Features 02/14/01

Night patrol: Loooong stretches of routine punctuated by moments of pure adrenaline

By Marcie Young

Saturday, 5:58 a.m.

An explosion of people dressed warmly in brightly colored fleece jackets, jogging pants and headbands swarm onto a narrow street above downtown Logan. Brilliant white snowflakes fall from the charcoal morning sky as yellow school buses invade the usually silent neighborhood. The buzz of anxious chatter fills the air. The day is just beginning for the runners of the annual marathon; but for Louise Speth, a Logan police patrol officer, the day is just ending.

In Speth's patrol car, the radio cackles, "Expect about 30 buses," as the yellow monsters weave between the horde of people and cars. Speth, a Maryland native, grabs her jacket, flips on the blue and red lights on top of her patrol car and joins the commotion outside. She directs traffic, telling the drivers of the banana-colored buses to go straight and pointing the sea of cars away from the clogged road.

A Saturday morning like this is nothing compared to the shift Speth is wrapping up. Speth's shift, the graveyard, begins at 10 p.m. Friday and ends the next day at 6 a.m. Sometimes things are mellow in Cache Valley's largest city, she says, and other times, like today, the excitement seems endless.

Friday, 10:03 p.m.

The asphalt shines as rain splatters on the road outside Wilson Motor Co. Speth scribbles on her metal clipboard, "improper lookout" and hands the driver of the white Celica a canary yellow ticket.

"A classic Main Street accident," Speth says as she pulls onto the busy Logan street. The driver of the white car just looked away for a second, Speth explains, as the radio announces an alarm at the Cache Valley Mall.

10:05 p.m.

There will be a lot of these, Speth says as she pulls into the empty parking lot outside Gottschalks department store.

The alarm at the store starting ringing while Speth was at the fender-bender accident on Main. A Gottschalks manager, referred to as the RP for "responding person" in a police report, pulls into the parking lot driving a tan station wagon, followed by another police car. The woman, with a baby snuggled in pastel blankets, steps out of her car; Officer Chad Carpenter saunters from his patrol car over to Speth. The three enter the building, and while the woman with spiky blond hair and horn-rimmed glasses presses numbers into the alarm's keypad, the two officers walk around the deserted department store. Finding nothing other than the strong winds, that could have set the alarm off, the duo heads for the store's employee-only exit. Carpenter notices picture frames are on sale for 60 percent off and vows he will come shopping Sunday.

The officers walk to their cars as Carpenter yells out, "Coffee?" Speth nods and says, "Yeah, see you there."

10:34 p.m.

But Speth doesn't make it to the gas station for her coffee. Just moments after pulling out of the empty mall parking lot, Speth notices a Hyde Park police officer talking to a young man in a green Jeep Wrangler. She pulls up behind the officer's Bronco, which is blocking the Jeep from view, and he makes his way over to Speth's window.

Before walking back to his Bronco, the Hyde Park officer tells Speth the 20 year-old kid in the Jeep is pretty shaken up. "You'll see why," she says, "when [the other officer] drives away."

With that the police Bronco pulls out into traffic, leaving the Jeep's headlights shining into Speth's car.

She gathers her notepad, ticket book and pen, opens her door and walks toward the Jeep. The driver nervously explains that he took the corner too fast, and with the wet roads from the rain that was enough to spin his jeep around.

He was headed right into oncoming traffic, Speth says, as she types the driver's information into her laptop computer.

"It was probably a little more dramatic than the kid profiled it."

These kinds o average, Speth says as the dispatch officer clears the driver's license number with "1010," a code for saying the driver doesn't have any warrants against him. She hands the reckless driving ticket to the driver through the Jeep window and watches him pull out onto the slippery road.

She explains that the kid was pretty shaken up, so she allowed for a little more time-17 minutes-to let him calm down.

"If he had gone an inch further, he would have flipped," she says, strapping her seatbelt across her waist. "This could have been pretty bad."

11:02 p.m.

"I wouldn't trade [this job] for all the tea in China," Speth says of her two years as a patrol officer.

She talks and glances at her computer at the same time, noticing a vandalism report from 8 p.m. pop-up on the screen. The call, she explains, has been pushed back on the list because of other, more timely events. She turns her vehicle around and heads south on Main Street before turning onto a dark neighborhood road.

"270 South," she says, searching for the house. She pulls in front of a small brick home with toys thrown about the front yard and steps out of the car. A man in his early 40s with a button down white shirt and thinning light brown hair opens the front door. His wife and three children sit on the tan sofa.

"Sorry it took so long to get here," Speth says, as the man pulls out a chair for her to sit on. "What happened?"

The boys, the oldest probably no more than 8, were watching a movie when they heard glass break downstairs, the man says.

"And I went down to see what happened," interrupts the older son, "and I saw this glass all over my bed, and the window was broken."

Outside the basement bedroom window, the father found a baseball decorated with a Power Ranger cartoon.

"This isn't the first thing that's happened," he says.

Neighborhood kids have been harassing the boys and things have been missing from their home, he explains. Speth scribbles notes in her small notebook, nodding as the man speaks. She suggests the boys ignore the neighborhood kids and tells the father she or another officer will talk to the other children and their parents.

"Sometimes kids will admit to things when a police officer is asking the questions," she says as she walks out to her car to get her camera.

The father escorts Speth down the stairs to the bedroom where the window was broken. She snaps a few photos for evidence and hands the man a card with her name and the station's number, and says she'll be in touch.

She pockets the baseball for evidence and says, "Have a better night." Speth smiles as the man closes the door behind her.

Saturday, 12:06 a.m.

Speth turns the key in the ignition, and her patrol car comes to life. She pulls out of the dark neighborhood, and starts explaining what it takes to become a patrol officer in Logan. The 32 year-old officer runs her hand through her short, dark brown hair, detailing the fitness test she took a week earlier. A mile run, push-ups and sit-ups, a flexibility stretch and a 300-yard dash tested the patrol officers' physical abilities. Speth, the only woman patrol officer, says although her job requires her to be in good shape, she works out mostly to relieve stress.

"It's a really high stress position, and you have to take care of yourself to do your job well," Speth says, randomly weaving her way through the dark streets.

She pulls into the parking lot of a Main Street gas station and walks into the empty store. She fills up a coffee mug and sips delicately from it, the steam rising into the air.

"We see life at its worst, and sometimes it's hard to take home with you," she says between sips. All of the officers have their own ways of dealing with stress, and learning to be objective is something that all officers have to do, Speth explains as three Logan patrolmen file into the store, taking advantage of talking about the calls they've responded to. The dispatcher's voice, however, breaks their chatter as the four officers reach simultaneously for their Walkie-Talkies.

"I'll take this one," Speth says, picking up her coffee and waving to her colleagues.

1:41 a.m.

Responding to a call made by a 15-year-old girl, Speth veers her car toward the Island in the heart of Logan. The girl, sitting on a wooden bench outside the market, is disoriented and confused as Speth helps her into the patrol car. The high school freshman had not been drinking or doing drugs when she passed out a few blocks from a small neighborhood store.

"Hi, this is Officer Speth with the Logan Police Department," Speth tells the girl's mother. "I'm bringing her home now, and she's OK, so you don't need to worry."

The girl had hit her head when she was horsing around with a friend after the school dance, Speth says after walking the teen-ager into her Nibley home. At first the girl had no idea where she was, but as she started talking about the night's events, she began to remember more Speth explains, heading back into Logan.

2:21 a.m.

Speth continues to roam the mostly empty streets and lets her mind wander to past conversations with Logan residents. People think that because Logan feels like a small town, they don't have to lock their doors, she says.

As an officer, however, Speth says, "We're almost hyper-aware of all the stuff that goes on."

2:35 a.m.

She is about to start another sentence when the static on the radio breaks with a nervous voice of an officer yelling instructions. His voice is broken between the static as Speth suddenly begins to speed through the quiet streets at 65 mph.

"This is scary because we don't know where they are right now," she says anxiously.

The voice over the radio crackles, "The flower shop," and Speth takes a quick turn onto 600 East. Just a few seconds later, she pulls into the parking lot just in time to see Carpenter and Officer Chad Vernon tackle a slender man with long and wild brown hair.

Speth jumps quickly out of her car and reaches for her gun. The man's face is pressed against the cold pavement as the two male officers clasp the cold, metal handcuffs around his wrists.

Carpenter and Vernon help the man to his feet, the man yelling angrily, "I'm not doin' nuthin'. I don't want a confrontation."

Speth notices the other officers have the situation under control, so she moves her hands away from her holster. Once Vernon and Carpenter get the man into the back of Carpenter's car, Vernon approaches Speth's car and says, "I arrested him about 18 months ago on domestic violence charges."

This time the man head-butted his wife and hung up the phone after she tried to call the police, Vernon explains as Speth fiddles with her computer, trying to find the couple's address.

3:39 a.m.

While Carpenter and Vernon book the man into jail, the other officers continue with their patrol. Speth responds to a fire alarm at the Comfort Inn. She finds a spot in the crowded parking lot and walks up to Room 128. A man, probably in his early 50s, looks through his window, a worried expression on his face. He opens the door and tells Speth the smoke detector started screaming about 15 minutes ago. Speth checks the room over, smells the air and is examing the air conditioning and heating unit when two yellow-uniform clad firefighters walk into the hotel room.

The man, his pajama shirt sloppily tucked into his jeans, sits down on the couch and says in an exhausted voice, "I'd have to be getting up in about an hour, anyhow."

His number for the marathon lies on the dresser, and his running clothes are tossed over the back of a chair.

Members of fire crew check the room, deciding the alarm was false. Speth scribbles the incident number on her palm and climbs back into the car.

"My hand's a real convenient place to write stuff," she says as she backs out of the parking lot.

4:02 a.m.

Speth turns on her headlights and heads back to the station to write her reports, check her mail and turn in evidence, such as the photos and baseball she had taken earlier in the night. She refers to a few case numbers on her hand and notebook as she sits down at the computer. Although filling out these reports isn't the most exciting part of the job, Speth says, it's just something that has to be done.

4:57 a.m.

"This was a busy night," Speth says as she climbs the stairs of the police station and heads back out to her car, her paperwork completed.

As hundreds of runners begin waking up and preparing for the 26.2-mile run, Speth rolls her head from side to side, trying to work the knots in her neck loose. Speth starts her car again, as she has done dozens of times during the shift. This time, however, she knows she is on the last leg of her marathon.


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