Citizens’ Police Academy: On patrol
WESTPORT — Blue and red lights nearly blinding me, I watched as the officer sitting next to me climbed out of the patrol car and walked toward a white sedan, tapping on the window and giving me a surreal view of a common contact with the police: a traffic stop.
As part of the nine-week Citizens’ Police Academy, I went on a nearly four-hour patrol ride-along on Wednesday, a chance to see day-to-day police work. We cruised around town on dark roads, our beat covering a large residential portion of Westport hedged in by the Fairfield border and a couple major roads through town.
I got a glimpse of the first of what my guiding officer called the big three everyday police actions in town: motor vehicle stops, medical calls and car accidents.
We began driving around our beat with a stop at Rolnick Observatory, when a car pulled down its driveway while the observatory was closed. Codified a “suspicious-vehicle” stop for the turn into a secluded area, the officer found nothing unusual with the driver’s situation and sent him on his way.
The interaction, because it was not reported as a traffic stop, did not require a form reporting the stop and demographic information of the driver to the state.
Next, we drove down a dark, winding residential road, where I got the chance to try out a laser gun that detects a car’s speed as it comes toward you. I got some practice, mostly detecting cars traveling around the speed limit.
As we drove, the officer occasionally ran a license plate when he noticed a small infraction, to ensure the vehicle checked out. Small infractions could mean anything from dim license plate lighting that does not meet visibility standards to a driver swerving across lanes. The small things, he pointed out, are what he often sees leading to bigger busts or arrests.
Especially when we drove down Post Road, I saw how oddly some other drivers acted around the police car, taking a long pause before going at a green light, stopping several feet back from the intersection at a red light or slowing down below the speed limit. I found the reaction understandably natural, but it only drew attention to the cars and their drivers’ behavior.
In our final action of the night, the officer pulled over a sedan swerving into the gutter lane along the Post Road, a minor infraction. Concerned the driver was under the influence, using a cellphone while driving or tired, he spoke with her, then returned to the car to run her license.
It turned out her license came back as suspended, a misdemeanor offense. The officer issued the misdemeanor summons as a friend of the driver showed up to drive her car. When stopped for a suspended license, the driver cannot drive the car away from the incident. After the roughly 15-minute interaction, it was back to headquarters to file the report and fill out the state reporting form.
As the night wrapped up, the officer wrote up the suspended license report and I took a look at his body camera footage from each stop. The video quality was surprising, capturing a clear image and even softly made comments. Watching his perspective of the stopped cars, I ended my night of seeing through an officer’s view.
Overall, it was a quiet night on our residential beat, but a small taste of some of the daily interactions for Westport police.