Working the dreaded graveyard shift is bad enough as it is, but when you add the extra stress of working it alone, well, then it sometimes becomes downright dangerous. But I’ve done it, and so have many police officers across the country who work in small towns and counties. In my case it was a county—my first law enforcement assignment—and it wasn’t all that small. But our sheriff had his way of running things and no one was brave enough to contradict the larger than life man behind the curtain. So working alone it was.
Typically, working the midnight shift is slow and lonely, especially after 2 a.m. (10 p.m. – 2 a.m. are the action hours, usually). You spend your late-night patrol time fighting sleep while listening to anything you can find on the radio. And you constantly fight with that mandatory piece of equipment worn by all graveyard shift officers…the invisible string attached to your eyelids—the one that attempts to pull them down like grandma’s old-time window shades. And the string uses a downward force that’s equal to three times the earth’s gravitational pull.
You’re out there with the feral dogs and cats while they raid garbage cans and dumpsters, and the back-lit mannequins guarding storefront windows in the various small towns are the only company that remotely resembles another human. Wispy, tendrils of steam rise out of the storm drains, twisting and winding their way upward toward the black sky. Your spotlight reveals things between silos and tractor sheds that may or may not be there. Only your mind knows for sure. Images of a nice, warm, soft bed and pillow play on a never-ending loop inside your mind.
But, there are some moments of excitement and action and, working an entire county alone poses some interesting problems…like getting to a crime scene before your shift ends in four hours.
The trip across our county from east to west, with blue lights and siren and gas pedal to the floor, was 40 minutes or so. That’s nonstop as the crow flies. North to south was even further. Much further. Diagonally, though, if a deputy was patrolling in the far southwest corner and received a call in the far northeast, well, let’s just say that we hoped the complainant knew how to shoot or had a pack of viscous attack dogs handy, because we’d have to stop for gas twice before we’d reach them. And that’s if our radios could pick up a signal in the deepest, darkest corners of the county. To make matters worse, since interstates do not run diagonally, that meant dodging deer, ‘possums, and racoons while traveling on winding and roller-coaster-like country roads for a good portion of the trip.
Daytime shifts in rural areas present their own challenges. You know, like when you’re running full lights and sirens because someone has just been shot, and suddenly find yourself behind a large farm tractor pulling some sort of bright green farm machinery that covered the entire roadway and both shoulders? And, of course, Bubba is chattering away on his CB radio while scooting along at a breath-taking 4 miles-per-hour. He can’t hear your siren over the roar of the equipment and he never, not ever, turns around to see what’s behind.
So you’re left with no choice but to find a shallow spot in the ditch and crash through it sending everything inside your car flying—coffee cup under the brake pedal, papers on the dashboard, handcuffs under the seat and, well, you get the idea). Then you plow through an acre or so of corn in order to pass the plaid-shirted tobacco-chewer who turned and spat a nice wad through your open window just as you finally made your way past his mammoth tires.
Then, to top off the trip, you arrive at the scene and discover an entire family, along with several shirtless friends, fighting like they’re the feature “act” in one of those ridiculous TV wresting matches. And they’ve chosen large hunting knives as their weapons du jour. So you yell out, “Junior!” knowing that at least half of the crew will stop fighting long enough to see who’s calling their given names. That’s usually enough to scatter the ones who have outstanding warrants or are parole or probation violators. Then you can arrest the remaining half-dozen, or so. Of course, first you’ll have to stand toe-to-toe and argue with the wives of each of the offenders, and you don’t want to arrest them because each one has at least one snotty-nosed diaper-wearing kid hanging from a hip. And there’s always a one-eyed, three-legged dog named Bear or Blue nipping at your ankles during this entire mess.
Just as you’re about to ratchet the cuffs on the largest of the suspects (if you only have one pair of cuffs, always handcuff the behemoth who’s most likely the one who could inflict the most amount of pain on you), your radio crackles…”Shots fired…unintelligible….at the unintelligible…use…unintelligible…10-4?”
Anyway, that’s how it goes sometimes when you’re working an entire shift, alone. Other times, especially at night, it can be downright nerve-wracking, not knowing what’s at the other end of that driveway, where you hear gunshots echoing off dented aluminum siding and rusty tin roofs.
But you do what you gotta do to keep your sanity, even if it means finding the end of a long dirt road, stopping the car, turning out the lights, and closing your eyes for a few minutes as Delilah tells some poor love-sick guy, “She’s gone for good, but here’s song that’ll make you feel better about yourself…”
Police radio crackles. Eyes open, wide.
“Automobile crash at the intersection of…”
And so it goes…hoping you’ll reach the crash before daylight.
Corporal Scott R. Thompson, 47
Manchester Township New Jersey Police Department
April 10, 2015 – Corporal Scott Thompson suffered a fatal heart attack while working out in the gym as part of his department’s wellness program.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Officer Michael Villarreal
Pearsall Texas Police Department
April 12, 2015 – Officer Michael Villarreal was killed in a head-on vehicle crash while transporting a juvenile to the detention center. The juvenile was seriously injured, but survived the crash.