Officers do much more than traffic stops

Published 7:00 am Sunday, June 3, 2012

Column: Guest Column, by Kelli Lageson

I can’t believe it’s already time for my last column about Citizens Academy, but it’s been a fun journey and I’m excited to share my experiences from my last adventure. Recently I went on a ride-along with officer Dave Miller on one of his evening shifts.

Full disclosure: We were able to pick which officer we’d like to go along with, and since I knew there might be some not-so-busy moments I chose Miller because we’re friends. And there was some down time so it was nice to have someone I knew and someone who (hopefully) didn’t mind my incessant questions. I’m a very curious person, which is really why I wanted to try Citizens Academy anyway, and I asked a lot of questions during the ride-along.

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From working at the Tribune and reading through the public police logs to report on thefts, DWIs and more, I figured Saturday night would be a good time for a ride-along. Miller worked 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. that night, and suggested I come by around 9 p.m. to sit in on shift change.

Right away I was intrigued by the idea of sitting in on their shift change, which is where all the police officers and sheriff’s deputies on duty get together and check in with each other about investigations and pass along information. There were six deputies and eight officers there that Saturday night, which Miller said was a few more than usual.

After some discussion about an ongoing issue in Glenville by the deputies, Lt. Darren Hanson and the other officers talked about which squad cars were available. Then Miller finished up some paperwork on another case and around 10 p.m. we started patrol.

At first Miller just showed me some of the features of the car, including the camera that records what’s going on inside and outside the squad. He showed me a little about the computer system inside and how it shows when he communicates with other officers or dispatch. Then we started patrol, just driving around different areas of town. Since it was a Saturday night we drove near the downtown bars while looking for anything suspicious and maintaining a presence, according to Miller.

Then around 10:15 p.m. we went to back up officer Jesus Cantu who had made a traffic stop near Bancroft Bay Park. It was nothing serious, but it’s their policy to back each other up when possible in the off chance that something would happen. After that we patrolled more and checked out some parks. Squad cars have handy spotlights that can help scan areas like parks when it’s dark out.

Then around 10:40 p.m. Miller stopped a car near St. Theodore Catholic Church for having a couple of brake lights out. After inputing the license plate number a whole host of information came right up on his computer screen. Miller warned her about the lights, and we were on our way. Another officer had shown up to assist while we were stopped.

Right after that, dispatch asked if anyone was near for a noise complaint, and we were less than a block away. Cpl. Tim Matson was near too, and we both looked for the origin of the noise. Matson dealt with a homeowner, and Miller and I went to patrol his sector of the town, which is a lot of the south side. We were down by Ventura Foods and the surrounding homes when there was a lot of traffic on the radio.

I didn’t really understand what they were saying, but Miller must have because we jumped onto Interstate 35 northbound to get to Walmart, where about five other officers were waiting. When we pulled up Miller told me to stay in the locked squad car and showed me how to use the radio to call for help if needed. Then he and the other officers walked into the wooded/swamp area behind Walmart.

About a half hour later (yes I was bored and a little nervous while waiting) the officers came out with two men and a bunch of camping gear. It seems the men were trespassing but also allegedly badgering Walmart employees. I found out later they were both wanted in other states. The two men were warned for vagrancy and littering and sent on their way.

Then immediately there was a fire call and almost no time to process what had just happened. Miller and I headed to an alleyway near Freeborn Avenue and arrived right before fire and rescue did. Matson also came when Miller called for help since the large group of juveniles had started running when they saw the squad car. The fire wasn’t well-contained, and they had allegedly been using accelerants so it was put out. Miller and Matson then spent some time talking to the kids, who looked to be pre-teens. Since it was around midnight Matson and Miller each took some kids to drive them home.

It surprised me that such young kids would be out and about that late, but Miller said he usually deals with the same groups of juveniles for the same sort of activity. Then a little while later we met officer Adam Hamberg at Kwik Trip for a quick break so they could both eat a sandwich. It was around 1 a.m., and that 10 minutes was really the only break I saw Miller take the whole evening.

Right after that, since police officers deal with animal control, we got called about an injured cat. After dealing with that call we started more patrol and that was the slowest part of the night. It seemed like we were busy the entire night, but it wasn’t for anything too dangerous or even news-worthy.

Again we patrolled around town and especially near the bars downtown around 2 a.m., or closing time. While patrolling the residential area near the City Pool we saw a girl who we originally thought was intoxicated because of the way she was walking and the time of night, but it turns out she was injured. She had hurt her foot earlier in the day and was trying to walk from her boyfriend’s house back to her home, but then she didn’t think she could make it.

Miller offered her a ride back, but she refused since it was just two houses away. He then offered to call an ambulance and wait with her until it came. Since it wasn’t an emergency we waited about 10 minutes until the paramedics came to look at her foot. She agreed to go into the hospital since she wasn’t really able to walk. Miller was able to convince her to at least get it looked at and the ambulance staff recommended she go to the hospital.

That was pretty much the last thing we dealt with, but I wasn’t tired at all and not really aware of the time so when we pulled up to the Law Enforcement Center I was asking Miller what was next, and he said that since it was 2:50 a.m. he’d be going home shortly. I couldn’t believe it was that late because the night had gone by so quickly.

I enjoyed seeing how everything actually works when officers pull someone over and why, and I realized that much of what they do is not just traffic stops. When you’re a city resident who never calls the police it’s easy to think all they do is pull people over, but when you actually read the police logs or go on a ride-along you see that they’re responding to other situations like domestic disturbances, juveniles starting a bonfire in town or helping on medical calls, among many other situations. It was eye-opening for sure.

I was glad to have the opportunity to ride along and experience what a shift of police work is like, but it doesn’t seem like anything I’d want to do permanently. As I’ve said before, I’m glad we have the police force we do, so I don’t have to do that kind of work. Also I’d recommend the Citizens Academy to any interested residents who want to learn more about the police department and more about the area as well. It was quite an experience, and while the ride-along was fun I still think the best experience I had was getting to shoot a handgun. Thanks again for reading, and I hope my columns about the experience were entertaining!


Kelli Lageson is the special projects editor at the Tribune. She was enrolled in a weekly Citizens Academy put on by the Albert Lea Police Department. Email her at