If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that for the past couple of months my wife and myself have been attending Davie Police’s Civilian Police Academy and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Yesterday was a sort of “extra” as I got to go on a ride-along with Officer Rivera between 2p.m. and midnight and I have to say I was really impressed.
Officer Rivera was apologising for a boring shift when we’d been driving around our beat for an hour or so with nothing happening other than him running license tags as we drove. Riding passenger while the driver uses a laptop while driving at around 45 m.p.h. is an interesting experience! No longer will I judge someone’s keyboard skills by words per minute, instead it will be words per mile! Our first call was a young lady who was having problems with her husband and wanted Officer Rivera to make him leave the house. Seemingly this can’t be done in Florida without a warrant as the husband lived in the house and the young lady admitted she wasn’t in fear of any injury, she was just fed up with the arguments and the neighbours commenting on the number of times the police were being called to the house. We went to speak with the husband but he wasn’t home and wasn’t back when we returned to check later on. Our next call was to a possible burglary in progress. We got to drive with the lights flashing and the siren wailing and I got to see how the queues of traffic look from the other side of the wind shield. Cool is the word which comes to mind. Naturally the sirens etc. were turned off before we got to the burglary just so that we wouldn’t alert any burglars who were on the premises. Within seconds of our arriving three other cars arrived and the four officers quickly went to investigate – naturally I stayed in the car as, even though I’d signed to say there would be no law suit in the event of my being injured or killed, they really wanted me to be safe! It turned out that the house was empty as it had been repossessed by the bank and the window and door had been left ajar. It was really impressive to see how the officers quickly swung into action despite the potential danger to themselves had their been anyone in there with a gun.
After the burglary we were sent to help protect the route being taken by President Obama on his way from a rally in Hollywood to, I presume, Fort Lauderdale airport. Happily the most dangerous thing which happened while we were positioned to help block traffic was almost being clipped by a lorry and trailer which had very little more than the absolute minimum needed to make a right turn – when I say little more than the minimum I mean there was about half an inch between us. When we saw the sergeant later he explained that he’d sent us so that I could tell people “I helped protect the president”. I told him I’d already sent just that text message to my wife who had been at the rally,
The next call was to inform a citizen that a neighbouring police force had found his missing wallet. The owner of the wallet wasn’t home and the people who were there had no idea where he was, or when he’d return, nor how to get in touch with him other than to describe the kind of place he worked and locate it somewhere along one of the major roads in the neighbouring town. Odd? I thought so, especially as they claimed to be related to the owner of the wallet.
Our next call was to a car fire. Amazingly the owner of the car had parked it with the engine smoking and just left it. It seems he did that quite often so the fire was something of a surprise to him. The fire service arrived within a minute or so of our arrival and began extinguishing the fire. The police began evacuating the public from their homes in case the car exploded and set off explosions in the other cars parked around it. Some of the residents weren’t too happy at being evacuated and clearly saw no potential danger from up to 100 gallons of fuel going off and ripping half a dozen cars to pieces showering hot shards of metal on the surrounding area. The fire service soon doused the fire, and I have to say at, to my untrained eye, some personal risk as they were standing next to the car and if the fuel tank had exploded there was nowhere for them to go. Once the fire was out we were off to our next call which just happened to be two streets further down.
This call was actually a sad one as a pet dog had been run over and killed as a man was parking his car on his drive. Man A was walking two dogs each on a long extending leash. One dog was ahead of him and the second dog behind. The driver saw the man walking and saw the dog ahead of him and waited until the man had crossed the drive after which the driver proceeded to park his car without seeing the second dog, or the more or less fully extended leash which meant the dog was well behind the man who wasn’t looking at it. There was no street lighting. Both men were distraught, one because he had lost a “family member” and the other because he had accidentally killed a neighbour’s dog. Officer Rivera was really good as he got the facts of the case and calmed the situation to the point where the two men shook hands and each accepted that, tragic though the incident was, there had been a genuine accident. Did it need to be reported to the police? I would have thought not but I imagine the man walking the dog’s initial reaction was that the driver should be punished, although he accepted the officer’s decision that this was a genuine accident without a criminal offence having occurred.
Our next call was for a potential burglary in progress at a local warehouse. You guessed the lights were flashing and the siren wailing as we hurried along relatively dark roads (street lighting is pretty limited in these parts from my point of view). Before we got to the warehouse area the siren was off and as we drove into the warehousing all the lights were off so that we were driving at around 40 mph guided only by star light and light pollution, and yet I had no doubts that I was perfectly safe. I was told to stay in the car so that I couldn’t be taken hostage. We were there as back up to the officer who had noticed that the glass at the bottom of one of the doors had been smashed. It wasn’t a big hole and certainly I couldn’t have wiggled through but, let’s say, someone aged up around 14 years might have been able to get through it, and both officers approached with guns drawn and flash-lights probing ahead in an attempt to see through the door. Once again their courage was evident. Yes they were wearing bullet proof body armour but their heads weren’t protected and it was all too easy to imagine a shot from inside the warehouse finding a target. Gradually it became apparent that the officers could perceive no immediate danger. Two other officers arrived as did a member of staff from the warehouse together with, I presume, the owner/manager. The would-be burglars had done enough damage to the door to stop it opening from the outside so it became necessary with the owner/manager’s consent to break the window enough for a man to get through. This took a lot of doing, the glass would simply not fracture and fall to pieces. Anyway our next call came through while this was going on and we were off to investigate a car burglary which had occurred the previous night and which had just been reported despite the owner having discovered the theft earlier in the morning.
When we got to the house where the owner of the car lived we got the story that the owner of the car had discovered his passenger door ajar that morning and discovered that his wallet and credit cards had been stolen from the unlocked car along with his iPod. The owner said that there had been no fraud on the cards which I found to be amazing, particularly as a friend had her cards stolen on Saturday night and there were a stream of transactions on them within minutes. Anyway the owner of the car had a photocopy of all his credit cards and his driver license – it made things a lot easier in terms of reporting and is probably an idea worth taking up. The neighbour’s car had also been opened and the contents had been strewn around but nothing had been taken. It all seemed very odd to me.
That was our last call of the evening except for the local resident who was worried that something was happening and approached us for information while Officer Rivera was completing the reporting. There was a lot of completing to do as he hadn’t had the opportunity to complete the reports on the traffic accident which not only required the predictable data but also a sketch map of the incident.
That was our last call of the night and so we fuelled up the car before Officer Rivera dropped me off home at the end of an interesting shift.
What did I learn from the experience? Well, first of all that police officers are taking in and responding to a stream of information which wasn’t evident to me as we “just drove around”. I also learned that sometimes an officer on road patrol has no specific task and has to use his own professional judgement. It might be chasing something down, it might be making a visible presence in an area, it might be checking traffic or looking for speeding traffic, but at other times the brown stuff hits the fan and the officers walk into potentially life-threatening situations without seeming to give it a second thought. I also discovered that really good people-skills are required when it is just impossible to do what the citizen wants, but that, when possible, an officer will try to do whatever he can to help. Did I enjoy my ride-along shift? Yes, I certainly did. Was I impressed by Officer Rivera? Yes, I was. Yet again Davie Police impressed me.
Tomorrow is our ninth of the ten sessions of the course and we are on the shooting range. Neither my wife, nor myself, have ever previously fired a real gun if I discount the air rifles I used to shoot on the “rifle range” when the fair came to town during Barnsley Feast Week a half-century ago. It should be an interesting and enjoyable experience!
Almost as a post-script, the mention of Barnsley Feast Week reminds me of the day I got me GCE results. I’d arranged to meet my friend, Frank Lee, on the market which was closed because of the fair. I remember it was a grey overcast day with drizzle which was a good fit for our mood as we plodded towards Holgate Grammar School to discover the worst. I’m glad to report that we didn’t discover the worst – we’d actually done rather well, much better than either we or the school had expected.
I have to add a PPS as I’ve just discovered that the teacher who probably had the biggest impact on my education at Holgate, Victor Prooth, died last year. This article describes “Vic’s” teaching style as unorthodox. To those of us who had the pleasure of being in his classes the word “unorthodox” is a massive understatement. My class first encountered him at the end of our first year at Holgate. Once we were seated to his satisfaction he declaimed from his desk, “Gentlemen, you will have heard, I’m a bastard. It’s true.” We were both stunned and undeniably impressed. Here was a teacher who used the same kind of language that we did. It set the tone for our relationship with Vic through the next four years. He had our respect, we knew where we stood with him but none of us stood in fear of unfair punishment or retribution. If you got caught misbehaving in class you were simply invited to stand in front of his desk and look at an imaginary painting on the back wall of the classroom before being asked whether you wanted top-spin or back-spin before he clouted you on the back of the head. He didn’t have to do it often, and I don’t remember anyone ever complaining amongst ourselves. I remember that, on one occasion, having gained knowledge of my interest in Grand Prix racing he made sure there was a copy of Speed Six in the class library and then drew my attention to it. One other memory of Vic which I would like to share was an event which happened to a friend of mine whom Vic, as he did with many of us, called by a nickname, in this case “Freddie” after Freddie Jones the actor. Anyway, on this occasion Freddie was walking along the top corridor by the art room when Mr Prooth came along in the opposite direction. Freddie knew that he had been spotted and had no choice but to acknowledge the meeting. The conversation went something like this:
VP: Ah! Freddie! Have you done that homework for me yet?
Freddie: No Sir.
VP: Why not Freddie? Have you never had an event you will remember all your life?
Freddie failed to spot the trap which was being cunningly laid.
Freddie: [With enthusiasm] No, Sir. That’s it, Sir. I’ve never had one, Sir.
VP: [Using pantomime villain voice] Then come with me, Freddie.
At this point Mr Prooth, followed by an increasingly nervous Freddie set off in the direction of Mr Prooth’s classroom: Freddie was surprised when they didn’t go into the classroom but instead stopped at the top of the stairs where, according to Freddie, Mr Prooth grabbed him by the ankles and dangled him over the bannister at the top fo the staircase where all the jumble which was then carried by school boys in their blazer pockets began to fall on the heads of the unsuspecting pupils using the staircase.
VP: Will you remember this event for the rest of your life Freddie?
Freddie: Yes, Sir!. I will, Sir! For the rest of my life, Sir!
VP: So, now you can write my essay can you Freddie?
Freddie: Yes, Sir!
VP: And when can I have my essay Freddie?
Freddie: Tomorrow, Sir. Tomorrow.
The conversation was at an end and Mr Prooth put Freddie back on his feet before walking off leaving my friend to collect his belongings from the four flights of stairs down which they had tumbled. No-one thought this behaviour to really be worthy of comment other than to find it amusing and effective. Freddie wasn’t complaining about it when he told me the tale.
Victor Prooth was definitely one of a kind!