Policing in Smallsville

In a previous post, I discussed how many citizens get their impression of police work through the media. Some depictions of law enforcement on tv are close to reality, while others are nowhere near accurate. Television shows routinely show officers in shootouts, and provide many in the public with the perception that exchanging gunfire with law breakers is a once per shift occurrence. Fortunately, research has verified what officers already knew--that police shootings are rare.

The media also tends to portray all police officers as those who work in city settings, but in reality, more officers in th US work in non-urban settings. What do non-urban officers do? Is small community policing like what is described on the Andy Griffith Show? How about the Dukes of Hazzard?

Ok, small town officers are not that unlike their urban counterparts, but there are differences.

Blogger CopsWife recently discussed her police officer husband’s job keeping the residents of a small community safe, and here is part of her post:

I thought I'd explain how things work for cophusband. When he's on duty, he's the only one from his agency working. At a minimum there's also a deputy working in the county and sometimes a highway patrol officer in the vicinity. So he does have backup but they might be several miles away.

For his agency, 9-1-1 calls go through a dispatch center located about 200 miles away. That dispatch center handles calls for multiple agencies.

Cophusband utilizes dispatchers to check in and out at the beginning and end of his shift. He calls in when he makes a traffic stop or has another need. Dispatch calls him when they get an emergency call.

But that's not the only way that the public can contact him. The way it works in his agency is that the police department's main number - the one listed in the phone book - is transferred to the cell phone of whomever is on duty. So whoever can call a police officer whenever and for whatever they want.

I can’t imagine having to answer the phone as the roving police station while out on patrol. I was always just trying to be observant while focused on listening to the police radio. Having to basically act as your own dispatcher would be distracting and difficult.

She continues:

Still, during cophusband's 12-hour shift (sometimes longer) he can get some pretty silly and downright frustrating calls. Here's a short list of the kinds of calls he and other officers have had to field:

--Why is the electricity out?

--Why do the city snowplows block my driveway with snow when they clean the streets?

--So and so is drunk. I saw them drive away 10 minutes ago. I don't know where they were driving/what kind of car they were driving and, no, I don't want to tell you my name or provide a statement. (Partly because I am obviously drunk as well.)

--Can you make this dog and his owner not to walk on the public street in front of my house?

--What time does the courthouse open?

--How/where can I renew my driver's license?

--I've been charged with a crime but I don't know what it is. Can you tell me?

--Can you give me the personal cell phone number of the chief of police/mechanic/locksmith/courthouse employee/social worker?

--What are the roads like?

--My child is unruly. Can you scare him/her but not refer the little darling to juvenile authorities? (Said in a much less straightforward way, of course.)

--I don't have a phone number for the person I carpool to work with. Can you leave them a note that I won't be coming to work today? (Seriously.)
Funny stuff and certainly revealing into the daily life of an officer responsible for just about anything and everything in a small community after dark.

Living in a non-urban area, I have been impressed with how many times that I see officers from our local police department patrolling our street—-even though it is a dead end. This level of policing has been fantastic as patrol cars in my old neighborhood were few and far between.

In sum, the images of police officers as seen on tv or in urban areas do not necessarily fully describe the duties or represent the diversity involved in the jobs of those who enforce laws.