As kids, everyone is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While some say they want to be a firefighter, a doctor or a teacher, there is a large number that say they want to be a police officer. Well thanks to Lincoln County Sheriff John Cottle, residents are able to get a first hand look at what it takes to be an officer and what their job truly entails.
When Sheriff Cottle was campaigning for his position he repeatedly said he wanted to implement things that would get the community more involved. One such thing was the Lincoln County Ride Along Program.
“I wanted people to see what our guys go through everyday,” explained Cottle. “This program not only does that, but it also helps show that our guys are not these mean, ticket hungry animals. They are servicers of the communities and have to deal with some of the worst of the worst.”
On Friday, Aug. 2, I took advantage of the program and set out with Lincoln County Patrol Sergeant Mike Pirtle on a four-hour adventure through Lincoln County. The first thing Pirtle said to me, once we got in the car, was how these cars were not designed with big guys in mind. He also warned me that the in car video recorder, which hung caddy corner from my head, was not nice. In fact it just flat out hurts, so watch my head. Pirtle then proceeded to tell me the rules of the ride.
“I’m going to need you to stay in the car at all traffic stops,” Pirtle began to explain. “If you have a question, I’d be more than happy to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing, or why I’m not doing something. Calls are adherently dangerous, we don’t know what we’re going to get or what the situation is until we get there. So what I’ll need you to do is to stay in the car, as your safety is our number one concern. Things can go bad in seconds and I’ll be in and out periodically to, kind of, brief you on what we’re doing and what’s happening, within the realm of what I can release to you.”
So off we went to our first call, which was a domestic in Hawk Point. According to the dispatcher, a gentleman had a physical altercation with his girlfriend after finding out she had her ex stay the night. However, it wasn’t the call that really interested me, as much as it was the way officers handled the situation and tried calming down a child, who was present during the fiasco.
As the officers were walking back and forth from the car to the house, a young girl was standing on the walkway a tad wet from the morning rain and seemingly concerned about what she had just witnessed. After a few moments, one of the officers walked to the rear of his vehicle and removed a stuffed animal from his trunk and preceded to hand it to the little girl. Her face instantly began to brighten up.
I asked Pirtle if this was something they always do and when they began keeping a small ‘Build a Bear’ workshop in their cars. He told me that area organizations, such as the Troy Moose Lodge, donate these items for the kids; although they never know when they’re going to get them until they walk in the department where there’s nothing but bags upon bags of stuffed animals.
While in the middle of the domestic call, another one came through Pirtle’s shoulder radio. The dispatcher stated there was an automobile accident right around the corner, near the Hawk Point city limit sign. At first, it was said to be with injury, but not even a few seconds later she came back and said to disregard.
We got to the accident site in what felt like seconds and Pirtle told me to hang tight while he went and saw what was going on and if anyone was hurt. From what I saw at first, everyone seemed fine. I watched as Pirtle grabbed his hat and note pad and headed over to the two cars. It was if he was picturing in his head how the accident happened.
A few minutes had passed, when Pirtle came back over to me and began to explain what happened. There were two cars, one black and the other maroon carrying several kids and some younger adults. Everyone appeared to be fine, although the same could not be said for the maroon vehicle, which was mangled in the front end and red fluid stained the street. It was weird to see one vehicle with that much damage and the other with almost none. However, Pirtle said it was a relief to see no one was hurt, especially the kids, which were all wearing seatbelts.
I then watched as the driver of the maroon car stepped out of the vehicle, as did the passenger, and they met with a seemingly nice older lady on the shoulder. It appeared to me they were exchanging information and making calls to get the over damaged vehicle towed off the road.
Since part of the car was still sitting on the edge of where the road and shoulder meet, Pirtle asked the driver if she could turn the key, freeing up the vehicle and allowing them to push it safely off the road. A few moments later the driver’s mom showed up and everything went smoothly.
What I found amazing in this situation was how Pirtle was mentally able to go from a domestic assault to an accident. In one situation, he is dealing with a problem involving a battered girlfriend with kids, to a family, now, without a vehicle. Even as a reporter, I find it hard to bounce between such different situations, but I commend him for how easy he made it appear to be.
With a little bit of time to kill, Pirtle decided to show me how they catch speeders; how they park and what they are looking for. However, it was a short-lived lesson as another call came over the radio about a possible drug altercation. It took a couple minutes to find the address, as it sat off the beaten path, down a gravel road that no one would know was there, unless they lived there. Over the mounds and sinkholes, Pirtle finally located the address, where he saw a man standing on the porch, seemingly normal.
All appeared to be fine until the gentleman began to explain his side of the story. Then things became a lot more obvious. The guy was hopped up on “Bath Salt” talking a mile a minute and his hands gesturing each word. It almost looked like he was slap boxing his shadow.
Pirtle called for an ambulance, who upon arriving quickly determined something wasn’t right. According to him, the guy’s blood pressure was more like a pressure cooker and needed to be taken to an area hospital, where they could help stabilize his condition before having a massive heart attack.
I remember Pirtle telling me that he hates this whole bath salt epidemic and how it is becoming almost as big of a problem in Lincoln County as heroin or meth. What was even worse about this particular call, in my mind, was how just a week prior the guy’s father suffered a heart attack and was just released to go home a few days ago.
By this time, the four hours was just about up, so Pirtle and I went on a final patrol before returning to the Sheriff’s Department, where he was to take another ride along.
I can honestly say doing this ride along was an amazing experience for me. I write all the time about these incidents, but seldom ever do I get to witness them first hand. I truly admire what these men and women have to deal with everyday and commend them for their services.
It’s not easy to see the things they see and still go home and be a family man or woman. It’s even harder to deal with what they do and still trust others. I suggest everyone take advantage of this program, as it will help you to understand what it really takes to be an officer of the law.
For more information about the program or to schedule a ride along call the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office at 573-528-8546.
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