Citizens’ Police Academy 6: Ride along

This is the sixth of nine entries about reporter Ethan Fowler’s participation in the Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy.

Soon after starting my eagerly anticipated ride-along, Bainbridge Island Police Officer Steve Cain cut short the informal tour of the police station to provide help with a car prowling call at the Park & Ride lot off Phelps Road on a recent Saturday night.

We were assisting Officer Trevor Ziemba, who was already at the location. Interestingly, we didn’t use the patrol car’s lights or sirens as we drove quickly to the scene on empty streets at about 8:15 p.m. Cain explained that police officers only use their emergency equipment “as needed” because other drivers are more prone to act unpredictably when they’re on and due to the “liability” factor.

“High speed chases are pretty rare nowadays,” said Cain, who regularly is mandated, like all officers, to maintain his police driving skills on an emergency vehicle operations course.

When we arrived at the Park & Ride, Ziemba radioed Cain that he hadn’t been able to locate the reported prowler so Cain decided to driver further down Phelps to see if he could find the suspect. After driving a few miles and pausing at times to use his side mounted spotlight, Cain called off his pursuit.

Cain is the longest serving police officer on Bainbridge with 27 years on the island and 34 years total after transferring from Indiana. Cain’s 2010 Ford Crown Victoria, which aren’t in production any longer, has more than 56,000 miles on it.

After the fast start to the evening, Cain uses a lull to show me some of the equipment he has at his disposal. His patrol car’s emergency lights have an overhead bar that can provide outstanding illumination, four siren tones, an air horn and various options of light patterns. One of the cool aspects of the equipment is that he can switch into a hands-off mode to use the car’s horn to change the light sequence for increased safety.

Police officers’ ability to catch speeders has also improved over the years. Cain said he had the capability to use radar on cars approaching and receding, stationary and now moving in the same direction.

After receiving a call from Kitsap County’s dispatch center in Bremerton, Cain uses a docked laptop in his cruiser to learn more about cars also on the road or suspects. The touch-screen computer helps him to pull court records, driver’s license information, vehicle history, as well as background on boats, guns or articles such as a lost cell phone.

With a GPS transmitter on his car that’s connected to his laptop, Cain’s location would be easy to find if an emergency arose. Other nearby officers’ location can also be seen on the laptop, as well as firefighters, if he wants to use that option. Cain said prior to receiving a car laptop approximately six to eight years ago, all communication was through radio and addresses were jotted on paper.

He also said most Bainbridge police officers wear cameras in the top pocket of their shirt. This has eliminated a lot of officer complaints from the public since they’ve proven a “great tool” for court testimony. He said the video system doesn’t allow an altering or editing of the recorded video.

Cain is one of two Bainbridge police officers who work during a 10-hour shift. The 17 officers in the BIPD rotate the shifts they work about every eight months.

Like many things, police work has changed “incredibly much” during the past three decades, Cain said.

“It’s really changed dramatically,” he said. “We constantly have to be trained on law updates and policing techniques.”

Cain said he averages taking community members on about five ride-alongs each year.

My five hours with Cain ends with a midnight call about a young man who was found literally asleep at the wheel while his parked car’s engine runs in a grocery store’s parking lot.

After waiting for Ziemba to arrive for backup, Cain wakes up the man. Not wanting to take any chances of the man falling back asleep as he drives home, Cain said he had the cooperative young man call his father to pick him up and drive him home. The father arrives about 15 minutes later.

“It’s new every day,” Cain said when asked what he liked about his job. “A patrol officer has no idea what their shift is going to entail.”

Bainbridge Islander,

About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.