“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
by Chason Gordon
- The Capitol Hill Times -
I don’t want to brag, but I’ve never gotten a DUI. Oh sure, I likes me a drink now and then. I’ve taken hold of the dragon’s tail and ridden through the boozy gates of hell, as geysers of whiskey soaked me to the bone with fermented grain mash. We’ve all been there, yet every time I maintained enough sense to not get into my car and drive home. I had the dragon drop me off.
If you’ve been pulled over in the past few weeks (shame!), you may know that local law enforcement recently conducted their annual Drive Hammered, Get Nailed program, which seeks to reduce (with extra patrols) the high amount of impaired-driving accidents that frequently occur in August. On Saturday, South King County police invited members of the media (that’s me!) to observe the program in action. Since I kind of look like a cop who let himself go, the opportunity to take part in a ride-along was right up my alley (incidentally, my alley is being repaved at the moment, so you’ll have to come in through the back).
To prepare for the experience, I spent all Saturday watching cop movies, including but not limited to “Training Day,” “Bad Lieutenant,” “Turner and Hooch,” “Robocop,” “Timecop,” and “Fried Green Tomatoes.” I knew I was ready. Before leaving, I sent the following email/warning to my editor:
Listen Miller, tonight I’m basically going to be a cop, so let me tell you something. You know I like you, but if I see you out there driving drunk, or disturbing the public, I will not hesitate to take you down. You’ll have a knee in your back so fast you won’t know what hit you!
When I arrived at the Kent police station, I immediately made sure this entire program wasn’t an elaborate sting operation to have me arrested (I do have some unpaid parking tickets, and who knows, they may have gotten to my family). The only reporters present appeared to be myself and a guy from KIRO 7. He seemed genuinely interested in learning about the program; I just wanted to go on the ride-along.
We were divided up like kids being picked last for kickball, and I was assigned to Sergeant Tolliver, who is easily one of the friendliest cops I’ve encountered and seemed to have no problem with all the stupid jokes I made the entire ride. When we got into the cruiser he candidly explained what to do in the rare chance that something happened to him, which completely removed the comedic distance I was hoping for. We set off.
Renton, 8:35 p.m. (I think)
The interior of the cruiser looked like the inside of the Batmobile, only dorkier. There was a laptop, scanner, radio, and a little red light affixed to the ceiling. I was still looking at the gizmos when we quickly pulled someone over.
“Whoa, what did this guy do?” The perp had been speeding about 15 miles over the limit. When Sergeant Tolliver got out of the car I debated whether to come with him, but thought it prudent to stay in my seat. It took great strength not to fiddle with all the buttons and get on the radio (“WNNNBC”). I learned there are mainly two types of pullovers: people who are making mistakes because they’re lost and need a slight warning (like me), and those who commit more serious infractions (like my editor).
“The guys I hang out with…they just want to catch the bad guy,” said Tolliver, “because the area you work, you know that area, so you know all the good people there, you just want to make sure they stay safe. I actually take it kind of personal. It’s like, ‘You want to do that in my district? Really?’”
On the road a call came on the radio. “We’ve got a male asking if it’s legal and permissible to call 911 if his girlfriend is hitting him.” I burst out laughing.
“We get some silly, silly calls,” added Tolliver.
Sergeant Tolliver worked in Vegas for ten years before moving to Seattle (he served in the army as well), and has seen all sorts of extreme DUI cases. He’s had a drunken woman offer her wedding ring to avoid jail, a guy on PCP who was naked and covered in oil (the rookies had to cuff him), and a drunk driver who crashed into a cruiser and injured a ride-along (yikes!).
“I was once on a fatal callout,” said Tolliver, “and I remember I had a DUI on the way there. This guy, he looked down on me – ‘I make more than you’ – and I was like, ‘Ok guy.’ I had to get to this fatal accident and I couldn’t leave them short, so I took his keys.” The driver was so drunk that he sipped a drink while trying to get out of the DUI. He later attempted to file a complaint, but was told by Tolliver’s lieutenant he was lucky he didn’t go to jail.
“My lieutenant in Vegas was laughing at me. He was like, ‘Wow, only you find trouble.’ I find the trouble, it always comes to me. They call me the shit magnet.”
“Who calls you the shit magnet?” I said, “come on.”
“Everybody. Something always happens.”
I was soon to learn that tonight’s patrol was a quiet one. We pulled over a few speeders and erratic drivers, but didn’t arrest a single person while I was in the car, which destroyed my fantasy of taunting a criminal in the backseat with a cop next to me (“Front seat: law abiding. Backseat: criminal”).
A few events did stand out. At one point we passed a large group of teenagers in a parking lot. “One kid threw me a gang sign back there,” said Tolliver, “it’s a sign of disrespect.” I thought that was a little presumptuous on Sgt. Tolliver’s part, because that guy could have been giving me the gang sign. We also pulled over a funny looking guy driving a burnt umber Sierra without tags. “I was going to tape up those tags,” he said, “you know, to be in full compliance, but it must have slipped my mind. So maybe the best thing to do would be take care of that right here in Brainerd.” What? So I’ve seen Fargo too many times.
I made sure to ask Sergeant Tolliver about an idea I had. “You know when you see two cop cars in a parking lot talking to each other? I’ve always wanted to pull up alongside them and park.”
“Yeah,” he said smiling, “don’t do that.”
A ride-along will change you, Seattle. I’ve seen the other side, I’ve been in the shit, I know what it is. I figure a few more of these ride-alongs and they’ll just make me a captain. It’s only a matter of time. By the end of the night I was feeling so confident that when the Sergeant started to get out of the car to approach a speeder, I pushed him back into his seat and said, “I’ll handle this one” (all lies).
As we pulled back into the station I was hesitant to leave, and stepped out of the cruiser like a kid getting off a waterslide. “Well, be safe,” I said, and quietly walked back to my car, tempted to speed on the way home just so I could go on another ride.
With thanks to Sergeant Tolliver and the Kent Police Department for their cooperation