Cops

I’ll never look at the Post Road the same way again.

Or a police car.

Those are 2 takeaways from last Thursday. I spent the 3-11 p.m. shift on a ride-along with Westport Police officer Ned Batlin.

There were no major accidents or medical emergencies. No drug busts, DUIs or domestic disputes. There was not a deer to dispose of, nor a possibly rabid raccoon.

Westport PoliceLast Thursday, it rained hard. Veteran officers knew that meant one of two things: Lots of action, or none at all. Because heavy rains had been predicted, most people stayed off the road.

While touring the communications center — who knew there was a live video feed of the railroad station? — I made the rookie mistake of saying, “Pretty quiet today, huh?” The dispatchers stared at me like I had just ensured that all hell would break loose.

It never did.

Still — as someone who spent his youth running from cops, and his college years profoundly distrustful of all authority — I had come as an adult to appreciate the fantastic job Westport police officers do.

Now — with a ringside view of how they do it (if only for 8 hours on a very slow night) — I have even more admiration for the men and women in blue.

Events that seem routine can be anything but. A 911 call came in from the 1st tee at Longshore — but no one was on the other end. Was it a pocket dial, a misdial — or something seriously amiss? A cop sped over, and found nothing on the golf course. But was there was a real emergency nearby — in the Inn, maybe, or Parks & Rec headquarters? It all had to be checked out.

Police - Town of Wp home page

Batlin bought water at Cumberland Farms. The clerk mentioned that a regular customer had just handed him a counterfeit $5 bill. The paperwork that followed was lengthy. But it had to be done. There’s no way of knowing if this will provide important evidence in a case down the line — or (more likely) nothing at all.

Much of the night was spent on patrol. I’ve lived in Westport my entire life, but I’d never driven through the Green’s Farms railroad station lot. Batlin swung by, looking as much for people who shouldn’t be there as for things that didn’t look right.

“You might not catch the guy breaking into a car,” he said. “But you better see the broken glass on the ground before someone gets off the train that night and finds it himself.”

Westport police car

Up and down the Post Road we drove. Up and down side streets too. Batlin showed me a crazy web of roads off Park Lane and South Compo. Birch Street, Linden, Spruce, Pine — at every turn the name changed, and most mailboxes lacked house numbers. “Can you imagine what it’s like coming here in the dark, trying to find the right street and house?” Batlin asked.

Near Super Stop & Shop, Batlin spotted another patrol car with its lights on. The officer had just pulled over a driver for using a cellphone. It took a while to check out the license and registration, but thoroughness is part of the job. Cops learn, Batlin says, never to take anything for granted. At the same time, though, it’s their job to ease the anxiety of the public.

A couple of hours later — again on the Post Road — a car pulled into the back of a strip mall. That meant nothing to me, but Batlin checked it out. It was late and rainy; he wondered why the driver headed there. Turns out he wanted to show off his car to his buddy, who was just getting off work. Nothing nefarious — but it’s a police officer’s job to be curious.

It’s a reporter’s job to be curious too. I had been curious about the life of a Westport police officer; curious about what goes on inside the imposing-looking headquarters, and inside a patrol car.

A monument outside police headquarters honors fallen officers.

A monument outside police headquarters honors fallen officers.

As he drove, Batlin told me stories: about Westport officers who had been ambushed during routine traffic stops. Who arrested shoplifters with tens of thousands of dollars of goods, based on both experience and instincts. Whose routine shifts were suddenly interrupted by murders, suicides, sexual assaults, accidents or fires.

That doesn’t happen often. More routine is what I experienced — though, everyone kept explaining, it was the slowest night they’d had in months.

I had gotten in the patrol car at 3 p.m., not knowing what to expect.

I got out of it at 11, realizing that’s exactly the same feeling every police officer has, every moment of every shift.

9 responses to “Cops

  1. Dan, You have a real gift for writing. You have made interesting an absolutely uninteresting evening of police routine. Congratulations; you held my interest.

  2. Wow! Dan and Ned, two of my formers, together again! Best always, Karl

  3. Eric William Buchroeder

    Dan, I’ve got to say I don’t remember you spending your “youth running from cops”. Another icon shattered!!!!

  4. Dan, did you see any cicadas during your ride-along? Come to think of it has anybody seen a cicada?

    • Audrey Hertzel

      The cicadas are in Dutchess County, NY (Poughkeepsie) and have been for a couple of weeks now. The constant buzzing is overwhelming when outside and the body casings from them are so gross. Yuk!

  5. Audrey Hertzel

    As always, Dan, great article. I’m so appreciative to the Westport Police and all of Westport’s Finest for doing what they do.

  6. Mary Ann West

    Dan,

    1999, after I first moved to Westport, I attended the Civilian Police Academy, then headed by Deputy Chief Don Brown (retired). It was an eyeopening experience and I kept asking during the evening ride-along, “Are we still in Westport?”
    As a newbie living near the center of town, I had no idea how far flung the Westport border was, or all of the roads they travel on a daily basis. First responders ROCK!

    • Amy Schneider

      I attended the CItizens/Civilian Police Academy as well. It was a great experience. We did a drive-along (we stopped a gentleman speeding, but he was given a warning because his wife needed medication and this was before CVS was open 24 hours), went on a tour of Compo and Saugatuck Shores on the Police boat and were taught about the marine officers’ duties -including taking water samples, learned about the Westport officers’ tremendous skill and continuous education in cyber-crime, auto accident investigations, sniper training (YES, really), hostage negotiation, canine training, graffiti interpretation, trace evidence at a crime scene, and how to shoot a Glock – my husband has the photo in his office. WOW. It was so enlightening. Some may say this was a PR campaign, but it doesn’t matter. The Westport Police do a lot more than we think they do and we are well protected.

  7. Arline P.Gertzoff

    I also did the Citizen Police Academy and it was one of the best courses I have ever taken.Our class also got to go to Henry Lee’s Forensic Lab in Meriden. The shooting range was a real eye opener.As my friend Amy Schnewider so aptly says WOW.