Derek Ray 5:51 p.m., May 19
Embedded 1: In Clairemont U.S.A.
Daywatch in the SDPD Northern Division starts before dawn. I requested this ride-along. It’s a once a year opportunity to become more acquainted with our police force and to observe what they do for us first hand. I’ve been assigned to ride with Officer Jenna, a 20-something, LA transplant with more than two and a half years on SDPD. Previously in cancer research, which she grew to dislike, she says she loves being a cop. You can call her anything except that Pride, Integrity, and Guts word, although she readily displays them all. Straight away, we sit on a West Clairemont side street to watch for stop sign violations. By paying close attention, I’m amazed at how many drivers don’t make complete stops. According to Jenna, these are “technical violations” worthy of a moving violation ticket. She however, waits for someone to drive straight through. We don’t get one, but instead she witnesses a driver with her cell phone to her ear. The Jeep with doggie stickers is pulled over and ticket is issued with recommendation to obtain a “handsfree”. Before we continue, she makes a “journal” entry and then jots detailed notes about the stop for reference in traffic court. Although court is unpleasant and attending cuts into her valued free time, she makes a point to always attend. She travels a lot of ground; as few as 35 to as much as over 100 miles per 8-hour shift. We next check a vacant drug home off Morena and she tells me of the ongoing horrors that occurred there until the owner was eventually found dead. Her least desirable calls are those for a nonresponsive person or for a welfare check, which sometimes has the same outcome; once it was an infant. Her beat includes a number of chronic homeless addicts – drugs and/or alcohol and we patrol a few business areas in Central Clairemont looking root-out one or two of them without success. They mostly hide out in bushes and alcoves or around dumptsers, annoying residents and employees. Never really off-duty, just out of uniform and in gym clothes, Jenna enjoys unwinding with exercise. She has completed a bunch of marathons and half-marathons with a relay run in the desert coming up soon. She talks about going to the gym after the shift with another officer, her fiancé, Jeff. They’ll marry in June; maybe have their honeymoon in her favorite place, Hawaii. Her professional ambition for now is to become a Sergeant. I’m told whenever citizens complain about traffic problems, catching violators is emphasized at morning roll call. I see how this is warranted. Before long, a driver ahead of us crosses the solid double lines making a turn across Clairemont Drive and the driver is cited. We then park off-street to observe a “no turn on red” corner and in just a few minutes, give chase to a VW East down Balboa Avenue. The driver has a spotless driving record and Jenna decides on giving a warning, but logs it into the car’s MTS system for future notice to other officers. I’m told, “Never ask for a warning. We hate that. You have more of a chance of one if you don’t ask.” This SDPD car, with some 140,000 miles, is outfitted with a powerful wireless computer that provides an officer immediate access to a DMV and criminal justice database. A GPS system tells dispatch exactly each patrol car’s current location. This allows for the most efficient assignment of calls. The car also has a Lowjack scanner to identify stolen vehicles. Jenna tells me about the concept of probable cause stops and says she wants to show me how a consensual field interview is conducted then a block away she spots a known chronic drinker loitering by dumpsters at a South Clairemont 7-11. His criminal record in MTS lists 23 arrests, some for violent and dangerous behavior. Today he’s cooperative. She is pleasant and friendly, but maintains control of the situation with a backup officer, Justin. The individual has an open container of malt liquor in his pocket, and he talks about entering VA alcohol treatment, but it’s apparent he’s not motivated to quit. His drink is poured out and he’s sent on his merry way. In her midnight blue uniform, Jenna is a profile in professionalism. On her belt, she carries a tazer, a can of pepper spray, an automatic handgun, a pair of cuffs, and finally a radio with an earpiece. Also, she wouldn’t think of not wearing her two protective vests. We still haven’t received any calls, but the entire morning has been busy. We pull up behind an older truck at a red light when she notices the registration has been expired for over 7 months. When stopped, the driver also admits to having a suspended license and no insurance. As a result, a citation is issued with four serious violations that the driver gladly accepts in lieu of going to jail. His vehicle is towed for impound then the fellow and his passenger are left walking to their destination. With the amount of fines and impound costs, I think this might be the last he will see of the truck. Now almost noon, Officer Jenna returns to the Eastgate station to submit documents for the last incident. I decide to call it a day and leave her to enjoy a much deserved lunch break and begin processing a mound of paperwork required before she’ll be through. In parting, I am grateful for the experience, confident in the SDPD, and impressed by the work of Officer Jenna. For the rest of us today is a Thursday, but happily for Jenna, it’s her Friday.