I rode with Corporal Dennis Komar, a field training officer. For eight hours, Cpl. Komar and I cruised Pinellas County. As we drove, he constantly checked the plates on cars around us, verifying valid licenses and watching for outstanding warrants.
Our first call was a robbery in progress. When we arrived, the suspect was being questioned in a parking lot. Who are you, where have you been, where do you live? The man being questioned poured with sweat. He denied any theft. He had been out of prison for nine days. The officers were soothing but in control.
When the employee witnessing the theft couldn’t identify the man, he made tracks out of the parking lot and across US 19.
We took to the road again. Cpl. Komar told me, “A lot of days are pretty quiet like this until later at night. When the bars close, it gets busy. Holidays can be rough with domestic disturbances. There are more calls on the weekends.”
Our next call was a traffic accident in Safety Harbor. We were the first on the scene. No one seemed hurt so it was a matter of getting the facts and filling out forms.
The two drivers were a middle-aged gray-haired woman and a young, slender Hispanic man. No one looked happy but everyone behaved. Cpl. Komar questioned the two about the accident and made his adjudication. The young man got a ticket and the woman got a tow truck.
Then instead of a meal break, we were off on a domestic disturbance call. We arrived at a trailer park off U.S. 19 to learn from a tall woman officer that the suspect had boarded a PSTA bus. We pursued the bus to Countryside Mall, arriving just after two other officers had taken the suspect off the bus. The woman officer arrived and questioned the suspect.
“She’d been drinking and was slapping me around so I left,” he claimed. The officer shined a light on his face. No marks.
“Your girlfriend has a swollen bruise on her hand and you have no marks on your face,” she responded evenly.
“She must have hit herself in the hand to make that mark,” the man replied.
Since she was bruised and he was unmarked, the officer read him his rights. He had just violated his probation and was going back to jail.
“I’ve been to calls at this trailer before,” Cpl. Komar told me. “It’s usually the woman who’s drinking.”
I asked him, “Is it often the same people over and over again that you are dealing with?”
He said yes.
“If it weren’t for drugs or alcohol, how much would the demand on law enforcement reduce?”
“It would probably drop sixty percent or more,” he answered.
Cruising down McMullen-Booth, we spotted a man hitchhiking and weaving close to traffic. Cpl. Komar parked behind him, flipped on his lights and began to run sobriety tests. The man almost fell over.
Earlier, the man had been taken to the ER, passed out, his blood alcohol concentration at .275 (.08 is the legal limit for driving). Posing an obvious danger to himself, he would spend the night in protective custody. Minutes later, a Sheriff’s Office van arrived, loaded the drunk and took off.
And that was the night of duty. As I headed home, I thought about what I had learned. What these officers do falls under the heading of law enforcement but it’s not just catching criminals. It’s also helping reduce points of friction between citizens.
It’s calmly defusing an emotional moment.
It’s making the best snap decision you can, based on the testimony, physical evidence and corroboration you can acquire.
It’s knowing and applying the law accurately.
It’s making sure that citizens don’t get hurt due to their own disabilities.
I saw that the system to manage these breaks in society’s smooth flow can actually work. Where the larger system fails is that there are no services to help these people. If there were, the same handful of people would not repeatedly make police contact. They would find answers to their problems and gain control of themselves and their futures.
When we establish the services needed to rehabilitate citizens who are struggling with substance abuse or failure, we will achieve a more secure world in which we all can thrive.