I live my own episode of COPS. Guns, drugs, busts, sirens, traffic stops. An average night in the life of a Salem Police officer, an adrenaline rush of major proportions for me. Kudos and thanks to the men and women in blue.

December 8-9, 2000

8:30 PM: I’m introduced to Officer J.K. “Jimmy” Krauger, a veteran and field training officer (FTO) of the Salem Police Department. Jimmy deals with some paperwork and equipment for 30 minutes while I peruse the materials in the police briefing room. I pick up a police magazine that lists the “Top 10 Ways not to start your report”:

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
  2. The names contained in this report have been changed to protect the innocent…
  3. The mayor then made an illegal left-hand turn onto Mulraney at which point I opened fire…
  4. Before I get into the details, I’ve got a few “shout-outs” for my homeys in the command staff…
  5. It was so dark and wet that night you could almost eat the mist. The radio call penetrated the eerie silence with such piercing intensity that for a moment, I was sure I’d lose my mind…
  6. Got call. Responded. Arrested bad guy. The end.
  7. Mye pertnar an eye wher on petrol wen we seen a man act suspishushly…
  8. Let me just start by stressing the fact that at no point was I without my badge and gun, and the nudity was critical to establish a certain level of trust with the prostitutes…
  9. The suspect then tried to assault me by repeatedly slamming his face into my fist.
  10. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

9:03 PM: Jimmy checks out the squad car to make sure everything’s in order. We’ll be driving a 2000 Ford, so it’s a reasonably comfortable ride. Jimmy tells me that the cars, specially modified for police use, cost more than $30,000 each. We get situated in the car. Jimmy points out the “cover” button which I am to use if Jimmy gets shot or otherwise requires backup. “Hit this and every cop in Salem will be on the way,” he tells me. He then points out the release switch for the shotgun that sits between us and shows me how to take off the safety “in case you can’t slide over to the driver’s side in time or feel the need to defend yourself.” Jesus, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But I’m glad he told me this upfront. How to call for help was going to be my first question.

10:34 PM: Pretty slow so far. The temperature has dropped below freezing and that’s probably keeping most people indoors. Jimmy’s been telling me about his family, his experiences on the force, how much he loves his job. We stop for a few minutes to kibitz with another officer and his cadet ride along.

11:22 PM: Domestic disturbance down in “felony flats,” the socio-economically challenged part of the town where Friday and Saturday night police saturation patrols operate. The players: one 28-year-old white male suspect, his wife, and 4 kids (two of which are his). Originally a medical call regarding breathing difficulties for the guy, changed to a domestic violence police call when the paramedics discovered that, well, the woman was battered and bruised about the head and was bleeding all over herself.

We had passed the scene during the medical phase and doubled back after the call was changed. Jimmy is adept at driving fast and working the MDT (Mobile Data Terminal). When we arrive an officer is already on the scene and is questioning the man outside. We go inside to question and get a statement from the woman.

Her story: They’ve been together 8 years, 2 of the kids are his, and they’ve been separated for 3-4 months. When he came by this evening he told her everything was going to be great, he’d gotten a job, etc. She said she couldn’t be with him because he’d broken his promise to stay away from alcohol, and she couldn’t live with an alcoholic. This prompted an uncontrolled rage in him and he started beating her. She curled up into a ball in the corner by the Christmas tree, he ripped the phone cords out of the wall so she couldn’t call the police and yelled at the kids to get to bed. Lots of screaming and crying. While he was ushering the kids to bed, she managed to get a phone cord and get it plugged in. He then went to the bathroom and apparently had some kind of anxiety attack. He came out and she called the medics.

His story: He suffered some kind of anxiety attack where he couldn’t breathe. He was trying to get to the bathroom. He fell down and passed out a bit. He has bruised ribs because—and he “doesn’t want to get her into trouble”—she pushed him into the wall, while he was trying to get to the bathroom. Claims he has terminal esophageal cancer. Asks repeatedly for a cigarette. Admits he never should have started smoking (at age 12!). Refuses to budge from his story even when officers tell him that they’ll have to question the kids if he doesn’t tell them the truth. Does he really want to get them involved? “You do what you have to do, ” he tells them.

Three officers are on scene now: Jimmy, the shift Sergeant, and a Domestic Violence officer. Jimmy and I hang out with the man, who is seated on the little step outside the front door. It’s relatively cold, and the man, not having had a cigarette lately, is jonesing for another hit. He’s just rambling on about anything he can think of, and it’s pretty obvious that he’s filling the empty space of time with words in an attempt to distract all present, especially himself, from the guilt of his actions. He is what most of us would call “a real piece of work.”

A minute or two before the Sergeant and the Domestic Violence officer emerge from the house, the guy starts expounding on his need for water. Says the cancer dries him out if he does have some water every 20 minutes. “Arrest me or do whatever you’re gonna do! Just get me some water!” he yells. He is, frankly, in no position to issue demands, and Jimmy and I find his claims wholly unbelievable. The suspect starts this fake puking sound. Then the other officers emerge from the house.

“I need water or I’m gonna puke!” he says between his fake-puke sound effects. The Domestic Violence officer, having concluded interviews inside the house, looks at him. “So puke,” she says matter-of-factly.

The officers conference for a moment to decide who’s transporting whom, then the Sergeant gets our grand prize winner a cup of water so he’ll stop his fake puke routine. After he finishes the water, he’s arrested for Felony Assault 4. Oregon law makes domestic violence a felony if it occurs when children are present, and kudos to Oregon lawmakers for that.

After the guy has been frisked, we look down where he was sitting. Bong and little film canister of Mary J. None of us saw him drop it, so it can’t be officially tied to him. It’ll just get disposed of by police property control. Wouldn’t really matter if we could’ve linked it to him. Possession of that amount of MJ isn’t much of a crime. The felony assault charge is what he’ll be doing time for.

Jimmy and I escort the woman to the ER. Along the way Jimmy asks her if he’s been arrested for this before. Yup. Once about 5 years ago. And how many times has this happened where it hasn’t been reported? Four or five, she replies. Jimmy offers his opinion that she needs to find a way to get away from him. As we drop her off at ER, she says she understands.

12:53 PM: Drug bust on Hawthorne Ave. Lights and siren time. Well, just lights mostly. Sirens on the intersections as needed. No need to wake up the neighborhood. I glance at the speedometer. 70 in a 30. Cool. Lot of punch in these cars.

We arrive at the Motel 6 on Hawthorne Ave. Officers have detained 3 suspects: 2 Hispanic males and 1 Caucasian female. We’ve got about 6 officers here including one state trooper. They’ve separated all the suspects and everybody’s giving a different story including different names for one another. Note to criminals: If you lie to cops it pisses them off and makes them want to take you to jail. The officers search the car and start pulling out bags of meth. Looks like a lot to me, but nobody is batting an eye about it. I wonder if it will even make the papers. If not, then, God, we really do have an epidemic here.

The woman finally gives her real name and identifies the two guys. A quick check on the MDT reveals that she’s a wanted felon. Outstanding warrants in several counties. She cops to possessing a small amount of the meth, and says she doesn’t know anything about the huge bags of it that the police pulled out of the car. Fair enough. She’s going to jail for outstanding stuff anyway. One of the guys will be released since nothing can be pinned to him. The other guy, apparently the woman’s boyfriend, will be charged with obstruction of justice and other related stuff since his lies concerned blocking the apprehension of a wanted felon. Don’t know if they tied the meth to him or not.

Jimmy and I take the woman out to the Marion County Jail so we’re not around to hear the conclusion of everything. Along the way Jimmy’s singing along with the country music on the radio, making small talk with the woman (she’s been Mirandized), and generally having a good time. He really does love this job, you can tell. The woman is more chatty than I would expect, and we discover that Jimmy knows her aunt who works as a police dispatcher in Lebannon. The woman says she hasn’t see her aunt for a few years because there’s a warrant for her arrest in Linn County. Jimmy looks it up on the MDT. Yup, $119.

We take her into the Marion County Jail and turn her over to booking officers who do a more extensive body search of the woman while Jimmy fills out paperwork. Sure, she’s a wanted felon, a parole violator and all, but given the jail space it’s “catch-and-release.” She’ll be given a court date and unless she has a ride, she’ll spend the night in jail. After that, she can walk home in the morning if she can’t afford a taxi.

1:51 AM: Car with a headlight out going eastbound on Highway 22. Jimmy whips around and pulls him over in the Plaid Pantry at the corner by the Kmart across from the airport. Jimmy runs his license and plates and checks the insurance. Another officer shows up while this is going on, a very common and very telling thing. The police are constantly checking up on each other and making sure everything going down the way it’s supposed to. Given that these guys are literally putting their lives on the line, I find such camaraderie really moving.

The guy’s info all checks out. He’s clean. Jimmy tells him to get the light fixed, and lets him go at that. No harm, no foul.

2:03 AM: We meet up with the other officer in the parking lot of the Kmart to debrief. While we’re here, an older gentleman drives up and tells us that these kids in a red and white pickup at the Texaco station waved a gun and threatened him. Jimmy tells the guy to wait here, and both police cars immediately launch off over to the Texaco station. This ought to be interesting.

The older, somewhat beat up red and white Ford pickup is still at the Texaco. The two young guys are sitting in the cab while the Texaco guy fills up the truck. Jimmy and the other officer pull in about 15-20 yards behind the truck. Guns drawn, they tell the guys to get their hands where they can be seen. The poor old confused Texaco guy looks petrified. He’s slowly backing away from the pumps with his hands in the air.

Jimmy’s called for backup and is instructing officers not to come in from the east so that there’s no crossfire situation where officers could accidentally miss and hit a comrade. Jimmy tells me to duck down in the seat if any shooting start. Hey, no problem. Within a minute we have four more officers on the scene. Within two minutes, we have 8 cop cars here and officers fanned out along the west end of the Texaco station. I’ve got a front row seat in Jimmy’s car which is great from a spectator’s point of view, but less good in terms of personal safety. An officer with an AR-15 (the Colt semiautomatic successor to the M-16) comes up along the side of our car and tell me to get out and go back behind his car. Who am I to argue?

The police now have the driver come out of the truck, hands in the air, and instruct him to walk slowly backwards toward them. When he arrives at the hood of the first police car, two officers frisk and cuff him. The process is then repeated for the passenger without incident.

Now is when it gets tricky. Both driver and passenger, shut their doors upon exiting the truck, and there’s a shirt hanging in the back window obstructing view into the cab. (Not that it would be easy to see into anyway.) Is there somebody else in the truck? Somebody armed? We can’t tell. The officers, weapons still drawn, aren’t going to stand down until we know, and that means somebody’s going to have to go find out.

There’s a pause of about 10-15 seconds. I can’t tell if the police are waiting to see if something is going to happen, or if they’re mentally drawing lots to find out who gets to be Mr. Courageous.

An officer starts moving toward the truck. The cop with the AR-15 (I found out later that he’s on the SWAT team) is moving parallel to him behind the cover of the station island over from the truck. If shooting starts, he’ll have a good firing position. The first cop reaches a position just behind the cab door and quickly pops his head up to glance inside. Looks clear. He takes a longer, more thorough look. Yup, all clear. Weapons are holstered. Whew.

Talk begins with the suspects. Any gun, guys? Nope. Just a Coleman campfire starter that looks like one and a little marijuana. (Does everybody smoke this but me and Erin?) The two dudes seem to have lost a lot of the bravado they probably felt when threatening the old guy. The officers confiscate the MJ which will be destroyed by Property Control, and let the two guys go. Given this experience, I’m guessing they won’t be threatening people again any time soon.

Jimmy is busy thanking every cop he can in person and over the air for backing him up on the call. Knowing that help will come when you call for it, especially in “hot stops” like this one has got to be one of the greatest feelings in the world.

3 AM: We return to the station so Jimmy can drop the drugs off at Property Control, and so that I can call it a night and head for home. I thank Jimmy and promise to call him again in a few months for another ride along. After a lot of book learning from the Citizens Police Academy, I finally got a taste of what it’s really like on the street, and I understand the appeal. There’s lots of motoring around and every call is something different. It’s a job that I actually think I’d find fun and do fairly well at.

But I’m ever so grateful that I don’t have to.