Riding In HPD’s Car 13
Before going out on patrol, SGT Matt Waugh a Shift Supervisor holds Roll Call with the officers coming on duty. This session is not unlike what we see on television police shows. Everyone gets briefed on: what has been happening in town during the previous shift, who’s on duty this shift, any new BOLO’s (Be On the Look Out), recent policing policy changes, and general preparedness for a safe shift of serving Holliston’s citizens.
Officer Scott Downey, a nearly 29 year veteran (4 Auxiliary and almost 25 Full-time), had time to meet with me and SGT Waugh. His devotion to serving Holliston is very clear. He is proud of his profession and shared many insights about what he calls the “human condition.” Each interaction with the public involves the human condition of the officer and the citizen. While each party’s human condition can vary, the interaction needs to remain in control. This is achieved largely by artful conversation and observation. Officer Downey sets high standards for his work and challenges himself to do the right thing – no matter what he faces.
We also discussed the dangers of policing. High on the list is responding to a domestic dispute. Recently, there has been a trend (not in Holliston) for police to be ambushed as they respond to a domestic complaint. Officer and citizen safety are always top of mind during interactions with the public. A good shift is when all the citizens and police officers are safe and sound.
Another topic was the dynamic of policing. Many shifts involve hours of patrol interspersed with episodes of high tension: an arrest, a crime in progress, or a medical emergency. Maintaining officers’ health during rapidly fluctuating stress levels is a focus of police departments across the world – and in Holliston.
As if on cue, SGT Waugh and Officer Downey are dispatched to a medical emergency. A gentleman has been reported unconscious and unresponsive. We launched out of police headquarters with lights, sirens, and a lot of horsepower to render aid as soon as possible. Enroute we receive an update that the patient is now responsive. Within minutes, we are on the scene. Officer Downey carries in a medical kit to begin the assessment. Shortly after the HFD Ambulance arrives and ultimately transported the patient to Metrowest Framingham hospital for evaluation.
A personal note here: Yvette and I completed the Citizens Police Academy a few years ago. A ride along with an officer is the culminating activity of that program. On my ride along, as soon as we got in the cruiser we had a call to a motor vehicle accident and we launched out of the HQ with lights, sirens, and speed through the center of town. I’m hoping that most shifts for our officers start a little more gradually.
After our high speed start, things settled down into a normal patrol. As SGT Waugh navigates his way around town, he is constantly alert to vehicles and property along his route, looking for signs that something is not right. Little things like he knows who is normally out walking at certain times in the day. What homes / offices are vacant and need extra attention.
SGT Waugh shared that one of the keys to policing is ‘working in the grey area.’ The laws are not always black and white, and even when they are – human behavior is not as clearly defined. Sound judgment is key to maintain command presence during each interaction.
Also, while responding to a call for police service, officers run through a mental preparation for the various scenarios they might face. What might appear as a ‘routine’ call might be something very different in real life. A phrase he carries with him from his police academy is, ‘complacency can kill.’
We took up a stationary post to check passing vehicles for proper stickers, etc. SGT Waugh spied an expired inspection sticker, entered the registration in his computer and confirmed that the vehicle was not compliant with state law 90-20. A short pursuit ended with SGT Waugh approaching the vehicle. We learned in our police academy that officers routinely touch the rear of the stopped vehicle. The purpose is to mark the vehicle as evidence in case the driver evades the officer.
Gone are the pads of citations that officers have manually completed. Each patrol vehicle has this electronic program that collects data about the violation and the vehicle / driver information along with the disposition of the stop (warning, citation, summons, or arrest). When the data entry is complete, the system checks for errors. If everything is in order, the warning / citation is printed from the small printer seen below. Very expedient and reduces the paperwork of policing.
We set up a couple of stationary patrols to watch for speeders. It seemed that no one was in a particular hurry. Then SGT Waugh checked an app on his cellphone and discovered that his cruiser had been tagged on a map program. No more blinking headlights at oncoming vehicles, just check you phone! A reminder, handsfree cell phone use goes into effect on February 13th.
While on patrol, Officer Downey discovered a water main break on Ashland Street (which also included a break on Cedar Street). HPD called the Water Department and Officer Downey and Fire Chief Cassidy set up detours. Here’s another example of officers on the scene seeing the entire issue. By setting up detours on heavily traveled roads officers anticipate who will be impacted. Having thought that through, Officer Downey made sure the school bus drivers would know about the disruption.
Our morning ended with a perfect demonstration of what makes Holliston such a special place – in large part due to our police department. Officer Charles Grace and his wife had their first child at 6:05 am on the day of this ride along. SGT Waugh made a stop at Fiske’s and a detour during our patrol to appropriately adorn the Graces’ mailbox to let them know that HPD had their backs.
I have not had the opportunity to spend time with all of our police officers. The ones I have met always impress me with their concern and caring about the safety of our town. They have a service mindset that shows up in all the interactions that I have had / observed.
Thank you SGT Waugh and Officer Downey for making it real for me. Also, thanks to LT Leurini and Chief Stone for supporting this idea.