The ride along

Yesterday, I finally threw out the Dunkin Donuts coffee cup which has been moldering in my car for almost two weeks. I was reluctant to toss it. And not because whatever culture was growing in its dregs might prove useful to medical science. No, I was holding on to it for sentimental reasons. It was kind of a souvenir, you see, from my ride along with the Norwich Police.

I first broached the idea of a ride along shortly after taking over the police, fire and court beat from my now-departed colleague, Tyler Murphy. (Heís doing well in Albany, by the way, in case youíre wondering.) I got the idea from Chief Joe Angelino, actually. The chief extended an invitation to my Leadership Chenango classmates and me in late 2009, so it was in the back of my mind for awhile. Now that Iím on the police beat, I figured there was no better way to get a true picture of what happens in the city than to accompany Norwichís finest on a busy evening.

The chief was happy to oblige my newfound interest in his department. Or at least he was once he verified I would be covered by The Evening Sunís workmanís comp policy. And had me sign a hold-harmless agreement which, Iím not going to lie, scared the bejeezus out of me.

The document in question absolved the Norwich Police, City of Norwich et al from any and all liability in the event of my untimely death, dismemberment, injury or emotional trauma which might result from a car accident, gun shot wound, shark attack, you name it.

I signed it, of course, but the words were ringing in my ears as I reported for ďdutyĒ on the appointed Friday.



I arrived promptly at 6:55 p.m. Which, as Officer Justin Carpenter quickly pointed out, was five minutes late.

It wasnít exactly how I wanted to start off the evening, but I guess you could say it broke the ice. Too bad Iíll probably never live it down.

When Sgt. Burlison doled out the assignments for the shift, I learned Iíd be paired up with Officer Reuben Roach.

Iím not sure if he drew the short straw, or if it was penance of some kind for him, but it definitely worked in my favor. Because with eight years of experience patrolling the Norwich streets, Officer Roach proved to be a wealth of knowledge about the city and its residents.

After a quick tour of the station, we climbed into the police cruiser to which heíd been assigned and hit those streets. It didnít take me long to realize just how naive I was about the city. Particularly the unsavory element which seems to come out after my admittedly early bedtime. My jaw dropped as Officer Roach shared stories of past arrests, domestic disputes and tales of what he and his fellow officers have encountered on the job.

I was keenly interested in everything he had to say. OK, thatís not strictly true. I did tune out during one particularly gory description, but that was to prevent myself from upchucking in the patrol car. (Iím a pansy, what can I say?) But the rest of it was pretty fascinating.

Especially since, as many know, my dad was a cop. He retired from the NYPD when I was less than a year old, though, and heís never really talked much to me about his 20 years on the force. So I felt like this gave me at least some small insight into his own experiences. (My dad, by the way, was thrilled about my ride along. In fact, I think he wanted to come, too!)

Iíll be honest, I expected a certain degree of excitement. It was, after all, a Friday night. And even my limited experience typing up the police blotter is enough to know that weekends tend to be busy for law enforcement the world over. Not the night of my ride along, however. Apparently, Iím something of a jinx. Because that particular Friday night was perhaps the slowest in the history of the city.

There were a few calls, to be sure. And plenty of traffic stops. I even got to witness the standard field sobriety test administered not once, but twice. There were also a couple of what Iíd consider close calls Ė situations which had the potential to develop into nastiness. Luckily, the officers on duty were able to intervene before that happened.

But much of the night was spent cruising around in the patrol car, with a few pit stops back at the station. (One of us in the car had the bladder the size of an 8-year old girlís. I wonít name names.)

There were also a couple of trips to get coffee, which no doubt contributed to the frequency of the potty breaks. It also explains the aforementioned coffee cup. No doughnuts, though, which I found more than a little disappointing. Iím rather partial to Boston Creams. Cracker Jacks are a pale substitute.

Iím not complaining, really. (Well, except for the dearth of doughnuts.) I understand that tedium is part of the job. But Ė unlike me, who was lulled into a stupor by driving around Ė they canít allow it to dull their senses or their reaction time. They have to be ready to respond at a momentís notice, to snap to attention when the need arises.

Iím kind of glad it was a slower-than-usual night. It gave me the opportunity to truly learn about the city, and the job the Norwich City Police do every day without putting that hold-harmless agreement to the test.

Iíd be remiss, of course, if I didnít mention that every one of the situations, circumstances and potential outcomes listed in that document are the risks that each Norwich Police officer and indeed all law enforcement officers assume every day in the line of duty. And I for one fully appreciate all they do on behalf of the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve.

Thank you to Chief Angelino for affording me the opportunity to see a side of the city Iíve never seen before. And to Sgt. Scott Burlison and Officers Reuben Roach, Jeremy Burdick, Evan Romaine and Justin Carpenter: I canít thank you enough for offering your insights, sharing your stories and being so willing to answer all of my questions. A special thanks, of course, to Officer Roach for his patience. Poor guy was stuck with me for 7 1/2 question-filled hours.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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