Two Days in a Squad Car

by Jason Wert

On two of the last three Saturdays, I spent time riding along with the Springfield Police Department and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office with the intent of seeing the challenges the departments face and the way the two departments work together.

I discovered a number of things I did not realize about the departments, their officers, and their operations along with the public’s reactions to them. In this article, I’m going to highlight the biggest items I discovered in my two days in a squad car.

(NOTE: there are some details of my rides that I cannot share because they involve open cases where charges have not been filed; as a result we are choosing not to reveal names in the cases that are still open.)

They get an unusually high amount of “wellness check” calls.

Within minutes of my first night with the Springfield PD, we were dispatched on a call to check the wellbeing of a young woman. Over the course of that evening, every third call that showed up on the computer was a check of some kind. Some were just checks because a friend or relative had not heard from someone for an usual period of time; some were checks because they saw a person so intoxicated or under the influence of drugs they were a danger to themselves; and some were checks for people who seemed to be loitering in places they didn’t live.

Multiple officers told me that the majority of their calls are a check on the well-being of someone. Unfortunately, not all of the calls received are actual checks with a benevolent intent. Some of the wellness calls are people involved in issues like custody situations who are hoping to catch an ex-partner or spouse in an awkward situation.

Unfortunately, officers don’t have the ability to determine whether or not a call is legitimately someone needing support or if they’re being used as pawns in someone’s game; they have to approach each situation the same with the concern for the person in question. That causes some issues when police arrive on the scene because those who didn’t need to really be checked on can feel imposed upon by officers.

Officers receive an unusual amount of abuse thrown at them during their shift.

How would you like to be driving through a parking lot and have someone walk up and spit on your car?

How about just standing on the sidewalk and have someone across the street start yelling profanity at you, insulting you and your family, making hostile motions without your having said a word to that person? Taunting you and yelling at you to do something about their harassment?

That’s just two of the ways officers were dealt with by the public during my time with them.

The officers showed incredible amounts of patience dealing with those members of the public and others who made it very clear they loathed just the existence of the officers. No matter the verbal abuse that was hurled, sometimes with the additional benefit of spittle, the officers responded in calm and measured tones.

One incident that stood out involved a Greene County Deputy on the scene of what appeared to be a domestic abuse incident. When a person who was part of the situation realized that they weren’t going to be able to falsely accuse another person of criminal activity, they turned their wrath onto the Deputy with verbal abuse and false accusations against them. I had observed the entire incident and the Deputy had done nothing wrong other than tell this person (correctly) that their accusations were proven to be not true.

Now, there were many people who showed officers and deputies respect. Ironically, there were several people who were pointed out as having long criminal records that showed more respect and more courtesy to the officers than some of the members of the public the officers didn’t know.

Drugs are EVERYWHERE.

There is a better than average chance that at some point today you witnessed someone either high on drugs or a drug transaction of some kind. I know that sounds shocking, but I had no idea the number of drug related situations that are taking place in the city until I had things pointed out to me by officers during the evening.

For example, two people you see shaking hands on a downtown corner might seem like two friends exchanging a greeting but in reality there’s product changing hands.

Officers told me that many times they will find someone with drugs during what begins as an ordinary traffic stop.

I observed this first hand during what started as a stop for a light being out; it ended up with a suspect in custody because of outstanding warrants and another facing drug charges. I was able to see a K9 in action searching the car where they found additional drugs.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office does an amazing amount with less.

I know detractors of the Sheriff’s Office are going to loathe hearing this, but the department is actually doing an amazing job at serving the county considering the number of deputies on duty in an average shift.

The night I rode with them there was one sergeant, one corporal and six deputies on duty.

For the ENTIRE COUNTY.

What does this mean? Well, it means that unlike Springfield PD where they usually have so many officers on duty that backup can be minutes away, sometimes a deputy is faced with a situation where when they arrive on scene it can take ten or twenty minutes for backup to arrive. They drive into rural areas where it’s harder to see people standing in the trees and fence rows; long stretches of farm roads where you can’t always see what’s around the corner.

That’s not to say that Springfield Police don’t have similar situations; it’s just that it’s more likely they’ll have immediate backup compared to the County deputies. So in a situation where it would be wise to wait for backup, such as a domestic dispute situation, the deputies can find themselves in a place of having to act alone because of imminent danger to someone inside the home. When you don’t know how long it will take for the calvary to come over the hill, it’s a nerve racking situation and one the deputies have to know they can face every night.

In the night I rode with them, we had a call that from the dispatch involved an immediate risk to a child; the deputy I rode with had no choice but to begin to interact alone because of the reported risk. (The report to 911 was inaccurate, there was no child at risk, but the deputy had to act on the information he had been given because there was no way at the time to know accurate, truthful information was not being given to the 911 operator.)

And no, this is not a knock on the Springfield police department who showed through their partnerships withe Springfield fire department that they’re stretching their budget and doing more with less. It’s just that the Greene County Sheriff’s Office is doing a lot more than you saw on LivePD; they’re doing that more with less; and their deputies are facing a lot more danger than you saw when the cameras were rolling.

They don’t like pursuits and they don’t like to run lights and sirens.

Yes, when you watch LivePD or other cop shows it’s the chases, the pursuits, the events that get the adrenaline going are the things that catch attention. In reality, officers and deputies are not wanting to draw that kind of attention to themselves, especially at night.

So, if you happen to see an officer or deputy coming down the road with lights and sirens on, you know it’s a serious situation, and you need to pull over and get out of the way. (When we were running with lights and sirens with a Greene County Deputy, one car drove almost two miles in front of us before pulling over, slowing down the response to an urgent call.)

When they can avoid a pursuit, either through tracking devices or other GPS options, they will choose to avoid the pursuit. They are very aware of the risks that come with pursuits.

They have a significant amount of paperwork and enjoy it about as much as the rest of us.

While I know there are a few of us who really enjoy writing reports and spending large amounts of time camped in front of a Word document, there are also a lot of us who don’t relish recounting every minute of every incident in our day. Yet officers and deputies have to make detailed reports of incidents, knowing that a poor word choice or accidental omission could be the key thing a lawyer seizes upon to have a guilty person go free.

For example, an officer can’t describe someone as “angry.” A lawyer could seize on that to say “well, how angry? What’s your definition of angry?” Every report has to be combed over to make sure all the detail is as unambiguous as possible. So “angry” becomes “visually disturbed, based on their raising their voice above a normal conversation level, flared nostrils, and waving their arms around in a flapping manner while communicating with officers.”

Officers can spend two to three hours per shift just filling out paperwork from the incidents that take place while they are on patrol.

I didn’t see everything.

I want to make clear here that I did not see everything during my rides with the SPD and GCSO. For example, one of the areas I know is of community concern is how officers deal with victims of sexual assault or similar situations. There are groups within the community that want to make sure the departments are working from a victim-informed position and I wish I could give information regarding their processes but I didn’t see any situations first hand.

I did not see any situations where officers had to pull a gun, so I can’t give you a report on how they handled situations where use of deadly force was a possible outcome.

On another night, perhaps I would have been able to see something that would fit those areas of community concern or I would have found something that merited my pointing out a large problem within the departments or the way they worked together that demanded attention from City Council or the County Commission. However, on these two particular nights, I saw professionalism, amazing restraint, and a desire to make our cities and county as safe as possible for all residents.

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