The night before I was to ride with a DeWitt police officer, I contacted my uncle, a retired policeman from the city of Syracuse. "Be careful," he said. "Keep your eyes open for everything." That advice was a bit surprising to me. I really wasn't thinking I was putting myself in a dangerous situation until that point. I confess I woke up the next morning a little anxious.
But when I approached the police department at 7 a.m., I was greeted amiably by Sergeant Jim Hildmann, who led me inside just in time for roll call, a daily procedure that takes place before every shift. Roll call, typically given by the sergeant on duty, relays any recent information such as stolen vehicles, burglaries, larcenies and officer safety. Officers are also assigned a vehicle and one of three posts to circuit. Once roll call is finished, officers load up their patrol cars with all the equipment necessary for a reliable day on the road.
While I waited for Officer Joel Dorchester to pack up his car with gear, Sergeant Hildmann briefed me on staff. The DeWitt Police Department currently employs 38 full-time officers; however, in recent days that number has tapered slightly due to officer injuries -- work and non-work related. Counts can be as low as three officers on the road, such as the day I rode with Dorchester.
I took my place in the passenger seat, with Dorchester to my left and a laptop positioned between us. Normally a printer for tickets would occupy my space, but Dorchester found a temporary home for it that morning.
Much communication between the police dispatcher and officers flows through the computer, such as reports, messaging, and scene arrivals and departures. Both the computer and radio facilitate immediate response to a scene in progress.