In an Officer’s Words

Blogger’s Note: The following is what I hope will become a series here at the Forum. I’ve asked area law enforcement officers to sum up their days in brief essays. Below is the first one, written by a (brave) Officer Nick Hoke, of the Poulsbo Police Department.

“Night Patrol in Poulsbo”
By Poulsbo Police Officer Nick Hoke

It’s 10:15 pm and I’m getting ready to go to work. Night shift. Police patrol from 11 pm to 7 am. I put my uniform on quietly so I don’t wake my wife. Our two young boys already have 2 hours of sleep in their beds and I envy them.

I put on my kevlar vest, which is thicker than it needs to be because I’ve added two extra metal chest plate inserts – one for my wife and one for my boys. I put on my black leather duty gunbelt. The belt carries my police radio, cell phone, a taser, an extra taser cartridge, a .40 caliber handgun, 30 extra bullets, pocketknife, pepper spray, collapsible baton, and two sets of handcuffs. Most of those things I never even use but since somebody’s life might depend it someday, I carry them. I’d rather have them and not need them than need them and not have them, and I don’t mind the extra weight.

When I button my shirt up I sometimes wonder if I’ll be taking it off in the morning, or if it will be cut off by a trauma team at the emergency room in Harborview.

I suspect most people don’t think about things like this when they get dressed for their job. But most people aren’t in a position where they might stop a speeder who just happens to be a violent desperate fugitive, or be called to break up a fight between several very intoxicated angry people, or any number of other dangerous and sometimes bizarre
situations that my fellow officers and deputies get called to. So far I’ve had a good combination of training, experience, skill, and luck and I’ve avoided becoming a victim myself.

My nightly patrol duties consist of responding to 911 dispatches, enforcing traffic laws, and patrolling the neighborhoods and businesses in Poulsbo for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. If the weather isn’t freezing I drive with the windows rolled down so I can listen for people, alarms, or any other sounds where there shouldn’t be any.

Night shift in Poulsbo is different than day shift – there are different kinds of calls for service, and different kinds of clients to deal with. The methamphetamine-fueled criminal activity tends to pick up a bit after dark, and a greater percentage of drivers out and about after midnight are the kind of people who are out looking for things to steal, or they’re delivering drugs to other users, or they’re leaving a drinking party with too much alcohol in their bloodstream. And talk about different – the traffic conditions in Poulsbo after midnight are way better than during the day. There are relatively very few cars out and when I have drive somewhere fast, with lights and sirens, it is much easier, quicker, and safer.

On a good night there are two other Poulsbo Officers out patrolling the city with me, and on other nights just one. We respond to a lot of residential and commercial alarm calls; almost all of them are false alarms caused by balloons, or cats tripping motion sensors, or cleaning crews entering wrong deactivation codes onto keypads. Power outages trip a lot of alarms, too. Making my Big List of Things That Have Really Scared Me, I’m adding this one from a recent alarm call: Another officer and myself were dispatched to investigate a residential alarm at 1 am. While were quietly checking out the yard and perimeter of the house, we awoke a peacock in the bushes in the hillside above us; it screamed out the most unearthly horrible howling moaning warbling sound I have ever heard. Fortunately the other officer knew it was a peacock; I had quickly ruled out a dying owl locked in mortal combat with a dying cat and decided it could have only been a sociopath crazy person hiding in the woods watching us.

When I patrol I pull people over for speeding, or running stop signs and red lights, or having headlights, brakelights, or tail lights burned out. I’m frequently pleased and surprised how just about every motorist I stop turns out to be very pleasant, friendly and smiling to me. Outright hostility or vocal annoyance directed toward me does happen occasionally, but it’s actually a rarity.

Some drivers have warrants for their arrest, or revoked drivers licenses. Some of them will lose their job when I issue them a traffic ticket. Or they’ll go back to jail. Or they’ll lose their car when it gets towed away. Sometimes they’ll have stolen property with them, or drugs, or weapons. My coworkers have taken two sawed off shotguns out of two different cars in the past month and put those drivers in jail.

Of all the people I’ve stopped over the years, I imagine quite a few have managed to get away with all kinds of interesting things hidden in their cars.

Some nights there are no 911 calls for us, other nights there may be several. After doing this for 13 years I can report with some confidence that a full moon does indeed factor into this. A couple weeks ago I had a particularly busy 5 consecutive nights in which I handcuffed 8 different people for a variety of different criminal offenses.

Citizens call 911 to report prowlers and noise disturbances, although not often enough. I always encourage them to call if they see or hear something that leads them to believe a crime is being (or going to be) committed. The officers on duty at night love more than anything to catch criminals involved in criminal activity, and the day shift officers hate more than anything to take reports from victimized citizens who decided not to call in those weird noises they heard in their driveway at 4 a.m. because they “didn’t want to bother the 911 operators or the officers.” So just to be clear, it doesn’t have to be a life-threatening emergency to call 911: if you suspect a crime is occurring, or about to occur, by all means please do call 911 and report it.

I see and experience a lot of unforgettable things. Last month I stopped a van for speeding. The driver was a young man who before I could even tell him why I had pulled him over, immediately demanded to know where the nearest bar was. (I decided that was worthy enough to add to my List of Top Ten Things Not to Say When You Get Pulled Over) And then an hour later I stopped a woman driving a car with a broken tail light. She explained she didn’t know about the broken light and then she blurted out “This is my ex-husband’s car, I just divorced him after ten months of marriage because I found out that he had a bunch of STD’s he never told me about.”

Shift end: 7 am. I drive home, take off my uniform, and go to sleep. It’s easier to do in the winter when it’s still dark out. In the summer, when the sun comes up and the birds start singing, it can very difficult to fall asleep, or even stay asleep for long enough during the day. So before spring comes, I’ll go back to day shift.

No matter what the shift is though, I always enjoy one of the most interesting aspects of this line of work, and that is the complete unpredictability – I never know beforehand what may happen while I’m on duty and I know that at any time I could be just seconds away from a high speed drive across town to respond to something serious – a burglary in progress, a fight in a parking lot, or a car crashed off the road. At any
given moment I could be just a minute or two away from scrambling down a steep roadside embankment to help a trapped motorist in a rolled over and upside down SUV, or I could be checking the injuries of a motorcyclist laying immobile on the highway after being slammed into by a pickup truck in the pouring rain, or I could be on a homeowner’s deck calming down a suicidal drug addict with significant mental health disorders.

I enjoy the satisfaction of being a position where I can help people, and help keep them safe. Hopefully my skills and luck will guide me through another 13 years here as a police officer; time will tell.

One thought on “In an Officer’s Words

  1. … and the community is grateful and lucky to have you and other officers like you…
    I think our police officers are the unsung hero.

    Thank you for taking the time to share a slice of your life with us… and thank your family.
    Sharon O’Hara

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