“Here, put this on,” Washington Township Patrol Officer Michael Hade said, as he handed me a bulletproof vest.
Seriously? A bulletproof vest? What did I just sign up for?
And so my journey as a cop would begin.
Hade, a 10-year Washington Township Police Department member agreed to show me around town from the vantage point of one of its finest, and I picked up a lot. But the knowledge and learning I received during my three-hour stint was nothing compared to what these officers must know and prepare for each and every day.
I entered the police station just before 9 a.m. and was given a quick tour of the jail cells, where weapons and ammunition were kept, and office spaces for department members.
It’s a pretty quiet setting, especially when you consider specific officers are investigating burglaries, putting together crime reports, and working on different ways to keep our community safe.
I was then given a tour of Hade’s patrol car–or roving office as I called it–which included a shotgun, rifle, ammunition, enough technical and computer equipment to run a small company, and various other supplies that assist in conducting official police matters throughout a 10- or 12-hour work shift.
We hopped in the car and began patrolling, keeping an eye out for drivers violating the seemingly endless amount of possible traffic laws. Heading down Schooley’s Mountain toward Hackettstown, engaged in conversation about the job, Hade flips on his lights and rips the wheel, turning us 180 degrees in the blink of an eye.
Next thing you know, we're accelerating and chasing after this vehicle. I have no clue who we’re looking for or why, and that’s why I’m not a cop. But Hade saw it without a problem.
We come upon a car full of young adults, most of which weren’t wearing their seatbelts–the reason for the stop. After speaking with the car’s inhabitants and checking into driving records, a stop for not wearing a seatbelt turns into a Kyleigh’s Law infraction. The provisional driver had too many passengers in her car, in addition to not having the proper decal notification displayed on her license plate.
This was just one part of a day that could result in a burglary investigation, a major vehicle accident, or a drug bust. Or, it could be the most exciting, productive portion of the day.
In an area such as Washington Township, day and night shifts could be feast or famine, Hade said. Hours could go by without a single stop, or a single residential call to check out.
Then, there are the days that go from 10-hour shifts to 14 or 15 hours because of all the paperwork and follow-up needed for any single incident.
But before you can get there, before you can patrol on your own and serve and protect a specific community, you need to learn a lot.
Hade graduated a four-year New Jersey university, then attended a regional academy that trains officers from all over the northern part of the state. After that, he–and all other Washington Township officers–spent three months patrolling his new territory with an experienced officer before being set out on his own.
In addition to that, an officer must conduct 80 hours of radar training and screening before having the ability to issue a single summons.
Every department does things differently, Hade said, and depending on the town, there are specific focuses that are more prevalent in the area.
Before I began my shift, there had already been two burglary calls, two first aid responses and a false fire alarm, just to name a few.
Did I mention it was only 9 a.m.?
My shift wasn’t too exhilarating; there were no hostage situations or 30-person bar fights that needed breaking up.
But we did receive a call that a residential burglar alarm was activated, and since we were just a few roads over at the time, we headed that way to check out the situation.
Another officer assisted and came to the scene as well. One took a walk around the outside of the home while the other went inside. Turns out the alarm was accidentally tripped by a family member before leaving the residence, but it was better to take a look around then assume all was OK and doing nothing at all.
This is how the day in the life of a cop goes. One minute you’re letting a driver know she’s got too many people in her car, the next you’re preparing to come upon just about anything at a potential burglary.
Hence the need for the bulletproof vest.
“We could go from a domestic violence call to a car accident to a false alarm one after another on any given day,” Hade said. “That’s just part of the job. You have to be prepared for anything.”
During my shift, I realized (and I suspected this before) the police aren’t out to get us. Sometimes when you get pulled over, you think to yourself, ‘this guy’s got nothing better to do. He’s just out to bust my chops.’ Your choice of wording may very well be different, but this is a family site.
Hade made three stops while showing me the ropes. The first was the previously mentioned provisional driver who wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. The next was a driver going 65 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone (who then said he was only doing 50–I saw the radar with my own eyes. He was doing 65). And the final one, caught red-handed, was a woman driving with a cell phone up to her ear. All are legitimate violations, and that’s what these guys do for us–keep us safe and enforce the rules set by policy makers.
“I just want to be treated the way I would treat someone,” Hade said, referring to the more vocal drivers and residents he’s had to deal with. “I’m doing my job. You violated the law; I’m just here to enforce it.”
Seeing the job for what it is in the passenger seat of a cop car made things a little different for me. I’ve always respected law enforcement and been appreciative of what they do for our community.
Then, around 11 a.m., Hade showed me a snapshot of the department’s log of all activities since midnight. It was long. Really long for a Monday morning in a town often referred to as 'sleepy.'
But for Hade and his brothers in blue, it was another day on the job. Another day protecting Washington Township to the best of their ability, and keeping the town and its residents safe.
So, the next time you see an officer, don’t scowl because he or she gave you or a friend a speeding ticket recently. Thank them for all the work they do that you don’t even know about.
It’s more than you think.