Taking A Ride With The Iowa State Patrol
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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"Most of the time, my brother runs the license check himself." I WONDER IF HE USED S.C.M.O.D.S ?