Cape After Dark, Part 2: Cape police still on the streets after night falls
Monday, November 10, 2008
The following are scenes from a night spent riding along with patrol units from the Cape Girardeau Police Department during what turned out to be a relatively slow night shift Thursday into Friday.
The night shift runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Officers will generally work nights for seven shifts, then switch to days, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., for nine shifts before returning to the night shift. Most said they prefer to work the night shift.
Cpl. Brad Smith, acting as platoon sergeant for the evening to fill in for Sgt. Dennis Horn, stops his patrol cruiser at the corner of Hanover and Bloomfield streets.
A small group of five or six people who appear to be in their mid-twenties are milling about on the corner.
The neighborhood has been the site of three separate shooting incidents in the past week and a half.
The people don't disperse until Smith steps out of the car.
Smith prefers to be outside while he's on patrol; he says you can see a lot more, and officer presence can be much more effective when you're on foot, he explains. He walks to the southeast corner of the intersection and stands there.
"You're more visible, you can deter a lot of things before they happen," he said.
Within a few seconds, the street corner empties as everyone goes to homes and cars.
A car pumping its bass rolls to a stop in front of the residence where people were gathering.
Smith quickly crosses the street and asks them to turn it down. City ordinance dictates a car stereo must be quiet enough so it can't be heard at a distance of fifty feet away.
To police effectively, learning the city's municipal codes is crucial, Smith says, as is being as familiar as possible with your surroundings, including getting to know as many people living in an area as possible.
If you don't know the ordinances by heart, you can't spot a violation when you see one, an opportunity that lets you converse with the person and possibly prevent a larger problem later on, he says.
"Knowledge is power, down here," Smith says. "You don't have to be big or strong or openly aggressive to be very good down here."
As the mercury drops, a fog begins to roll in over the city. Smith rolls through each zone, checking out the high traffic areas and how the weather affects them so he knows exactly what to expect as the night progresses.
During the ice storm of last winter, Smith recalls working several traffic accidents at once as the road grew increasingly bad.
"Broadway near Capaha Park was like a hockey rink -- you'd work one and another one would happen right next to you," he says.
The role of the zone officer changes as the night goes on, Smith says, making a pass through Arena Park, where a few teens are sitting on the picnic tables in one of the shadowed pavilions. Smith likes to meander through alleyways and check buildings, making sure nothing's amiss.
"You can find a lot in Cape at night," he says.
There's a common misconception that working the night shift can be more dangerous than during daytime hours, but you can run into the same kind of trouble no matter what time it is, Smith says.
Smith and several other officers are dispatched to a residence at a Sheridan Street apartment complex. A reported break-in results in the officers securing the scene, taking photographs and calming down the resident, who returned to find her entertainment center toppled over.
In that situation, it's important to stick to clear, easy questions and try not to upset the victim any further when they're already in a heightened emotional state, Smith says.
As Smith enters a new patrol zone toward the hospital to assist another officer in quelling a disturbance, he spots a man he recognizes as the man who walks in the area in front of Denny's on William Street, picking up cans.
"He'll be up and around all night," Smith says.
The area around Cape Rock Park is dark and quiet. One vehicle, a truck registered to a construction company, sits in the gravel lot. Smith calls the owner of the company to check on what the work vehicle is doing out so late and in such an unusual location.
Weaving through the park on the way to the downtown area, Smith points out the "Bird Sanctuary," an area of Cape Rock Drive with a reputation for being a popular site of methamphetamine manufacturing.
The scanner buzzes about an attempted burglary. A woman heard some glass breaking, and feared someone was in the house. When officers arrived, she realized what she'd heard was a picture falling off the wall and the frame shattering.
Phat Cat's, on Broadway, lets out as Smith and another officer stand across the street. It's a big crowd, but a well-behaved one. They make their way to their cars and clear the lot next to Dollar General. Within five minutes of the bar closing, the lot is empty and the street nearly deserted.
Forty-five minutes earlier, Smith did the same at the corner of Themis and Main streets, near several of the bustling downtown bars.
"We do watch when bars close," he says.
Sometimes, when the clock drifts past 1:30, an officer will go into the bar and advise the manager it's time to let out, he says.
It's not unusual to see someone leave the bar with drink in hand, Smith says. Most of the time, they'll dump it out when he asks, but he does get an occasional refusal, resulting in an open container violation.
As the shift progresses, the calls for service slow considerably. There's down time for officers to fill out paperwork on reports that occurred earlier in the evening, rehash unusual or humorous incidents from earlier in the week, and crack jokes.
It's important to have that time to interact with each other, have some coffee and stay alert, Smith says.
Each of the four patrol zones, separated at West End Boulevard and Independence Street, has its own characteristics. Patrolman Cody Farrow is assigned to Zone 1, the area northwest of the dividing line. Most of the neighborhoods north of Kingshighway are relatively peaceful as the early morning hours stretch on.
Farrow stops behind a cash advance business on Kingshighway. It's something all of the officers do when there's some down time during the shift -- check for potential break-ins. The calls on the night shift tend toward peace disturbances and loud music calls. During the day, police tend to receive more calls of things that probably happened during the night, so they try to be proactive in their approach. Farrow checks an open door in the back of the business, but nothing appears to have been tampered with.
Most of the officers return to the station to wrap up the shift and complete reports before the next shift comes in.
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