I have to say the ride inside a police car is actually quite comfortable. Nice seats…smooth ride. After the winter we’ve had there are a lot of potholes in town, but it feels a lot better to go over them in a police car than it does in my own car. It freaked me out a little to discover a rifle right behind my head in the one vehicle…I just didn’t expect to see it there.
Besides all the regular stuff you’d expect to see in a police car, there’s also a little screen in the dashboard that records the scene in front of the car. So if you’re ever stopped by a police officer, don’t try and claim the officer was really unreasonable and started beating on you or whatever because chances are the whole incident was recorded and they can go back and see exactly what happened. There’s also a computer in the car…the monitor sits on an arm right over the passenger seat (officers don’t have partners…at least not here in Coralville. Everyone goes alone…though there’s always a backup that comes around to make sure everything is okay when an officer stops someone).
The second officer who took me out was J. (I never caught his last name). I have to say both these officers were absolutely wonderful to me. It amazes me that they were willing to have people like me tag along with them on their job. If having me there was a pain in the butt (which, gosh, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be!), neither of these guys ever let on…they were both so friendly and so willing to answer all my questions. (Besides all the general what’s-going-on-now questions I asked all night long, I had an opportunity to ask J. a couple questions about a situation in my Monkey Man sequel…)
Officer J. was assigned a different section of Coralville than Officer B. was (apparently they get to choose which section they’re going to cover each night), so I got to see different “hot spots.” (I talked about the “seedy” part of town the other day and a couple people said, “Coralville HAS seedy parts of town???” Well, that’s maybe a slight exaggeration…though there are blocks here and there that I wouldn’t want to walk around by myself at night…”hot spot” is probably a better term.) We cruised through an apartment complex that is known for having problems (in fact, they’d had a search warrant to search an apartment there earlier in the day), but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
The first incident I saw with Officer J. was another traffic stop. Another guy with a light out. Only this guy was in a little more trouble than the three guys Officer B. had stopped because this guy was also driving without insurance, which, if you’re interested, will cost you $380 in Iowa! (I also learned that driving without your seatbelt on will cost you $80 if you’re ticketed for it. I don’t remember all the other violations…Officer J. let me page through his book of citations/fines.) And then that guy drove away! (Still without insurance!) Officer J. told me he could’ve impounded the car, but he chose not to. He said they’ll let the guy get home tonight, but if he’s out driving around again tomorrow and gets stopped again, he could end up with another $380 ticket!
From there we answered a call at Old Country Buffet. An alarm was going off. I had to stay in the car for this one since they didn’t know for sure what was going on. 99% of these calls are false alarms, but you never know. There was a white van with Minnesota plates parked outside Old Country Buffet, so Officer J. ran the plates. The police aren’t allowed to actually go inside a place of business when the alarm is going off anymore (after a well-publicized incident in Iowa City a few years ago where an unarmed guy was accidentally shot and killed)…not unless the owner invites them in. But they found out it was a cleaning guy who set off the alarm…everything was fine.
Next (hmm…it’s been a couple days now, so it’s possible I’m getting the order of some of these incidents mixed up) we got a call to go serve as back up for a “citizen encounter” in the Hu Hot parking lot. Which meant another officer was talking to someone over there…he hadn’t actually pulled the guy over; he was talking to him…and something was going on over there. Nobody told me to stay in the car, so…I got out and followed Officer J.! Another officer was talking to a guy who looked an awful lot like my little brother (I knew it wasn’t my brother…my brother lives 5 hours away, but it freaked me out a little bit anyway). The guy who looked like my brother wasn’t especially argumentative or anything, but whatever he’d done, I could tell by the look on his face that he knew he was in trouble. He said, “Am I going to jail?” and the officer who’d been talking to him said yes. I couldn’t even look at the guy while he got handcuffed; I felt so embarrassed for him. (I can only imagine what it must FEEL like to get arrested!) He was escorted to the back of Officer J.’s car and we gave his girlfriend a ride to her car, which was in the Younker’s parking lot. I never did quite get how or why this guy was stopped (since it was a “citizen encounter”), but the problem was he was driving with a revoked license (and it was revoked as part of a DWI). That’s why he was arrested. And the girlfriend didn’t know…she said she never would’ve let him drive if she’d known. He would’ve saved himself a lot of trouble if he had let her drive.
We cruised the bar parking lots next. Officer J. wasn’t looking to catch a drunk coming out of the bar and getting in his car…he was mainly checking to see how many people were out drinking that night (thus how many people will be out driving later on)…and checking to make sure there aren’t any fights going on in the parking lot.
After that we heard over the radio there had been an incident in Cedar Rapids…some guy had gone into a Casey’s up there and displayed a weapon. He was believed to be heading south on 380, so we spent the next fifteen minutes sitting on a bridge on I-80…waiting to see if he came by. (Have you ever sat on a bridge on I-80 for a while? The bridge SHAKES every time a vehicle goes by…I thought about that bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis and hoped ours was in better shape…). We were looking for a green Taurus and we had a partial license plate (not that you could really see license plates on vehicles that whipped by at 75+ miles an hour). I was impressed that Officer J. could recognize make and color of the vehicles that went by…I sure couldn’t! If the guy did happen to come by, officers were not supposed to charge the guy with anything (I asked why not and Officer J. had no idea), and were to proceed with caution. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the guy had come by…would I have gotten to stay in the car or would I have been booted out right there on I-80? Fortunately, I didn’t have to find out…he never came by. In fact, there were at least three other officers in position ahead of us and they didn’t see him, either. Funny…if I’d been out driving around and seen a police car sitting on the bridge, I would’ve assumed he was sitting there trying to catch speeders…that’s what I always think when I see a police car sitting at the side of the road. I wonder how often they’re really doing something else???
While we sat there J. told me how “stop sticks” work. I’d kind of wondered about that…how do the police put out a stick out to puncture tires in one vehicle without getting an innocent person’s tires at the same time? Apparently the officers know the bad guy is coming…they know which vehicle is his. And these stop sticks are attached to ropes, so when the vehicle approaches, the officer throws the stick out in front of it, then pulls it back before another vehicle comes by.
After this came the “drunken steak thief” incident. Officer J. decided the guy from Cedar Rapids wasn’t headed our way, so he pulled out and went down to the next exit to head back to Coralville. Before we got all the way back, the dispatcher called us to a theft at Hy-Vee. Officer J. actually seemed a little excited about this…he always works the night shift, so doesn’t handle many thefts. The dispatcher said some guy tried to walk out of Hy-Vee with some steaks…and he was believed to be intoxicated.
The guy wasn’t going anywhere, so Officer J. drove the posted speed to Hy-Vee. (Another officer went, too.) Oh. My. God. This guy (I’ll call him “Jack”) wasn’t just “intoxicated”…he was HAMMERED. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody that drunk before. His eyes were watery, red and droopy…his mouth sort of hung open and he had this blank look on his face. He was so unsteady he could hardly sit in the chair (they had him sitting right there at the entrance of the store rather than in a back room). The Hy-Vee manager explained that this guy had been holding a package of steak inside his coat and then he went up to a cashier and asked where the hair dye was. The cashier could see the steak, so he called the manager, who then called the police. They also found hair dye and deodorant in the guy’s pocket. The guy admitted to taking the steak and the hair dye (don’t know why he needed hair dye…his hair was dark!), but he claimed the brand new deodorant was his. (I looked at him while the manager was saying all this…Was he ashamed? Did he feel bad? Did he think the Hy-Vee manager was just a jerk out to get him? Was he simply hungry? Did he not have enough to eat? Was that why he did it? Not likely…he was a pretty heavy-set guy. He didn’t seem particularly ashamed, either…he just had this yeah-I-tried-to-steal-steak look on his face.)
One of the first things out of Jack’s mouth was, “my old lady’s coming in about ten minutes. She’s a lawyer.” (Maybe she’s the one who needed the hair dye?) He must’ve repeated this about 25 times in the half an hour we were there…I don’t know if he really had an “old lady” and if he did whether she was really a lawyer, but she never showed up. (The officers told me later that “everybody says they’re married to a lawyer.”)
Officer J. asked Jack how much he’d had to drink. Jack said, “Not very much. Just a couple of beers.” (Later on he admitted to having had some vodka.) Officer J. asked Jack when he’d had those beers; Jack said, “Just before you got here.” (What? Were you sitting there with Hy-Vee manager having a cold one while you waited for the police???) But he refused the breathalyzer test…he said, “It don’t matter; I’m not driving.” Well…yeah, it did kind of matter…because even if he wasn’t driving, he was still publicly intoxicated. (Too bad he refused…I was really curious what his blood alcohol level was!) I tell you, people who drink a lot look a lot older than they really are…I would’ve guessed Jack was about 10 years older than me, but he was actually a year younger (I THINK) than me.
He kept saying that it didn’t matter what they did to him because he was going to be out in twelve hours anyway. Oh yeah. Jack knew how things worked (well, he thought he did anyway)…he’d just gotten out of jail pretty recently (he wasn’t real clear on just HOW recently he’d gotten out). One of the officers asked him what he’d done. He said, “I shot somebody.” The way he said it, so matter-of-factly, like it wasn’t a big deal, I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. The other officer asked him where he’d shot this guy and he said “on the ped mall.” (It turned out he had indeed shot someone on the ped mall a few years ago.)
The Hy-Vee manager did a “ban and bar” right then and there, which means basically the guy can’t ever set foot in another Hy-Vee again. The manager filled out the paperwork and Jack was supposed to sign it, but he couldn’t because he was handcuffed. So the manager read it to him and asked if he understood. It took him a while, but he eventually said he understood. I kind of doubted he did…I wonder if he remembers anything that happened that night?
I also got to see J. give Jack the Miranda Warning. (They don’t “read” it…they just say it.) Again, even though Jack said he understood those rights, I don’t know if he really did. He was pretty drunk. (I had to keep turning away because I wanted to laugh…and I knew I shouldn’t laugh because nothing that was going on was really very funny. It was SAD. But the things he said and the way he said them just cracked me up.)
Poor Jack also had a hard time keeping his pants up. And he couldn’t pull them back up himself because he was handcuffed. It didn’t occur to him to ask who I was until we were heading back to the police car. J. told him I worked with him. (Ha! I liked that!) Then his pants fell all the way down (like around-his-ankles down) and he said, “Sorry, Girl” to me. (This was another one of those times I almost burst out laughing.)
We took him back to the police station and they put him in a room with two desks that had handcuffs and ankle cuffs attached to them. They left him there while they went to run his record. Apparently if he’s been in trouble for these same things before, it’ll be worse for him. And I’m guessing he had been…J. had an awful lot to read through on this guy. So they had to do all this paperwork here at the station before taking him to the jail.
While they were doing the paperwork, my cell phone rang. It was uh…two o’clock in the morning. (I’d told my husband I’d be home around midnight, so he was getting worried.) I had no idea it was that late! I kind of wanted to see this whole thing through with Jack…I wanted to go along and see what happens when they take someone to jail, but I had someplace to be Saturday morning, so I decided I’d better head home.
That was my night! If I hadn’t had someplace to be Saturday morning, I think I would’ve kept going all night long…at least until J. actually kicked me out of his car and told me to go home. It was a really interesting night….really interesting to put myself in somebody else’s shoes for a while. And I’m really grateful to the Coralville Police Station for giving me this opportunity.