much more than others on autism, I didn't have any idea what it is, exactly, that officers do. My only experience has been the "uh oh" my dad would exclaim when he saw an officer shooting radar his way. The solution to this was to do a police ride along and yesterday I experienced a day with the police force.

My morning started early and if you saw the time on yesterday's post I got that up nice and really early (4:55AM I believe). I got to the police office at 6 and walked in having no idea what to expect. The officer behind the counter was a bit confused and asked if I had my paperwork filled out. Paperwork? I simply got an e-mail that said be there on this day and at that time. I was lost as to what to do so I wondered back to the bench with absolutely no idea what to do. I was indeed lost, but just as I was in the pinnacle of my panic the officer I would be riding along with walked in.

The paperwork was filled out in a matter of seconds and it was simply the same type of form I sign at the racetrack informing me the potential risks that could happen. Just as I do at the track I signed the papers without really thinking about the risks. What could possibly happen?

I wanted to see what the roll call was like and made sure I was there early. The officers in this district all assembled upstairs and the officer (I don 't know what rank he was, he was higher but how high I am unsure) went over what calls the midnight shift had. Traffic had been bad over the weekend and then the somber news that the officer that was killed, David Haynes, on the 24th would have his funeral and burial that day and the procession would be coming through on Interstate 55.

The only thing I've seen about cops have been on television shows. I don't know how serious they are, how nice they are, or if they have a sense of humor. I do know they care about what they do and each other because the officer that was leading the roll call meeting ended with, "Take care of the people out they, but also take care of yourself today. Be careful out there" Chilling.

We left the station and went driving around. I started out rather quiet, but quickly started to ask questions. He made his way through some areas that sometimes have car break ins throughout the night, but none were found on this morning.

With the sun in view over the horizon we returned to the station and the officer went inside to get what every motorist fears (cue creepy music), a radar gun! We went to his favorite place to catch unsuspecting speeders and we sat. We sat, and we sat, and we sat. This morning the drivers were behaving themselves and I theorized that people are in no hurry to get to work when the weather was so nice. Just as I finished that a car was going plenty over the speed limit, up a hill, so the officer started his way to catch up.

Much like a vulture that swoops down to catch its prey, we essentially showed up out of nowhere and was on this driver's bumper. The plates were ran before the stop and they were clean so the stop was made. The officer sat for a moment and then got out. As he proceeded past the trunk the officer reached with his entire hand and touched the trunk. I thought nothing of this and watched as the driver waived his hands about in obvious disgust that he was stopped. The officer came back, wrote the ticket, and returned to the irate driver. Again, before the ticket was handed, the officer reached for the trunk.

I was going to ask the officer why he did this, but forgot as he mentioned just how angry the driver was. We turned around and went back to the trap to catch another driver.

It didn't take long as this van was going WAY over the limit. Since the driver was going fast that meant we had to go faster. I drive down this road all the time and didn't realize how slow the limit is as we flew down the hill to catch up. I instantly wanted to take the squad car out on a race track!

The officer got out and again touched the vehicle's rear with the utmost care. Much like a person pets a small pet with care, the officer gently touches the vehicle.

This driver was an older person late to teach kindergarten. The officer came back and began the routine of checking license, plates, and ownership. Just as the officer was finished the van pulled away and did a 180 and was facing us. The officer went from a calm conversational mood to ready for anything that could happen. The tension was obvious and I began to realize just how dangerous of a job an officer has. He had no idea what the intentions of this driver were. Would they plow into us? Were they armed? I wasn't at the time because I was simply puzzled as to why anyone in their right mind would pull away.

The van lurched towards us and then slowed down and the old lady pulled alongside. He rolled down her window and said, "I'm really late, could you hurry up?" The officer handed the lady her ticket and then informed me if that was anyone but an older lady the end result would not have been pretty. There is nothing worse that pulling away from a stop, let alone asking an officer to "hurry up".

As we pulled away the officer informed me the question I was thinking as he asked, "Do you know why I touch the car?" I stated I had no idea and he said, "For one I am making sure the trunk is closed, but more importantly I am getting my prints on the car so should the driver shoot me as I approach there will be evidence that I was there". The realization hit me then and there that being an officer is dangerous. I knew it was, but never actually thought it through. Every stop, every person met could be the last action they perform. I've raced for years and if I thought it through each time what hitting a wall head on would feel like I don't know if I'd be able to drive. For officers though they know, they prepare, and must be ready each time for anything. Today it was simply an older lady having a lapse of good judgment. But what about next time? Or the time after that?

Blogger's note: I wasn't originally going to put on about the hands to the trunk as I didn't know if it is an inside secret, but after doing a search the info is readily out there so I don't feel as if I am letting a cat out of the bag. Also, because I don't know the protocol, I have intentionally left out where we were or who I was with.

Time went by and over the radio the dispatchers gave updates as to when the funeral procession would be leaving. At this time there was another speeder that needed attention so we caught up to the speeder and while he was running the plates the dispatcher informed him that there was a person with a health issue that needed attention. Lucky for the speeder because we broke off and headed to just one block from where the trap was.

Because this wasn't a violent situation he asked if I wanted to come into the house. I did and what I saw was something I've never witnessed before as this person was coming off of a drug high and was in need of medical attention. I never witnessed what drugs do to a person, but was utterly shocked with what I saw.

For an officer this is probably a common occurrence. I never saw anything like it and thought that stuff of that sort was simply made for television. To witness a person who was unable to know where he was, who he was, or why he felt weird is something that can't be explained in words. I'm good at describing emotions, but this was something else; perhaps it was a realization of what really happens in the world. I don't know how a person could handle events like this daily.

Some more time went by and it was time for the procession to start. We were a good bit aways from the start, but we headed to the vicinity around I-55. We spotted another officer and drove by to talk with him. Even though a very somber moment was about to happen the officers still had a sense of humor. As a police helicopter flew by one of the officers stated that the pilots must be anti-social types because they never pull up next to another officer to talk like they were. The other then stated that, with the rocks and dirt that would be blown around by a helicopter landing, they wouldn't have much of a paint job left on the vehicle.

Interstate 55 was closed in the Southbound direction and I wondered why this was. I thought of a small funeral procession that is commonly seen. Slowly the first set of lights flashing became visible. A small crowd assembled on the overpass in silence as the procession neared. Cars going North pulled over and even though there were people about it was eerily quiet. The lead cars went and then the motorcycle division roared by, but even through the sound of the motors and tires on the road there was silence. This silence was weird to experience, it was very much a mutual understanding of all those around what had happened and what could happen.

We were on the off ramp and as the hearse came into view the two officers stood at attention and saluted. This image will always stay in my mind. The brotherhood between officers is one that may only be rivaled by firefighters. The perfection in their salute as the hearse drove by almost put me in tears. These officers didn't know David Haynes, but yet he was one of them.

The words of, "Be careful out there" rung through my mind as on any day this could be them. The dangers of the road, or by criminal, can be seen or unseen. The tenacity to do their job is something I can't grasp.

Five minutes after the hearse drove by squad car after squad car was still passing us. The procession was as far as we could see, but I had to get back to the station to drive to the academy to give my presentation on autism.

My presentation yesterday may have been the best I've ever given. I now understand the dangers of their job. I think we all do to a degree, but understanding and seeing it first hand are two different things. I gave the presentations my all before, but now I've found a new found vigor because the more information the officers have going into a situation the more they can do. If they don't understand a situation, or the elements in play, the end result could be bad. My hour may just be an hour and just a snippet, a very small snippet, in their overall training, so I have to do anything ad everything to get my message across.

After my presentation I came to the office for a while and was invited to a meeting. I drove to the meeting and afterwards I drove home. As chance would have it I drove by the intersection where Officer Haynes was killed. There was a make shift memorial on the corner and I pulled over and looked at it and soaked the day in.

Haynes was my age and had been on the force for just a year. I'm sure all officers know the risk and I share that element of danger in what they do when I race. The difference is though that racing only serves the purpose of entertaining the one doing it. Police officers put themselves on the line to serve and protect society. I don't know how they do it and don't understand how they cope with the stresses of their job. I have a hard enough time making eye contact, but eye contact won't get me injured.

If you can't tell by the repeated lines of appreciation, I am at a lost for just what they do. As I pulled away from the memorial I understood why that line was said with such a solemn tone, "be careful out there".

1 comment:

  1. You articulate very well what it is like to emotionally realize how dangerous a job can be. I learned quite a lot from your blog entry today. Thank you for writing about your day.