Next week is National Police Week in which we honor law enforcement officers for their service and sacrifices, a tradition started in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy.

In commemoration of National Police Week, I did a Part 2 continuation of my Behind-the-Scenes series with our local law enforcement. Readers may remember Part 1 in which I participated in scenario training with the North Vernon Police Department (NVPD) in March of this year. I experienced firsthand the unique situations police officers encounter, how quickly things can de-escalate — or, more often, escalate — and how officers’ reactions can change the outcome.

While I have intentions of diversifying this series with other organizations and businesses in the future, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a police ride along, something I’ve wanted to do even before I became a journalist. To get a more in-depth experience, I did ride alongs with both the Jennings County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) and the North Vernon Police Department (NVPD), knowing that each would be completely different.

On Friday, April 29, I did a day shift with JCSO Sgt. Cody Low and a night shift with Officer Adam Driver at NVPD. I enjoyed both experiences immensely and appreciate both officers taking the time to give me a glimpse into their lives and for keeping me safe while doing so. They both conducted themselves with professionalism, admirable work-ethic and kindness.

Jennings County Sheriff’s Office

Sgt. Cody Low, K-9 Officer

My ride along with the Jennings County Sheriff’s Office started with a bang — no pun intended. I walked inside the building and barely had a chance to say “hello” to Sgt. Cody Low before he was waving for me to follow him. No briefing; I walked in, walked right back out, got into the passenger seat of Sgt. Low’s police car and took off towards Commiskey at 70 mph.

Myself, Sgt. Low, his K-9 partner Axel and Deputy Kyle Lee in his own vehicle were on our way to investigate a caller who’d said a woman had threatened to pull a gun on her. Yikes.

One main difference between the county and city police is, of course, their jurisdictions. The sheriff’s office covers a much larger scale, which means it can take longer for backup to arrive in the event of an emergency. That fact was not lost on me and, although Sgt. Low assured me he would keep me safe, he did show me how to use his radio to contact dispatch and what button to press on his laptop that would alert them to our location.

Once we arrived to the caller’s house, however, there was very little cause for concern. Sgt. Low and Deputy Lee spoke with the caller and then we drove to the house of the woman who had threatened to get a gun. Turns out, the woman was inebriated and didn’t appear to be much of a threat. We soon left without incident.

I will say, knowing how easily a situation can escalate, I was vigilant in my observations. There was more than one person at each house and I watched all of them closely. Both deputies appeared to be completely at ease, but I was watching everyone’s hands and faces. I could not hear what was being said, but I wanted to be prepared if anyone became hostile.

What would I do, you may be wondering? Probably just duck and cover, but I wanted to be ready if the time came.

Once I was fairly sure nothing was going to happen, I started watching Axel instead. Anytime Sgt. Low exited the vehicle, Axel got into a position where he could see his handler and did not take his eyes off of him. I’m sure there is plenty of embarrassing dash cam audio of me saying “You’re such a good boy!”

Sgt. Low didn’t get another call for a couple hours, so the majority of my ride along was spent patrolling. We drove all over the county and through neighborhoods I’d never seen or heard of before despite having lived in Jennings my entire life. It was interesting to watch peoples’ reactions to a police car driving through their neighborhood. Sometimes people would smile and wave — usually it was someone that Sgt. Low knew personally. Other times people would stop what they were doing and just stare.

I myself get nervous whenever a police car is nearby, especially when I’m driving. I’m never doing anything wrong, but I instantly go on guard. I mentioned this to Sgt. Low and he proceeded to tell me the little telltale signs that will reveal to them that someone is probably hiding something, which I found fascinating; little observations and subtle shifts in behavior that you wouldn’t really think about unless you knew what you were looking for.

The two hours of patrolling were a great time to get to know Sgt. Low and pick his brain, and he was perfectly willing to answer my questions. He was friendly, funny and easygoing. He told me stories from his time on the force, such as his first major call with Axel in which the K-9 was crucial to the resolution of the conflict. He also showed me some dash cam and body cam footage. In one of these videos, a man literally half Sgt. Low’s size tried to fight him; the length of that fight — which was essentially nonexistent — was particularly humorous.

The second and final call occurred just before my ride along ended. A man’s parents had called the cops on him for not leaving their property after an argument had broken out between the three of them. While both the parents and the son were clearly upset upon Sgt. Low and Deputy Lee’s arrival, by the end, the son shook the deputies’ hands and the parents were smiling.

North Vernon Police Department

Officer Adam Driver

I left the sheriff’s office at 6 p.m. and met up with Officer Adam Driver at the North Vernon Police Department at 6:30 p.m. I’d worked with Officer Driver previously, as he was my partner in the scenario training back in March.

Similar to my experience earlier in the afternoon, Officer Driver was already waiting for me in his police car, having just returned from a call prior to my arrival. Again, no briefing or lay down of rules, just get in and let’s go. As an aside, I’m not sure why I was so adamant about being given rules; I suppose, as a person who likes to be in control, I like to know what’s expected of me if something unexpected happened. But I never had any cause for concern.

While my day shift with Sgt. Low was fairly quiet, with it being a Friday night, I didn’t know what to expect during my shift with Officer Driver. Ultimately, no high-speed chases or arrests occurred, however, police work is innately impressive and I was perfectly thrilled with the stops we did make.

At the risk of labeling myself as childish, I admittedly got a mischievous glee from pulling people over, even for minor infractions; it felt akin to a toddler getting their sibling in trouble. I also got a thrill anytime we sped up to catch a vehicle in order to pull it over. I often describe myself as un-intimidating, both in my personality and in my physical appearance. By proxy, I got to be a little intimidating through this experience.

The first stop we made was for a left turn out of a right turn only. We got two of those in one evening. The second person we pulled over for this actually said “You better have a good reason for pulling me over,” as if cops having nothing better to do than inconvenience people.

The most animated call we got was in response to a man who supposedly took his ex-girlfriend’s car keys. The man had rooted himself with two young children across the street from where the woman stood by her car at a gas station. We had to ping pong across the road to talk to each person. The man was instantly hostile, yelling and being rude when he was asked to empty his pockets to show that he did not have the missing keys on him. The children looked terrified, presumably worried that they were in trouble. The little girl kept staring at me through the windshield. I tried to smile reassuringly at her. The keys were not found on the man’s person, so there wasn’t anything for Officer Driver to do. He did take some time to help the woman search for the keys along the roadside, but to no avail.

Afterwards we headed back to the police department for dinner. We met Sgt. Lucas Newsom there and they treated me to some body cam footage of some rather unconventional and hilarious calls they’d responded to. It was one of the most delightful and lighthearted parts of the night.

Once we’d finished eating, Officer Driver and I got back out on the road. We pulled a few people over for taillight issues. He also showed me some of the technology they use that helps them do their job from the convenience of their vehicle. We eventually got a report of a stolen vehicle and headed to the caller’s apartment building.

Once the report was made, we drove around, keeping an eye out for the vehicle. I really hoped I’d be the one to spot it before the night was over, but alas, it was not to be. I found out the next morning that they did eventually locate the stolen vehicle.

The last few stops we made before my four hours were up were for a vehicle that completely disregarded a stop sign and for a report of a lost/stolen phone.

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed both my experiences with Sgt. Low and Officer Driver. I’d happily do monthly ride alongs under the guise of a “public service” just to hang out with them again. But, of course, the purpose of these ride alongs wasn’t to drive around and watch people get busted.

I asked Sgt. Low what he wished the public knew more about regarding law enforcement. He said he wished more people could see the humanity of police officers.

It seems that, to a lot of people, cops are just a gun, a badge and a uniform--walking, talking problem solvers. It’s easy to forget there’s a person with emotions and feelings underneath. Within minutes, a cop can go from holding a car crash victim’s hand as they draw their last breath to mediating an argument between two neighbors.

My mom has worked at the North Vernon Police Department for over a decade. I’ve interacted with police officers for a long time, both professionally and personally, but even I find myself disconnecting the uniform from the person inside the uniform. However, spending a total of eight hours with cops really gave me the opportunity to look past the “glamour” of law enforcement — the fast cars with flashing lights, listening to them communicate using codes on their radios, the guns, the authority — and have genuine and personal conversations with them.

While I did indulge in a bit of the glamour, the ride alongs turned into less about watching police work in action and more about seeing Sgt. Low and Officer Driver — Cody and Adam — as individuals.

At one point during our ride along, Sgt. Low asked me: “If there was a shootout between an officer and a civilian and the civilian was killed, what is the first thing you’d say to your fellow cop when you arrived on the scene?”

I had no idea, but the first thing that came to my mind was “What happened?”

No.

The correct answer is: “’Are you okay?’ You check in with your brother. Even if he wasn’t okay, he’d probably tell you he was,” said Sgt. Low. “But sometimes it’s just good to know someone cares.”

At the end of my ride along with Officer Driver, Sgt. Newsom came up to my window and told me I did a great job. I thanked him and we fist bumped, but in my head, all I could think was: “I didn’t even do anything.”

And no, I was not an active participant, I was a simple observer, but what I hopefully did was show that I care, that I am interested, and that I appreciate what they do.

The North Vernon Police Department will be hosting their Backlot BBQ on Friday, May 13 from 5-7 p.m. at the police department on Madison Avenue in honor of National Police Week. Food and drink will be available to the public at no cost. Stop by, have a bite to eat and take the opportunity to witness for yourselves the human beings behind the badges and take the time to show your local law enforcement that you care. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.