By on January 20, 2014

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We sourced this article as a direct response to reader suggestions that we present another view of highway enforcement personnel — JB

Last year I watched as someone I loved went off-track – and came dangerously close to the wall – right in front of where I stood under an umbrella as the rain poured down. He was a passenger in the car, a volunteer instructor for the weekend. The wife of the car’s driver, standing next to me, said with a look of shock on her face, “I don’t know how you do this.”

“The same way I live every day with a brother as a state trooper,” I replied. “I don’t think about it. I can’t think about it.”

Any of us can, at any time, find ourselves in dangerous situations on the road. We deal with bad weather, bad drivers, and, based on my experience, entire populations of idiots who should not be allowed on the road. What most of us don’t have to think about is whether the driver or passenger in the car we just pulled over is wanted for murder, has drugs in the car, stopped taking his anti-psychotic meds, or just really hates cops. We don’t have to wonder whether the cars which are probably already exceeding the speed limit in a 65 or 70 mph zone will slow down or move over while we’re standing or sitting in our car on the side of the road. These are the kind of situations that law enforcement officers on patrol deal with each and every day. In the past few years I have had two opportunities to see what it is like firsthand, going on a half-day and a full-day ride-along with my brother.

There were a few things which struck me very strongly during these experiences, and they aren’t necessarily the kind of things you would expect. The first, and in my opinion most important, thing was how much of a professional he was. When he graduated from the academy, he was only 22. The passing of time has mellowed him. Within 15 minutes of leaving the house to start his shift, we responded to a call for a potential driving under the influence which had already been pulled over by another agency. I watched my brother administer the roadside tests, and after moving to the back of the car, had a “front row” seat as he interacted with the driver. At the end of the encounter, the man had over $1k in fines (open container, driving with a suspended license, and no insurance), but no driving under the influence as he didn’t meet the criteria. My brother was kind and compassionate, and did his job professionally. He did not relish in the tickets he had given. In fact, he very clearly explained to the man something of which he was unaware – that while his license was suspended, he had been eligible for reinstatement for some time. My brother also explained the existence of payment plans available to assist the man in paying his fines, the thought of which would certainly have been weighing on the man’s mind. As we drove away, I wondered, “who the hell are you, and what have you done with the bad ass cop brother I’ve always imagined you to be?” But truly, in that moment, I was proud of the law enforcement officer he had become.

I’ve never stayed in a job long enough to become a true expert in any kind of law. As time goes on, I have certainly broadened my knowledge and expertise, but I doubt I will ever become as proficient in any kind of career as my brother is in spotting violations. Have you ever tried to spot a seatbelt violation across a 4 lane with a fairly wide median? Maybe check to see if license plates bear valid registration stickers? Go ahead. Try it. Unless you have super-powers, you will fail. And maybe find yourself drifting across the lane marker, not that I’m admitting to such a thing.

Most of the time, my brother runs the license check himself. While dispatchers are still used, advancements in technology have led many on patrol to to simply look people up in the systems themselves. But there have been a few times when the dispatcher has come back over the radio with a “backup is on the way” response. Like the time when he pulled over the enforcer of a major motorcycle gang. He related another story to me about a guy from 10+ hours away that he had pulled over twice within a few weeks. The individual had the kind of merchandise in his car that could have meant he was just a shrewd businessman buying products in bulk at a good discount. Or he may have been involved in terrorism. This is the everyday world of the men and women who patrol our roads, never knowing who or what is in the car they’ve just pulled over.

MSNBC recently aired a new series called “Heist”. In the first episode they showed a bank robbery that happened a few years back in a small town with 500 residents, just 5 miles from my childhood home; the town where my brothers and I went to school. The robbery itself was captured on the bank’s security cam; the pursuit was captured by numerous dashboard cams. Something like fifteen law enforcement agencies – local, county, state, neighboring state, and federal – assisted during the manhunt. The robbers had AK-47s, and were firing at the officers who were in pursuit. A local police chief had to retire after 35 years of service following the chase; he was shot in the neck and hand. A state trooper was shot in the arm and continued pursuit. Other officers had their cars disabled by the gunfire. As I was watching, I texted my brother to ask if the Department of Transportation officer I was watching being interviewed was the brother of someone we knew. My instinct was right; he grew up 2 miles away from us. At the end of the day, the robbers were apprehended by the SWAT team of a department an hour away, and all the injured officers have recovered. The point to telling the story is that even patrolling rural roads in a world generally free of major crime, you never know what will happen as the day unfolds.

I know that not all state patrolmen or other law enforcement officers are like my brother. Much like in my own line of work, those who abuse their positions or treat people unprofessionally drag down the reputation of the majority. Different departments undergo different training, sometimes radically different training. But there are still a lot of good, upstanding, hardworking individuals patrolling our roads with integrity, dedication, and a true desire to serve and protect. I understand what they face day in and day out. I am proud to call one of them my brother.

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52 Comments on “Taking A Ride With The Iowa State Patrol...”


  • avatar

    Fascinating glimpse into a world I’m unfamiliar with. Thanks!

    I would like to point out one thing: people learn very quickly to see those things they’re looking for. When I was a kid, I could easily spot frogs in a pond, where other people just saw water and lily pads. So I’m not at all surprised that a police officer can spot seatbelt violations across four lanes with a wide median, and I suspect that those in states where texting is illegal can tell from similar distances when it’s going on.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    I salute your brother. He is a true public servant.

    I’ve never been much of a criminal, except perhaps as regards speed limits (and a small-time criminal even at that). But like most of us, I’ve had encounters over the years with various law enforcement officers. Some were as professional as your brother. Some, alas, were not.

    I think the root of the problem here is not solely the police themselves, but the gutlessness of sundry state and local politicians. Unwilling to face the voters with a forthright declaration that they need to raise their taxes, instead we get this subterfuge where the residents of State A or Municipality B have money collected from them under the guise that they are endangering the public with their lawbreaking use of their cars (especially when they have the bad judgment to wander over the border into State B or Municipality A).

    The police officer, too often, is stuck in the middle in the role of de facto BS-tax collector. It’s an unhealthy situation that corrodes the public’s respect for the law, and often the police officer’s respect for himself.

    • 0 avatar
      steevkay

      I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        I agree. While I have been critical of some of my police interaction, a large percentage of my interaction was rather professional. The other 20% however, left a very bitter taste in my mouth as they were the most disrespectful, abusive d-bags I have ever met. The fact that the police are being used as tax men is not lost on law enforcement either.

        My friend is a 25 year veteran of the Miami Dade PD. I rode as an observer with him for the midnight shift. Part of the assignment was dealing with smash and grabs. Other time was spent on calls or backup. I saw some sides of humanity that most would be appalled to see. Most of the heartache centered around those wrapped up in deep poverty or drug use, others were involved in abusive relationships, or were single parents with zero future. The dilapidated housing was disgusting. To say riding with the PD was an eye opening would be a massive understatement. The job has certainly changed my friend that is for sure. Now if something could be done about that 20%…

        • 0 avatar
          mikedt

          …and the other 80% fully support the “disrespectful, abusive d-bags”. That’s the real problem. No way to get rid of the guys who shouldn’t be anywhere near a badge or a gun.

          • 0 avatar
            ClutchCarGo

            This. I know that most LEOs genuinely take the job seriously and professionally, but the perceived need to hold the Blue Line when it comes to the bad apples is what drives the negative perceptions of the police. Given the need of any given LEO to be able to count on his fellow officers to have his back, I just don’t know how they can address the problem, tho.

    • 0 avatar
      Legally Brunette

      The Iowa State Patrol takes no money from the fines generated by their tickets through either a percentage or a kick-back. I believe all the money goes directly into the general fund. (They are also terribly underfunded.) That isn’t to say that the state doesn’t raise revenue by troopers writing tickets, because they obviously do, but at least in this case, the troopers have no specific monetary incentive to write more.

  • avatar
    Loser

    Thanks for the good read. People just love to hate cops until they need one. Like you said every line of work will have it’s good and bad people. I have a good friend that’s a SC State trooper and it’s funny to hear him complain about the “useless” county and city police he deals with. Even cops stereotype other cops. Just human nature.

    • 0 avatar
      cartunez

      My coworker(s) can’t legally murder me either on purpose or accident. So the danger of there being working good or bad people in every occupation doesn’t do apply here. The lack of accountability in the current police state bothers me. Wanting someone to be accountable is not hate any more than I hate the garbage man or 7 eleven worker both of whom have far greater risk of death associated with their respective jobs than police do.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        Yes. The police state has shown an unseemly delight in (literally and figuratively) charging through the door cracked open by the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. This is not the fault of the individual officer — those decisions have been made way above his or her pay grade — but it has created a climate that has encouraged abuse.

        But I suppose that’s probably a debate for another column, and I’ll accept in good faith that the author agrees.

        • 0 avatar
          Legally Brunette

          No argument there. That is one of the nice things about my brother’s job — the jurisdiction for drugs/terror is far beyond the scope of his duties, so unless he pulls someone over who is involved in such a crime or is performing assistance to another agency, he isn’t involved in those kinds of issues.

      • 0 avatar
        Z71_Silvy

        “My coworker(s) can’t legally murder me either on purpose or accident”

        Sure they can.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Maybe it should be more difficult to obtain AK-47s?

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Nicely written. I’ve done ride alongs as well, and you really do never know what is going to go down every time someone is pulled over for whatever reason.

  • avatar
    LALoser

    One time I was headed to Fairbanks from Anchorage on the 2 lane portion when I passed an Alaska State Trooper going back the other way….I was doing over 85MPH in a 60 IIRC. As I went past I waved and pulled over. He went down a ways, turned around and pulled up behind me. He actually complimented me for pulling over and waiting…and cut me loose with a warning other Troopers were out on the same highway closer to town.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I got the same compliment in Montana, for the same reason. Though she did still give me the well-deserved ticket. $40, paid on the spot, no record on my license. Only ticket this century for me.

      Cops appreciate it when you don’t make them chase you…

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Hey, I’m white too! It rocks to benefit from selective non-enforcement. I just have a hard time feeling good about it.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Interesting read, I had the opportunity to participate in a ride along many years ago and remember the whole night playing out like an episode of “Cops” Mostly drunks and petty domestic squabbles, but it was worth seeing life from a cop’s point of view.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    It sounds like your brother has chosen a well compensated, particularly with regard to benefits and pension, profession and taken a dedicated, honest approach to it.

    That is what taxpayers deserve and should expect.

    Focusing on statistics, not anecdotes, being a cop is more dangerous than working in an office, but not one of the top ten most dangerous professions:

    http://www.theagitator.com/2007/12/28/how-dangerous-is-police-work/

    If you want me to see your brother as truly above and beyond, and not just a dedicated cop, tell me about the time he booked another cop for a DUI instead of driving him home, or testified against another cop. As much as police complain about “no snitch” polices among certain members of the public they are rather good at following them. The good cops fail to police the bad ones.

    People focus on the bad cops because they are a serious problem. There are a lot of them. Some of them do really bad things like rape, theft and obscenely unjustified killing (e.g. Kelly Thomas in Fullerton). They almost never face consequences – not even firing, much less the criminal consequences an ordinary citizen would face.

    Cops should be expected to be good cops, so when members of the public focus on the bad cops they are focusing on what needs to be fixed. In some blue states and pay and benefits are ridiculous and unsustainable across the board. But nobody is calling for every cop to be fired or put in jail. Just the bad ones. Think about it this way, do cops focus on the good citizens?

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      My largest complaint against law enforcement agencies is that they frequently take professional courtesy to the extreme of protecting criminal behavior by fellow officers. My anecdotally driven feel is that fed and state level are less infested than large city forces with small city police/sheriffs representing both extremes. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? An agency without an effective answer can never be an effective agency.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      I’m not that worried about outright criminal behavior from police (blue line protection doesn’t go that far except between friends from what I’ve seen.) What is awful is a poorly managed police department (like NYC) where perverse incentives are put in place for political or economic reasons.

      State troopers, in my personal experience, are a different breed entirely. Their paramilitary status shows in the professionalism, discipline and fairness they typically show. They also seem to have a bit more rope than a local police force, with more trust being placed in their training and less reliance placed on over managing their workplace decisions. Please correct me if I’m wrong, that’s just my impression.

      I suspect this may be a result of their leadership being organized along different lines.

  • avatar

    I watch COPS, Real Stories of the Highway Patrol and Insane Police chases regularly and I’m amazed how stupid people actually are. Regardless how fast my cars are, I’d never try and flee the police – I just pull right over. I saw a woman in a Porsche trying to evade the Cops this morning and she was doing pretty well – achieving speeds well above 100 in 2-lane, 2-way traffic right up till they rammed her.

    I’d never want to go for a ride with the cops in a state where AK-47′s and other guns are ubiquitous cause eventually you’d come across some meth head who’s not going down without a fight.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    When I worked at a bank we were privileged to have our annual security training handled by Chris Greely, a local police officer. He taught us a great deal about business security, our own personal safety, and what it’s like to be a police officer. He’s a true asset to the community. http://www.greeleyconsulting.com/index.htm

  • avatar
    -Nate

    So far ;

    All my Ride Alongs have been in helicopters ~ *very* educational and entertaining too .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Legally Brunette

      In a previous job, I got to fly down to the Eastern Short of Maryland, following the Potomac in the chase helicopter (an executive-fitted black hawk) when our Director flew down to give a speech at St. Mary’s College. First helicopter ride. First police escort. First ride with a protective detail. It was a life I could learn to deal with.

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    The Police Officers are different in Iowa.
    I was born and raised in the Chicago burbs. “Wyatt Earp syndrome” is the norm there.
    Not so in the Iowa side of the QC.

    • 0 avatar
      Hillman

      Same here in my city. Funny how just having nice conversations with police officers who are on foot patrol can help improve the relations with the public. Also, the county cops who stay in their Crown Vics without any community out reach tend to be hard to deal with. It all starts with the leadership.

  • avatar
    Toad

    As the person who suggested the ride along, thanks for the follow up and I hope to see more of them.

    Part of being a cop is that virtually EVERYBODY you interact with is either behaving badly or the victim of bad behavior, a perpetrator or a victim. All of them would rather not have to deal with you but for some stupid/criminal/unfortunate circumstance.

    Cops are not Santa; when they show up it is because somebody did something wrong, there is certainly going to be a level of conflict, and possibly even violence. Many of the people they deal with have the worst possible personality defects (ranging from simple narcissism and selfishness at a traffic stop to predatory rapists, abusers, and killers) and you see them all day, every day.

    I can’t imagine constantly dealing with humanity at it’s worst, and have some sympathy for those whose career requires them to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      cartunez

      Cops don’t deal with humanity at its worst…the person who might have been caught in a speed trap, the person whose headlight might be out, the old person who can’t understand english and is beaten for it. Hardly humanity at its worst…I would suggest that you stop watching diehard and pro cop shows and check out the police misconduct site hosted by the Cato Institute http://www.policemisconduct.net

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Even the upstanding citizens cops deal with are usually at their worst because the only time they have to interact with the police is when they either did something wrong or were the victim of somebody who did.

        I am not in the best of moods or feeling particularly social sitting by the side of the road while getting a ticket; neither is anybody else. I’m also not in the best of moods when I have to fill out a report because some idiot ran into my car or broke into my house.

        When I am interacting with the police for any reason that means I am not having a good day, and I think that applies to virtually everybody.

        Not every person cops deal with is the worst of humanity, but much of what they deal with is humans at their worst.

        • 0 avatar
          69firebird

          Speaking as a guy who had some out-of sight electronics stolen from a car a few nights ago,I agree.Nothing about it was fun.I did find out there were about 5 other cars broken into nearby,and they’d probably check a pawn shop or two to see if anything turned up.Chances are I never see that stuff again.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Were it up to me, police officers would be selected only from that segment of the population that had never served in the military, and any existing cops with military backgrounds would be dismissed from their positions.

    The mindset of soldier and police officer is rightfully very different, and even honorable, decorated service should be a lifetime bar to ever becoming a cop.

    Just because one is proficient in the usage of firearms, knowledgeable of and comfortable with a chain of command and given to maintaining a state of physical fitness are not enough reasons to give that person a badge.

    Not when he’s been trained to see everyone who’s not dressed like him as the enemy, or at least as a potential enemy.

    Not when he’s been trained to obey all orders without question and to never contemplate the rightness or wrongness of those orders.

    Not when he’s been trained to believe that no one has any legitimate right to resist his actions, and that those who do are the worst kind of scum.

    Police may be the literal embodiment of the necessary evil that is government, but there’s not justifiable reason to make that evil any worse by giving assorted meatheads, thugs, douchebags and power-tripping adrenaline junkies the power of life or death over their fellow citizens.

    When the system does that, it’s no longer concerned with Justice, but with Law.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      I’d worry they may have been too mean/stupid to get in the military. Now that the wars are winding down the armed forces have standards, again.

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        Hey, good point.

        I remember reading somewhere that a completely volunteer military tends to accumulate the sorts of people you don’t want anywhere near weapons, whereas the draft (an honest one, that is) grabs a nearly-complete societal cross-section with a greater percentage of calm, mature, violence-averse people.

        Maybe we should go back to the draft. If only we could do it honestly, and if the theory’s sound.

        At least then, we might not have to worry about Sergeant 82nd Airborne filtering back into civilian life and becoming Officer 82nd Airborne.

    • 0 avatar

      +1

    • 0 avatar
      AH-1WSuperCobra

      I must say that I find your take on the military humorous at best. I know it’s the popular thing to do to portray the military as some goose stepping SS like organization that’s always “just following orders.” Only a small percentage of the military see combat as most is support roles. In the air wing we were part of the 6 mile a year club when it came to running. We were usually too busy working 16 hr shifts maintaining a fleet of aircraft. The real military isn’t like all that overly hardcore nonsense you see in movies and on tv. It’s mostly just cleaning things, sitting around waiting because we have to be 15 prior to the 15 prior, and doing your job. Contrary to belief we aren’t all idiots that can’t function anywhere else in society. I was a 18 year old kid maintaining avionics systems on multi million dollar helicopters.

      The other thing I like is and it’s not just limited to stories here about police as the video game sites I frequent are full of people complaining about developers is that no one seems willing to step up and do those jobs. People complain about how there are all these cops that shouldn’t have a badge but then give 1000 excuses why they personally can’t do it.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        No excuse here: my eyesight kept me from being Sworn , dammit .

        Those who fear / hate (same thing you know) Cops so much , maybe try walking up to some and _talking_ to them , , they have families and cars , just like you do .

        Amazing , how simple it all is .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    dude500

    We have to be wary about using these kinds of extreme, fear-mongering examples to justify police privilege. It cannot be the reason for giving up the rights and freedoms of private law-abiding citizens.

    We should not be assumed guilty until innocent, we should not be detained without reasonable cause, and we should not be viewed as revenue generators.

  • avatar
    The Dark One

    “Most of the time, my brother runs the license check himself.” I WONDER IF HE USED S.C.M.O.D.S ?


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