In a Deputy’s Words

Blogger’s Note: This essay is the second installment of the “In an officer’s words” series here at the forum. The first essay, by Poulsbo Officer Nick Hoke, can be found here.

“Farewell to #915”
By Deputy Jeff Schaefer, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office

Saturday, February 10, 2007 started out as any other shift does. I signed into service and left my house at 2:00 p.m. to begin what is usually considered to be the busiest shift in law enforcement … swing shift. Swing shift can often keep a deputy busy from beginning to end with calls-for-service and the deluge of paperwork associated with them. I enjoy being active and on-the-go and was looking forward to whatever the 9-1-1 system would throw my way … well, almost whatever.

At 2:06 p.m., just 4.8 miles from the serenity of my driveway, my patrol car was struck head-on by an SUV. While the occupants of the other vehicle were not seriously injured, I went to the hospital with a broken collarbone and some other less severe injuries. My patrol car wasn’t as lucky. She was a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, known to me simply as #915.

I’ve been a commissioned full-time law enforcement officer for nearly 11 years, the past five with the sheriff’s office. At my first department, the officers used “pool cars” for patrol. These cars were used 24 hours per day by all shifts. If you got down to the parking area early enough, you may have been lucky enough to check out a newer patrol car. If you couldn’t score a newer ride, you were left with two options … the car that smelled bad or the one with sticky radio buttons because someone spilled their double vanilla latte on the console. Sometimes you just wanted to wave the white flag and ask the sergeant if you could just work bicycle patrol because the only car left was the smelly, sticky-buttoned one with transmission problems and a light bar that would shut off for no apparent reason, all while being 2,000 miles overdue for an oil change.

One of the benefits that I admire within the sheriff’s office is the assignment of the take-home patrol car. Although it wasn’t the sole reason I transferred here, it was certainly an entry on the “pro” side of the list I made before deciding to turn in my application.

Once a take-home car is issued, it is typically used by only the assigned deputy. This seems to lead to a longer life for the car because that deputy is responsible for getting it serviced routinely, keeping it clean and in good working order. When you are issued a car, you tend to treat it as if it is your own. Although it is owned by the county, #915 was my patrol car.

When I started here in 2002, I was provided with a 2000 Crown Victoria known as #1278, which came complete with a history of unusual electrical problems. Together #1278 and I served the citizens well until her inevitable high mileage and the associated oil leaks, the dreaded odor of coolant that wafted through the interior and a fickle batch of alternators, four of which had to be replaced over her final months.

It was August 2005 when I got the call. One of the new 2005 models that had just been delivered was ready to be outfitted with equipment and this particular one had my name assigned to it. Yes, it was a glorious time since there weren’t enough vanillaroma air fresheners available to mask that sweet, noxious odor of anti-freeze that was finding its way to the interior of my car every day.

The thing you have to understand about a patrol car is that this is where I spend most of my shift much like where you spend most of your time if you work in an office, cubicle, classroom, etc. In your workspace, I’m sure you have pictures of your children on your desk or a knick-knack from your latest vacation on your bookshelf, or maybe that inspirational trinket hanging from a hook nearby. Yep, taking delivery of #915 was like moving from that run down cubicle next to the restroom to the gleaming corner office with a view. And, might I add, no stench of scorched motor oil whatsoever.

#915 was strikingly beautiful with her sleek emerald green lines yet she exuded an edge of potent strength with her low profile tires and heavy duty front push bumper. The 2005 models were to be the last year of the classy gold stripe decals that have been used since the mid 1990s. They were also the first county patrol cars to be outfitted with the new, ultra-attention getting, LED light bars and a more user friendly radio.

After getting settled in, I began to add personal touches to my rolling office although, since I had no desk, my pictures were affixed to the sun visor; without a book shelf, the knick-knack was pinned to the headliner and instead of using a hook, the inspirational trinket was hanging on the rear view mirror.

#915 was a fine car. Although she had to visit the local Ford dealership for a couple of minor warranty repairs, she didn’t give me much trouble. We worked well together, she got me from my driveway back to my driveway every shift and, in return, I had her oil changed every 3,000 miles. It was a solid partnership.

I kept her out of danger for the most part. There was that one time last year when she had to be towed out of someone’s yard because it had rained so hard, I couldn’t tell the difference between the soft mushy driveway and the soft mushy turf that grew beside it. She didn’t seem to hold any ill feelings toward me in light of this and performed admirably in the ice and snow this past winter. She was always ready for whatever the shift threw our way, whether it was simply catching her breath while creeping though a parking lot at idle speed while I was on the lookout for car prowlers or whether she was sprung into action by a sudden burst of unleaded as I rushed off to intervene in someone’s violent anger management problem.

As I was heading toward the Pierce County line, on that unfortunate Saturday, my plan was to cross the State Route 302 spur and head up Stevens Road to make my way back into the county so I could patrol the Olalla area. Before I got to the county line that other driver swerved into my lane and, in the split second that I saw that the collision couldn’t be avoided, I pressed the brake pedal as hard as I could and hoped for the best.

I remember looking at #915 before getting into the back of the South Kitsap Fire & Rescue medic unit. I recall the image of her lying lifelessly in the southbound lane with massive front end damage. Her once glossy sheet metal was now a twisted mess. She just sat there with a crumpled hood and half of a front bumper. Where once was sheer magnificence, now stood bleak destruction.

About a week later, I visited my friend to gather my personal belongings from her disheveled interior. Down to just one arm for awhile I enlisted the assistance of my wife to recover, among other things, those pictures of our kids from the sun visor and a tape measure / key chain shaped like a car tire that my son gave me for Christmas. I also retrieved my inspirational trinket from the rear view mirror.

From the mirror, a tiny replica of King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur, hung. The version of the fable that inspired me told how Excalibur and its leather scabbard provided invincibility to those who possessed it. I had originally hoped that the charm would bring me the luck I needed to get through each shift safely.

After gathering my things I got a chance to really look the car over. There were a few spots of damage I didn’t notice on the day of the wreck. The steering column was now crooked and the windshield was cracked due to the hood being crumpled back into it. The most amazing thing I noticed was that the floorboard right behind the driver seat was buckled like an accordion.

Surveying the extensive damage brought me to the realization that, even during one of the most traumatic experiences of my career, #915 didn’t let me down. All evidence points to the fact that she protected me from critical injuries, or worse, by absorbing the force created by that oncoming SUV. Whether or not that silly little charm had anything to do with it, I’ll never know for sure.

Although I’ll miss her, I’m sure her spare parts will serve her brothers and sisters for years to come as the need for replacement taillights, doors and seats never goes away. Someday, I’m sure, I’ll be issued another brand new car. Until then, I’ve been told that when I return to work I’ll be given an old, high mileage “loaner car” that has been used by several different deputies while their cars were being serviced. As long as I can hang my sword from the mirror and the radio buttons aren’t sticky, I think I’ll be fine with that.

6 thoughts on “In a Deputy’s Words

  1. I loved this article….it’s sometimes easy to forget that officers are ‘real people’ out there like the rest of us. Good job on bringing that home.

  2. Jeff,
    We are so glad that you are still here and able to tell this story. Your article made me teary because I know that every day you go out there, and every day my husband goes out there, you rely on each other and on those cars to perform to their best and not let you down. I’m glad you shared with the community the level of respect you all have for your vehicles, hopefully that will also inspire that same respect from others.
    Nice work! Our best for your recovery! 🙂

  3. Jeff,

    Take 915 as long as we keep 132. We look forward to having you back, you are irreplaceable to our County!


  4. *LOL* Thanks Deputy Schaefer for bringing back some forgotten memories for me. In the mid-80’s, my (now ex) husband and I were both assigned to the Fort Jackson Military Police Unit.

    Oh, how I remember how’d we all rush to try and get the best cars. (Of course, the Patrol Sergeant ALWAYS got the best one!) Woe to the poor MP’s who’d wind up with one of the cars with no air conditioner in the hot South Carolina summer afternoon heat. *L* And you are right…there are NOT enough air freshners to cover the smells drifting back from tired, overworked, leaky engines or the smells wafting foreward from the caged back seat. *LOL* At least you got to start with a Crown Victoria. I got an old Ford sedan that was actually older than I was at the time. *LOL*

    Anyhow, thanks for bringing back some funny memories for me and I’m really happy you weren’t hurt too badly. My condolences on the loss of your “partner” though.

  5. No officer should be trapped into inhaling the fumes of ‘air fresheners’…dangerous to their lungs.
    Get rid of such a car or have it detailed.
    Sharon O’Hara

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