Hemig: An eye opening experience with the Grass Valley Police Department | TheUnion.com

Hemig: An eye opening experience with the Grass Valley Police Department

Jim Hemig Publisher The Union
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

I’ll admit I had that song from the reality show “Cops” in my head as I approached the Grass Valley Police Department.

I’m probably like most Americans; I have a healthy dose of respect for our law enforcement, along with a little apprehension. Not that I’ve had many run-ins with the police, but when I get pulled over for a speeding ticket I’m as nervous as a middle school kid at my first dance.

All the craziness in Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere in the country doesn’t help either — but what about our local police departments?

“Thank you for what you do!” — Elderly woman at the laundromat

Good friend Bill Drown and Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster both suggested last year that I go on a ride along with a couple of local officers. I’ve been rather busy, but last week at Rotary I told Grass Valley Police Lt. Alex Gammelgard that I finally have a free evening.

Tuesday night I walked up to the Grass Valley police station ready for my evening with the GVPD.

Armed with only a notepad, a recollection of the stories we run in the paper about local crime and a naïve sense of what life might be like for people with challenges that lead to criminal activity, I requested entrance to the police station.

I met the night shift, a bunch of charming guys with arms and shoulders like canons and mountains. I wouldn’t want to arm wrestle Grass Valley Cpl. Brian Hooper, and Nevada City Officer Shane Franssen reminded me of Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

This first impression didn’t help ease my nervousness.

It was obvious these guys could mean business, if needed, but they were incredibly friendly. Officer John Herrera insisted on splitting his seedless orange with me, even before he knew my position at the paper — I could have been a pesky reporter.

The shift started with a short debrief of the day’s happenings, including arrest warrants and suspicious activities. The department definitely has its own language of numbers and phrases. I just listened and nodded my head, not understanding any of it.

It was quickly apparent these guys knew all the repeat offenders and “frequent flyers.” When they reviewed a report from the day shift and a suspect’s description and activities were summarized, they almost instantly knew the first name of the person suspected.

It reminded me of my business meetings around town when we discuss who can help with a community project. We name someone quickly since we all know the same people in this small town. The police department is no different.

They didn’t talk negatively about these repeat troublemakers. They called them “clients” in a respectful tone.

I was assigned to Hooper, a 13-year veteran with the GVPD. We jumped in his police SUV and headed away from downtown. We immediately got a call about a disturbance at a laundromat in Grass Valley. Within minutes we were at the scene. Hooper asked me to stay in the car until all was clear. Then I could join him and observe. Safety first.

Shortly after we arrived, the rest of the officers I had met were on the scene to back up Hooper.

The disturbance was caused by two gentlemen camped out in the laundromat bathroom creating enough concern that folks doing their laundry had called the cops. While the two suspects were being escorted out of the laundromat, I overheard one say he was just using the bathroom in a tone that, I’ll admit, had me feeling bad for him. I wondered if this was all a mistake.

Hooper and the rest of the team asked the two guys questions, interviewed the people doing their laundry and brought out the items from the bathroom, which included what looked like four or five beers, a marijuana bong, four small glass meth pipes, two boxes of blank personal checks, three signed personal checks with the payment names scratched off, assorted toiletries and a very large pile of condoms. Condoms? Talk about optimism.

Hooper ended up hauling in one of the guys who had all these belongings due to a probation violation. Once at the downtown station, he called around and determined all the personal checks were stolen from mailboxes. He then contacted the check owners. They said they had no knowledge of this guy, and that the signed checks were intended for other purposes.

I didn’t feel so sorry for the guy after that. While I’m sure his possible drug addiction has caused him to make poor life choices, and he likely needs help, the people trying to do their laundry didn’t want to get caught up in what may have been multiple illegal activities. I wandered around talking with them, and I could tell these laundry patrons appreciated the support and concern for their safety.

One elderly woman said to the officers, “Thank you for what you do!”

A young couple thanked me for helping, too, likely mistaking me for a police officer, even though I lack the physique to pull that off.

I was impressed with how politely the officers treated this guy. All the way back to the station he complained about being picked on, even as Hooper nicely answered every question he asked.

Back at the station, while Hooper dug into his phone calls and paperwork to wrap up his report, I jumped into another SUV with first-year Officer Jesse Cloyd.

Cloyd, an ex-electrician and local resident, like Hooper, shared his first-year experiences with me as we drove on patrol. I noticed a definite difference between the one-year officer and the 13-year veteran. Cloyd still has a new-guy approach to the challenges and dangers of dealing with criminal activity compared to what I witnessed with Hooper and others.

Cloyd told me about his family and talked about the drawbacks of the job, emotionally and physically. For instance, I didn’t realize our police officers work 12-hour shifts. I thought I had a long day. On the other hand, he said helping people was very rewarding, and that he enjoys this more than his previous career. Cloyd provided an excellent summary of the penal code numbers and phrases from the shift debrief summary earlier that night until our patrol drive was cut short by another call.

We headed to Brunswick Road to investigate a report that a woman with a kitchen knife had punched through a glass door.

Upon arrival, an obviously intoxicated woman was wandering down the street. She cussed at Cloyd as he tried to talk to her. She wouldn’t stop to talk and ended up bleeding on the officer as he tried to get her to chat with him. He knew her name as soon as he made eye contact.

Again, within minutes the entire team had arrived at the scene to help out and to talk with the people involved at the house with the broken window. And again, I was impressed with the courtesy and politeness of the officers toward the woman and also the people in the house, whom the officers knew by name because they had prior contact with the police. The woman asked repeatedly about her belongings, and Cloyd answered each question with a calm voice. I doubt she remembered any of that the next morning.

The fire department showed up to help with the woman’s bloody hand, then Cloyd helped her aboard and we were off to county lock-up. The woman was brought in for destruction of property and public intoxication.

At the county building another “client” had been arrested earlier, and his non-stop yelling and cussing wasn’t the most pleasant experience. The officers there said the man is basically harmless but is prone to these outbursts in public, so they receive frequent calls.

They lock him up, then suggest he seek mental services help. He stops by, declines their help and is back on the street to start this all over again.

While at the county building I got to meet the dispatchers. Cloyd threw me under the bus while introducing me to the ladies in the dispatch department. He told them that while we drove around that night listening to them on the police radio frequency, I said they all have attractive voices. I guess I have to watch what I say to the cops.

My night wasn’t finished, but I should probably get to the point here. Here are my takeaways:

— Our police officers have a tough job. They work 12-hour shifts dealing with drug- and alcohol-fueled crime — while most of us sleep unaware of what’s happening just down the street. Cloyd said they average one meth- or heroin-related call about once a week, sometimes more.

— Our officers are caring and polite members of our community. Many have lived here for a long time. Even the drunk woman repeatedly said all the officers are very nice.

— Grass Valley and Nevada City police departments work very well together. Nevada City’s Officer Franssen was at the Grass Valley shift debrief, supported several Grass Valley calls and was at the county building when I was there. And Grass Valley officers help patrol Nevada City after 3 a.m. The cooperation was impressive.

— I give credit to Chief Foster for building a community-minded police team that includes local guys who grew up here and know the area and people well.

— We are very fortunate to avoid the problems that have arisen in other parts of our country.

— Nevada County dispatchers have attractive and pleasant voices.

My eyes were opened to what really happens related to crime and safety here in our small community. I read the blotter in The Union, like most people. But seeing these calls firsthand was frightening and nerve-racking. There was no telling if any of these calls would get out of hand. Lucky for the officers, and for me, they didn’t. But when dealing with people under the influence, they tell me it can be a tricky business.

I know this isn’t realistic, but if everyone could do a ride along, I’ll bet their perceptions of our community police force would be forever changed.

To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email jhemig@theunion.com or call 530-477-4299.

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