There’s an adage that urges us to not judge an individual until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. That could be changed slightly to consider withholding opinions until we’ve spent some time with those individuals, even if it’s just five hours.
Five hours may not seem very long in the overall scheme of things, but those can be very educational hours when one on joins a Minden Police Department officer for a Friday night ride-along.
From 7 p.m. until midnight, Officer Reece Tewell and Officer First Class Jason Smith patrolled the streets of Minden with a citizen observer, monitoring radio traffic and stopping occasionally to check traffic flow. The officers were making sure drivers obeyed speed limits and stop signs, especially in residential areas.
“We’re not here to create problems for people, but we do want them to know that there’s a police presence,” Officer Tewell said. “We want to be visible. It’s important for them to know we’re doing our job.”
Doing the job doesn’t always result in what some might consider “punishment” for a violation. During the five hours with both officers, seven traffic stops were conducted. No tickets were issued in six. One ticket was written when a driver failed to stop for a traffic violation, continuing to drive despite blue lights and siren.
“We don’t have to hand out tickets to get the message across,” Officer Tewell said. “A lot depends on the circumstance and the attitude of the individuals we stop. A brief reminder of what it means to drive safely and avoid dangerous consequences can be enough.”
OFC Smith agreed that attitude plays a big part in what happens when a police officer must interact with the public, whether it’s a traffic stop or something more serious.
“We are always aware that circumstances, something we may not be aware of, can play a big part in the attitude of someone we have to deal with,” Smith said. “We try very hard to be courteous and respectful to everyone. We don’t want to make it worse if we can help it. All we ask is for their cooperation. A bad or aggressive attitude doesn’t help anyone.”
Officers also responded to a pair of domestic disturbance calls during the evening, one at a local motel and the other at a residence. Both were resolved without incident, but one report was filed that could lead to a future arrest.
“These are the kind of calls we have to approach with caution because there’s already a certain amount of tension,” OFC Smith said. “We have to be both police officer and social worker. We have to be sure a potentially bad situation doesn’t escalate, especially when children are present.”
A major concern expressed by both officers centered on the recent spate of drive-by shootings and the frequent reports of shots fired in city neighborhoods. Chief among the concerns is the lack of information coming from residents.
“We know we could do something about stopping these shootings if we could get information from the public,” Tewell said. “We’ve already lost a child to a drive-by and that’s a tragedy, and a bullet barely missed another youngster in another incident. We know there’s someone in our community who can identify the people who are doing this and it’s hard to understand why they won’t come forward.”
Tewell said officers and the department’s administration are trying hard to establish a bond between residents and their men and women in uniform.
“Every chance I get, I’ll stop and just talk with people on the street while I’m on patrol,” he said. “We want them to know us as people, not as the cop that’s looking for a reason to jam them up. If we can establish a trust, I believe we can solve a lot of the crimes we’re seeing.”
OFC Smith said the involvement of the people of Minden is as critical to public safety as a professional police department.
“Community involvement and commitment is important when you’re talking about community policing,” he said. “We’re on the street all day, every day, but we can’t be everywhere. We want to establish relationships with all the people we’re sworn to serve. That’s important to us. We all love our jobs. All we ask is for the public to be a part of the solution.”
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