What do you do for fun on a Friday night? I like living on the wild side…that’s a joke to those who know me. A few years ago I had the privilege of going on a ride along with the Sacramento Police Department. Why would I want to do this? I like knowing and understanding what my children are doing, even if they are all grown up. My oldest son is a Sacramento police officer and I think taking your mother to work is such a good idea, so we had a night on the town in Sacramento.
When my son explained that he volunteered to work DUI / driver license checkpoints, I thought this was something I would like to see firsthand. I asked if it was possible the next time I visited and he said he would ask. The answer came back as a yes and I filled out the appropriate paperwork for the police department and MADD who I would be officially volunteering with, and more paperwork.
I had flown down to the bay area to celebrate my mother’s ninety-seventh birthday and it just happened to coincide with the next DUI checkpoint coming up. Friday evening anywhere in California means the city streets, side streets, and freeways are jammed with traffic pretty much from early afternoon till Saturday afternoon with everyone wanting to go somewhere that everyone else wants to go, and that all reverses on Sunday with everyone trying to get home.
I left hours early for the drive from the bay area to Sacramento and it wasn’t too bad. I only had to slow the car to a crawl three or four times and most of the time the traffic moved at fifty to sixty miles per hour. I was meeting my son at his home and since I actually arrived a bit early I found a Starbucks not too far from his home with time to enjoy my new favorite drink from the secret menu, a raspberry Italian soda. A cold drink, a little air conditioning, and I was back on the road, only a few miles away from my destination.
I was trying to be quiet as I pulled into the driveway but realized if the dogs were peeking over the fence barking at me that Nicole must be awake. Nicole is my soon to be daughter-in-law and she works as a 911 dispatcher for Sacramento. Now, usually she would still be asleep because she works graveyard, but this afternoon she was up fixing dinner for us. Thank you Nicole…you gave up sleep for me.
James arrived shortly after I did and the granddogs got to come in and greet me face to face before they had their dinner. Lilly the cat finally decided, on this visit, that I was okay and she graced me with not only her presence but gave me her undivided attention to be petted and talked to. Nicole fixed chicken salad with what seemed like every imaginable topping you could add to it. My kind of salad--a great dinner.
We all left the house about the same time as Nicole had an errand to run before work and James needed to go to his office to meet his partner before work. I got to see the dungeon as he calls it. Very high tech and very secure. Knowing what your son does for a living still doesn’t prepare you as you’re watching him put on his bullet proof vest and strap on his belt with his gun. I am so proud of him for not settling for just any job and following his dream to become a police officer. Doing what you love for a living makes for a much happier life.
Hanging in my son’s office is a motivational poster attributed to Frank Outlaw (Frank Jackson).
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
Great words to live by, but sort of funny considering Frank Outlaw was a Texas outlaw and this poster is hanging in a police department.
James and his partner grabbed their gear bags and we headed out to the Ford Taurus which was our ride for the night. We didn’t have far to go and pulled into a local mortuary that had given permission to Sacramento PD to use their parking lot for the evening. Sort of ironic to be being doing a DUI check next to the mortuary. The police set up at Fruitridge Rd & Mendocino Blvd. Trailers to haul the cones and equipment, the command center to process paperwork and testing, K-9 for back up, assorted police vehicles set up for multiple tasks, and lots of SACPD officers. Seven PM to one o’clock AM.
The Sacramento Police Chaplains had tables set up with water, pizza, and desserts for the officers working. A lot of these officers had just finished working a full shift and then turned around to work another six hours at the checkpoint.
If a driver is suspected of a DUI, an expired/suspended license, no license, or warrants, the license and a white tag with the suspected infraction written on it are placed on the windshield and the car is sent to the parking lot where other officers are waiting to process the driver.
Officer Frank, whom I worked beside most of the night, has been on the force for twenty-four years. He was insightful, informative, and patient as he answered questions about his job and experiences as a police officer in between being polite and respectful to the drivers who passed through the check point.
My son was getting ready to take his break and asked if I wanted to come with him. I laughed and said I didn’t want to leave and miss all the fun. It is an amazing instinct police officers have when one of their own might need assistance. Officer Frank was asking all the appropriate questions to the driver stopped by us when all of a sudden his head comes and up and turns to the left. As I glanced in the same direction I was aware that every other officer had stopped and also turned to see the sergeant and my son dealing with what appeared to be a drunk pedestrian. No one remembered seeing a pedestrian but knowing the situation was handled everyone went back to work.
Several minutes passed when Officer Frank looked up, and said out loud “gun.” Now every officer was looking at the parking lot at the funeral home as at least four officers had guns drawn, surrounding a car, and more officers running to back them up. One of those officers was my son. Passengers were being asked to get out of the car and then removed from the vehicle. It was under control with everyone in the car being handcuffed until the situation was sorted out.
Officer Frank went back to checking cars but we noticed when we looked up that the car was now being searched and everything removed from the trunk. A short time later the K9 unit returned to the checkpoint and he began checking the parking lot and shrubs. Officer Frank explained that the dog was trained for explosives so if there was a gun or ammunition the dog would find it. Well all of this brought a few more officers to the scene but it was under control.
Back to work. Officer Frank asked the next driver to roll down his window and put down his cell phone and produce his driver’s license. (It is illegal to use your cell phone while driving in California.) The driver just sort of looked at Officer Frank and didn’t say anything. Again, politely, the driver was asked to put down his cell phone. The driver looked down and sort of mumbled but didn’t really talk. The driver handed Officer Frank his driver’s license, turned his hat around and picked up his cell phone. The driver was told to put his cell phone down again but when spoken to would only look down and mumble. The officer to our right had moved over closer to us and when the driver picked up his phone again, officer Frank asked him to get out of the car. Now the driver could talk, wanting to know why. Now the other officer was beside the car assisting Officer Frank. The driver was cuffed and taken to the parking lot while Officer Frank drove his car into the parking lot. Once you are suspected of a DUI you cannot drive any farther.
I moved on to work beside another officer while Officer Frank took care of the driver and paperwork. He returned a short time later and I worked beside him until about an hour before the DUI checkpoint closed down and he needed to finish his paperwork. I worked beside several other officers until one o’clock when the DUI checkpoint closed down.
It was time to breakdown the checkpoint line and it came down as fast as it went up. Everyone had a job to do and they worked efficiently as a team. I walked over to the parking lot to wait for my son to finish up his paperwork before he could leave.
I watched as the medics arrived to transport a suspect to the hospital. A few family/friends were still waiting for paperwork to be completed so they could drive vehicles away. The tow trucks were arriving for the remaining vehicles and probably eight or nine were towed and impounded.
The car my son originally white tagged right before his break was the cause of all the commotion we witnessed. Once in the parking lot, the driver got out and instead of walking away, walked straight across the street to where my son and his sergeant were. In walking the suspect back to the parking lot they noticed his hands in his pocket and in removing his hands from the pocket, the suspect dropped bullets which led the officers to believe the car had guns. The three passengers from the car were removed while the car was searched. Two guns were retrieved from the car, one gun was in pieces and the police think the occupants of the car threw the revolver drum in a bush but it was never located. The K-9 was brought in to look for it, but it was not recovered. And I thought all the excitement was going to be out on the street.
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork….hours of work to make sure every detail is written down. An officer’s work is not done when the day is over. At the end of the night approximately one thousand cars had passed through the DUI/drivers license check point. There were four DUI’s, one medic call to the hospital, guns, dogs, multiple phone calls to family and relatives to come get cars so they would not be towed (they are given thirty minutes to find someone to retrieve their vehicles before a tow truck is called and fees start accumulating).
As a civilian I climbed into bed and went to sleep while my son was still up in the early morning hours working on his report. And after I slept in until eleven o’clock the next morning I found my son still working on his report after a short nap.
I have nothing but respect for the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento MADD volunteers. Please don’t drink and drive; designate a driver or call a cab.
Before heading home I had the honor of getting a tour of the Sacramento Command Center for 911. I had the chance to see Nicole working, responding to incoming calls, and was amazed at how fast she can type. She was calm, professional, and busy on a Friday night, even at two o’clock in the morning.