A Day in the Life of a Police Officer
We want to welcome everyone to our very first article in a brand new series called "A Day in the Life," that will highlight people with unique and interesting jobs from all over our city. We might be a small town, but our diversity in occupations, ranging from the small time farmer to the high tech entrepreneur, should make for an entertaining look into another side of the traditional news; we hope that you enjoy it!
The pereception of a police officer and the work that they do on a daily basis is often one that is clouded by what people see on TV in shows like COPS and CSI, so we figured it would be a great place to start our new series. The average day in the life of a police officer, especially in Laramie, is nothing close to TV. Here is a glimpse into the lives of those wearing the LPD uniform.
Ride Along with Officer Jeremiah Owens:
My time at the Laramie Police Department began with officer Jeremiah Owens, who has only been with the police department since August, but was a cop in Douglas, Wyoming for five years previously. Jeremiah was in the middle of his shift when I joined him for my night-time ride along. I expected to spend most of my time with the LPD doing just that, riding along, but as you will see that was not quite the case. Jeremiah was in the process of investigating a dispute between a male and female in town that I was able to see play out over the course of the evening. After observing officer Owens collecting statements and evidence at the Laramie Detention Center for around half an hour, we hit the streets and I was able to talk to him about his job.
I had a list of questions for him that I was curious about personally, along with a few from our readers. When most people think of police work, many times it has to deal with writing tickets and enforcing traffic laws, so it should come as no surprise that there were quite a few questions on this topic. I asked Jeremiah how far over the speed limit a person usually has to be driving for him to pull them over and this is what he had to say.
You know it is going to different for every officer, but I won't pull someone over unless they are going six or seven miles per hour over the speed limit. At ten miles per hour over, I start giving tickets.
In his mind, the reasoning behind this stance was a matter of stopping distance and public safety. I was told by one officer that many times a vehicle is the most dangerous weapon that most people own. I also asked him what the best excuses for speeding that he had ever heard were, and he told me that one individual claimed that he had to get his pet snake to the vet; the snake wasn't even in the car! Another claimed that his shoes were too heavy and he couldn't avoid it.
One other very common myth that people tend to believe about traffic enforcement is that police are required to meet a monthly quota, and therefore issue more speeding tickets at the end of a month. I learned that this practice is actually illegal now, but was told that at one time it probably did happen. Speaking of speeding tickets, I was also able to ask quite a few questions about how the radar guns in police cars work. I was told that they are accurate up to a distance of around six city blocks and that speed can be clocked on vehicles moving about any direction from the police car, some even having radar in the rear. The newer radar guns that Laramie Police Department had were actually operated by remote and integrated audible tones to reflect how fast passing cars were traveling. This kept officer Owens from having to constantly look at the radar gun while driving city streets as he could judge speeds simply by sound.
One other question on my list had to do with SafeRide. Apparently some students are suspicious of the police following the SafeRide vans back to locations on campus and have actually stopped using the service because they don't want a ticket. When I asked about this Jeremiah had to chuckle a bit. He shook his head and said no, there is no way that we have time to waste following SafeRide around town. As far as Jeremiah was concerned, when people were with SafeRide he considered them home safe, which he reiterated is the department's main concern; people's safety. Even on a Monday night it was pretty easy to see that the officers were plenty busy, so I can only guess what Friday and Saturday nights are like.
We spent approximately an hour driving around town and did pull over two people, although these stops were just helpful reminders that they had a headlight out. In all actuality there was not a whole lot of time in Jeremiah's day to go around town and enforce traffic violations. He was called back into his investigation from earlier in the night, which took him off of the streets for a lengthy period of time as he collected more evidence. Following that we were able to go out one more time before the end of his shift, specifically to locate one individual from the investigation which we were unable to find.
As my time with Jeremiah wrapped up, I did get the opportunity to ask him a few more questions. When asked about the worst part of the job, Jeremiah told me that at times it feels like he never gets a weekend because he often has training or court appearances on his days off; he works four days on per week, ten hours a shift if he works no overtime. When asked about the best part of the job, I was told that it is really satisfying to help someone in need even if they hate you for it at the time.
Ride Along with Officer Miles Cushman:
With that my time was up with Jeremiah and he passed me on to officer Miles Cushman for the late night shift. Miles told me that he had been with the Laramie Police Department for around a year, but had spent about eight months of that time in training. He was one of the officers officially hired after recent actions by local government to bring the police department to its full recommended staffing capacity of 51 officers. Of those 51, only around 29 of them work the city streets.
My time with Miles proved to be pretty interesting, and we did end up with an individual in the back seat of his patrol car; more on that in a bit. The night shift was quite a bit slower than my time spent with Jeremiah, although we did continue to try and locate the individual from Jeremiah's investigation earlier in the night.
During this slower time, I had the chance to talk with Miles a little bit about how the technology in their police cars worked. Every squad car that I saw had some sort of computer built-in and it was easily evident how much they were relied on. It was explained that the whole emergency system runs on its own channel frequency that is transmitted around town from the main police dispatch. All police cars are linked to the dispatch and through that linked together as well. The computers have instant messaging built in so that officers can talk to one another off of the radio and the wealth of information that the system provided was amazing.
During traffic stops the computers were continuously used to check driver's histories, bring up outstanding warrants from all over the country, etc... At any given time there are somewhere in the range of four to eight officers out on the city streets and the computers automatically showed the status of each to identify whether or not the were available. The one thing I was surprised not to see was GPS mapping built-in. I was told that officers still rely 100% on memorizing the streets and block numbers in an emergency.
Towards the end of this conversation things started to get a little more interesting, and this is what Miles told me he enjoys about the job. He likes the fact that every day he runs into different people in different situations and that things can change in an instant when an urgent call comes in.
We happened to be driving on a side street back behind the Ranger Bar when we passed a truck stopped at a stop sign. I wouldn't have thought twice about the vehicle, but Miles was tipped off by the amount of time it was stopped at the stop sign and knew just what to look for. He pulled over and ended up following the truck as he was a bit suspicious. We did end up pulling the vehicle over after observing it drive on the wrong side of a street and swerve across painted lines on the road. You can probably see where this is headed as I watched Miles complete a field sobriety test and arrest the individual for an alleged DWI.
This point was probably one of the funniest of my night as I sat in the patrol car listening to some pretty funny statements coming from the back seat! Eventually Miles returned after securing the individual's car and we headed towards the detention center. I decided to end my night at this point as Miles told me that he would be doing paperwork for the next two hours just for this one arrest! That is one thing that I did see a lot of; paperwork. It's a huge misconception about the job as officers can't just go arrest someone like they might on TV. Everything has to be documented and it takes a significant amount of time that pulls officers off of the city streets.
All in all the job of a Laramie Police Officer was everything but routine. I discovered that they spend a vast amount of time doing things other than just pulling people over; from what I saw traffic violations were actually one of the activities that they had minimal time to spend enforcing. It was something to be done only when they had free time and were not responding to a specific call, investigating a case, backing up a fellow officer, completing piles of paperwork, or testifying in court.
If you can imagine spending an hour on the Internet clicking random links and navigating to different websites, this is how I would describe the average day of a police officer as I observed. They start their days out in the same place, but at the end of the day never know quite what they will have experienced or where they will end up. Every step of their day is somehow linked to the last and will guide them to their next. A simple traffic stop or complaint could lead them off on all kinds of different paths throughout their shifts depending upon what has taken place with other people that day. Like many other jobs, police officers run into problems on a consistent basis and spend most of their time doing whatever is necessary to find the correct solution with the ultimate goal of keeping people safe.
One question recommended that I ask about dealt with the stupidest crimes the officers have ever seen. Jeremiah Owens had a hard time deciding between what I could tell was a large collection of dumb crimes in his head. He ended up talking about a time when he was driving his patrol car down the street in Douglas and had a drunk person throw a beer bottle at his car windshield; of course yes, he did arrest this person for their act of stupidity.
Police Sergeant Mark Augustin also had a pretty good response. He remembered back to the time that he had to ticket a shoplifter for stealing a can of Dust-Off Spray from a store in town. He told me that the shoplifter intended to use the Dust-Off Spray can to get high, but actually picked up a special non-inhalant formula can. In the end, the shoplifter got a nice ticket from Augustin and didn't even end up getting the high that he had stolen the product for in the first place; reading helps!
On one final note, I asked each officer that I encountered what they really wished people understood about their job. Each response was amazingly similar to Jeremiah's about the best part of the job being to help others. They wish people realized that the tickets they issue or the actions that they have to take as a part of their job are for the safety of everyone. If they didn't stop people from speeding, there would be more deaths and accidents. If they didn't pick up intoxicated people, they could pass out and who knows what would happen to them following that. Each officer gave some example of this sort and explained that all they are tasked with doing is protecting people. Sometimes even protecting people from themselves. I got the feeling that most days they run into citizens who are instantly hostile even if they know they were wrong, which I am sure is not the most pleasant situation.
Jeremiah told me a story about a habitually intoxicated woman that he had dealt with several times in the past and actually put in jail. He said that she absolutely hated him at the time, but after the experience was able to kick the alcohol addiction and came back to thank him. He said that is what he enjoys about the job. I have to admit that even looking at things through the eyes of a police officer for one night changed my perceptions a bit.
Thank you to all of the Laramie police officers who allowed us to make this story happen. If you have a job that you think is interesting and would like us to walk a day in your shoes, let us know. We would love to talk to you!