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Column: Cops Do More Than You'll Ever Know

Long Valley Patch's editor spends time with the Washington Twp. Police.

“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.

cv July 21, 2011 at 11:47 AM
Jason that was a great article.
Joseph Keyes July 21, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Great article. Growing up in Morristown, I was secure in the knowledge that I had two cousins on the police force and one in the fire department. When I was ten, my cousin and I decided to camp out in our back yard. By midnight, prowling critters, distant voices, and unidentified terrors forced us onto our front porch just in time to catch the searchlight of cousin Paddy from a passing patrol car. We took his suggestion and called it a night (great excuse to abandon the tent!) Less than a decade later, the police had become regular visitors to the neighborhood breaking up fights and investigating robberies. Times had changed and so had the neighborhood. I watched that change in two other MC communities before moving to here in ’93. I’m in WT today because of the security I feel and our police department has a lot to do with that. So do our DPW employees.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) July 21, 2011 at 04:17 PM
CV & Joe, Thanks so much for the comments. It was a great experience to see, firsthand, what these men and women really go through on a day to day basis. We live in a nice community that is very safe, and we can thank the police department (and all emergency personnel) for that.
Tracy Tobin July 23, 2011 at 01:22 AM
Jason As a 37 year resident I have seen a lot of police activity in our town, and accompanied patrol and senior officers on patrols. Missing children and adults, auto accidents (many with fatalities), burglaries, domestic violence, storms, home and car vandalism, heart attacks and childbirth, drug busts, under age drinking parties (see home vandalism while parents are away), teen and adult suicides, assaults and more. In the past couple of years routine traffic stops have caught drivers very much under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, as well as vehicles carrying significant amounts of various types of drugs. There are also more and more situations where a car pulled over for a traffic violation has one or more occupants with outstanding arrest warrants, suspended licenses and cars being used without the owners permission. The list can go on, but the point is that hours of boring patrol routine can change very quickly. We are not an inner city with assault and murder an every day occurence, but we are a town with over 18,000 residents, and thousands of commuters passing through our town,who depend on a small number of sworn officers to keep us safe. Most people don't come in contact with police in an official capacity, and some people say we have too many police for a quiet small town. It's ironic that they may be able to feel that way because those police officers are a deterrent to the type of trouble that would call for a larger department. Tracy Tobin
cv July 23, 2011 at 01:18 PM
The police here do deter alot. When I grew up in brooklyn and staten island we had alot more murders and various other shootings. Our ice cream man got busted for selling oxycontin. I decided to move here because I felt it would be a much better place for my 9 year old daughter. If I need my fix of crime I just watch the news. I still dont trust people . I dont let my daughter walk around the block by herself. Crime is everywhere.
Brian January 08, 2012 at 06:29 AM
The narration of pulling a 180 with a bulletproof vest on is exciting, but not when it's a bunch of kids who haven't even committed a misdemeanor... It's great that you want the community to embrace the police force and all they do, but using examples of the police enforcing the GDL law is not the best way to win the public over. Perhaps you should recount all the serious crimes that our police force has dealt with in the previous years that the community is always so hush hush about. For one, the WTPD has dealt with hostage situations in which they have been shot at through windows by suspects who have barricaded themselves in the house. (valleyview and east mill rd I believe) Loaded pistol in Hidden Hills... The list doesn't end there, but if you're trying to shed light on how much the police protect us, I think it'd be more pertinent to use examples like that, you know, assault, burglary, and robbery, instead of kids not adhering to a traffic law.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) January 09, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Brian, Thanks so much for the comment. My goal that day during the ride-along was to chronicle and report on what took place during my 'shift.' If we came across a hostage situation, loaded pistols, assaults or any of the other criminal activity you mention during that day, it would have been part of the story. But, unfortunately (or fortunately?) we did not come across one of those instances. What I did learn, however, is that in addition to our local law enforcement officials pulling over teens not adhering to driving laws, there's a lot these men and women do behind the scenes that we don't know about. And that's what I wanted to portray from the time I spent with them. Again, thanks for reading the story and leaving the comment. I plan on making this an annual occurrence (if allowed), and maybe there will be more to report the next time around.

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