NORWICH – “You had a first hand experience in something that could have ended very badly,” said Norwich Police K9 Officer Miller in an interview following the ride along. “Four on one in a dark room. It could have resulted in a life changing event for all.”
Editor’s Note: As the night before Thanksgiving is usually one of the biggest nights of the year for folks to go out, I thought it would be a good night to ride along with Norwich Police’s K9 Officer Thomas Miller to experience a night in his shoes and learn a little something. It was not as I expected. This will chronologically describe my night, but a theme that the reader might recognize is compassion.
My duties were to arrive shortly after 7 p.m. and continue with Miller on his shift until approximately 2 a.m. Miller equipped me with a bulletproof vest, just in case. I had assumed the night would be filled with DWIs and bar fights. That was not the case.
First, a little bit about Officer Miller and his K9, Nitro.
Nitro is six years old and has been with the Norwich Police Department for two years. She worked with Miller for three years prior while he was employed with the New Berlin Police Department.
Miller said that he and Nitro focus both on public relations and narcotics detection.
Upon arrival to the station, Miller explained some of the duties of his shift Sergeant, Tim Annesi. Annesi handles background checks for those to be placed in Norwich Housing. Additionally, he takes all calls to the station and will dispatch the officers accordingly. He also enters and reviews all complaints into the system, runs all license plate checks for valid licenses ad keeps his eyes on incoming alerts from other agencies as well as any walk-in complaints that comes into the station.
There was also a stack of foreclosure notices that were to be delivered to property owners within the city.
Miller also informed me that the NPD is up to 5,620 complaints thus far this year.
The second officer on the shift was Scott Germond, who began with the NPD a couple of years ago. Respectful and professional, he proved to be an asset later in the night when assisting on a call that came in later in the evening.
When I arrived there had already been a complaint of someone stealing cans and bottles from a donation bin. We had the vehicle description, and names of suspects. The first duty was to try to locate the individuals to try to investigate the situation further.
While patrolling the city, Miller’s keen eye spotted just about everything. I’m pretty sure it takes a certain skill to see all that he noticed. His peripheral vision seemed to be exquisite when it came to noticing folks walking down alleys, or meandering slowly in a park after closing time.
Miller explained the importance of property checks. Not only did we drive by local businesses to ensure that all doors were locked, no windows were broken, and no one was on private property after hours, Miller knew specific spots where residents often ‘hide.’
He told a story of an occasion when he located a homeless man attempting to sleep in an area where he shouldn’t have been. Miller said rather than giving the man cash, he offered him a ride, bought him some food, and helped him continue on his way.
Miller and I checked areas that I would never have even thought of where he said he has found people using drugs, sleeping, or taking part in other actions that are not lawful to be done in public.
It was also explained to me the police’s reasoning behind fix-it tickets including taillights and license plate lights.
Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m kidnapped and locked in a trunk. What’s the first thing I’m going to do? Probably cry. Second thing? I’m going to smash out the taillight, in hopes that someone may notice and possibly help.
Miller said this is partially the reason an officer will touch the trunk area of any car stopped prior to approaching the driver’s door.
Let’s now pretend that I have a child who is kidnapped, and an Amber Alert is issued because I am certain I know who took my son. I provide the police with a vehicle description, and more than likely a license plate number. When license plate lights are out, reading a plate in the dark wouldn’t be possible, and a kidnapped child could potentially get away. The last thing I want is for my imaginary son and his imaginary kidnapper to get away.
While tickets such as those may be an inconvenience, there is no fine or fee if fixed in the appropriate time frame, and it’s considered a courtesy stop.
We made such a stop for a vehicle not long after that conversation. The taillight of the vehicle was not red, it was clear, which is not in line with New York State’s Vehicle and Traffic Law.
Miller activated his lights and the driver opted to drive a little further to pull into a business parking lot.
The vehicle’s operator seemed very agitated by the fact he was stopped, although Miller made it clear that he was merely notifying him of the issue and was not going to issue him a ticket. The operator immediately got on his phone (my guess was to a lawyer, but I have no idea), while Miller diffused the situation, continuing to state he was only letting him know about the light, and he was not receiving a citation. The man was free to continue on his way – and I hope he’s fixed his light by now.
If my memory serves, it was approximately 11 p.m. when we were dispatched to a trespass complaint. Someone called stating they thought there were people in the rear area of a residence when they had no lawful right or reason to believe they had a right to be there.
The response time to the residence was extremely quick.
Officer Germond showed up shortly after Miller and I. Miller spoke to the complainant who pointed us in the direction of where she thought the people may have been.
Miller walked first, then me, and Germond in the rear. We made our way through a narrow, dark pathway, where we ultimately came to a door.
Miller knocked on the door, identified himself as a police officer, and a young adult male proceeded to answer the door, then slam it in the officer’s face and run. I swiftly moved out of the way so that Miller and Germond could do what they needed to do: run inside and pursue the individual.
Once inside I realized there were four teens, and Miller again identified himself as a police officer, told them to put their hands up, and to stand against the wall.
The area smelled of marijuana. There was a bench seat from a minivan to my right.
Then, as some of the young men put their hands up as instructed, one opted to reach his hand into his coat pocket.
What I wanted to scream to the boy was, “Don’t you pay attention to the news?!” But I – of course – kept my mouth shut.
Miller got the fourth boy to put up his hands and they all opted to listen to what he had to say.
Miller did get to the point where his hand was on his duty weapon, and two of the three safety mechanisms were off. He did not pull his weapon out of its holster.
First, they were all searched for weapons for safety purposes. After all, one decided to reach into his coat when asked to show his hands.
Once it was determined the young men did not have weapons, is when I saw compassion yet again.
Miller could have easily charged the young men for trespass, unlawful possession of marijuana, fleeing the police, and more than likely a couple of other charges. Instead, Miller opted to give them a lecture I doubt they’ll soon forget.
He explained the disrespect of slamming the door, and how the situation could have ended much differently if the boy didn’t show his hands.
One of the boy’s mothers showed up to the scene, and she continued to lecture them as well.
Both her and Miller explained that one joint of marijuana was not worth what could have resulted.
“I don’t think everyone needs to be arrested,” said Miller. “But at the same time, we need to let our community and people coming to our community know that we will not tolerate ignorance of the law.”
Miller said that he learned his style of policing from what he witnessed as a child, both good and bad encounters prior to becoming an officer, and also by observing the techniques and tactics of other officers.
“I also take into consideration that I give the respect i wish to receive back, and give everyone the chance before judging or assuming the worst,” said Miller.
Following the stern but compassionate lecture, I looked over to see one of the young men wipe a tear. If you happen to be reading this: It was just one joint. Don’t do something worse over one joint. Wise up, young one. I hope you’ve learned from that experience.
For me, that was not only an adrenaline rush but also an eye opener. Had Miller not responded so swiftly and in a firm but understanding manner, who knows how that situation would have ended.
“In today’s society, there is a decline in respect for law enforcement officers,” said Miller. “At the same time, there is a growing amount of active shooter and terrorism incidents, yet we still go to work everyday.”
After that call, more property checks were conducted, and Nitro got to run around for a little bit while checking a park after dark.
Back on patrol, Sgt. Annesi was spotted in the parking lot of a downtown business, talking with a man who had bags of cans and bottles. The man stated they were given to him, and provided a name and address. The sergeant stayed with the man while we went to the address. Miller knocked on the door, and the man said he did not provide the younger man with any cans or bottles.
We returned back to the parking lot, where the man finally admitted to having stolen the cans and bottles from a local donation bin.
Miller and I drove to location to find that the lock was completely broken off, and the door was left open.
Fortunately, Miller had the necessary items in his glove compartment to fashion a makeshift lock for the door so that no one else would be able to steal from there until the business fixed the door and got a new lock.
To that man: I don’t want to judge you and I don’t know your story. But it takes a desperate, sick human to steal from a local establishment whose goal is to help the children in our community. Property theft is something I don’t take lightly. Those cans were not yours, they were for kids. Get your life together. If you need help, there are many community groups who could point you in the direction you need. Stealing from children isn’t the best path.
Shortly after that, it was time for my shift to end. I realized that we did not stop to eat. We didn’t take a break. It was non-stop work from start to finish, and he still had five more hours to go.
Miller thanked me for my time, I thanked him for keeping me safe during the trespass situation that could’ve ended differently, and we parted ways.
In 2014, the top story topic based on an Associated Press poll was shootings by police officers. Based on recent media reports, it’s continuing across the country.
“In the eight years I have been a police officer, this is the highest alert and I – and I believe all officers – have been on,” said Miller. “We do our best to keep up with the crime, but without your help and cooperation, it is near impossible to be ahead of it.”
“Officers have to make instantaneous, possibly life changing decisions,” said Miller. “When an officer is dealing with a suspect, for example, that just broke into a house, ran from a uniformed cop, then when instructed to place their hands in the air and instead reaches into a deep jacket pocket and whips out a item in the dark, which ends up being a cell phone. That could result in a life taken. That subject possibly could have had a plan that the officer has no idea of. We need to determine how we are going to deal with that.”
Miller added, “If it's a weapon and we don't react in time it's our life, if it's a cell phone and we react to fast or decisive it could result in a life taken. The end result is, we all need to go home to our families at the end of the day.”
Compassion is important. I spent my Thanksgiving Eve realizing how thankful I was to have had to privilege to ride with a human who understands that. Norwich residents should also feel thankful for that.