Ponch and John patrolled the highways of our television sets from 1977 to 1983 and in syndication. The pair of fictional California Highway Patrol Officer’s gave us a view of the day to day duties of state troopers in one of our largest states. Although, they featured many dramatic scenes, often a day of routine traffic stops and fender benders might not be all so glamorous. Still, police officer’s at all levels of government, in all states, provide valuable services to the general public. Without them, everyone would be at added risk for injury and death through natural disasters, crime, and accidents. Some even give their lives to fulfill their duties.
Despite the recent bad publicity, based on the behavior of a handful of law enforcement officers, most cops are fair, dedicated, and hard working. They put their lives on the line everyday to stand between criminals and us. Their very presence on patrol 24 hours a day helps to deter criminal activity, provide emergency assistance, and make our highways and byways safer. A state trooper or highway patrol officer often spends most of their time on patrol. They respond to auto accidents, enforce traffic laws, and depending on the state, handle criminal investigations on state property or state-wide. There duties may be exciting or routine, depending on that particular shift. Let’s examine the life of a real trooper, not in the California Highway Patrol but one who served a midwestern state.
At the beginning of the graveyard (overnight) shift, a few decades ago, a young state trooper reported to his state highway patrol post in a more rural area of a midwestern state. Reportedly, he had tried to call off sick but had either been told by a supervisor to report or ended up agreeing to come in. It was later said that the young state officer had a fever.
Sometime early in the shift, the county sheriff’s department radio lit up with urgent radio traffic. Normally during the graveyard shift, there was little conversation on the radio. Occasionally there was a traffic accident, fire, emergency squad dispatch, or prowler call. But, on this night, fire-emergency tones were called as the sheriff’s dispatcher summoned area fire departments, ambulances, and every available sheriff’s patrol and local police department in a ten mile radius.
There was a reported injury auto accident on a rural state highway, a few miles out of a small city. Unlike most of her emergency dispatches, the female radio officers voice was unstable. She shouted into the microphone, the sound of urgency in her voice. Fire departments, emergency squads, deputies, and several small town police department officers acknowledged her pleas and responded to the scene.
After a few minutes, the dispatcher’s shaky voice updated the police radio code from an injury accident to a fatality. There was a long silence on the radio. Subsequent radio traffic asked officers from outlying areas to head back to their towns. There were already a number of police and state troopers on the scene.
For the next half hour or so, the dispatchers voice paused from time to time as she cried. Unlike a large city, all the public safety employees and volunteers in the county knew each other. Some shared the same social circles. Physical jurisdictions meant nothing to them. If an officer or fire fighter was in trouble, everyone responded. Tonight, a young state trooper had been killed in an auto accident.
My heart sank as I pulled my police cruiser over to the side of the road. I worked in a small town in a neighboring county. I had thought about heading that way but they were asking for no one else to respond. There were already too many officers on the scene. It would be detrimental to the investigation. A state patrol chopper was already enroute from the state capitol to handle the formal traffic fatality investigation.
A few years before, I had worked for a town in the other county. Many times, that young state trooper had backed me up on traffic and criminal calls. He was professional, yet friendly. the guy was the kind of cop that you would put on a recruiting poster. Now, his dedication to his agency and the public had cost him his life.
As the days passed, more information came to light from the police grapevine. Apparently, the trooper had been ill and should not have been encouraged or ordered to report for work. I had heard (off the record), that while on patrol, he had passed out due to a high fever, and his patrol car had veered into the opposing lane, into the path of a large truck. He had his window down and part of his upper torso had leaned out the window. He was decapitated. Again, this was unofficial through the police grapevine.
In these times of “Defund the Police” protests, we tend to forget all the good our men and women in law enforcement do for each one of us. Like us, there are honest and corrupt officers. I like to think most are honorable and could care less what race, color, religion…. I have worked with a number of officers and most were dedicated to serve the public. While, I realize my law enforcement days are far behind me, I still believe that we need the police more than we don’t need their help. Like the state trooper in this story, many would risk life and limb to protect each and every one of us from dangerous criminals who live amongst us.
While it still saddens me each time I recall that night, I take comfort in the memories of how a dedicated, professional, law enforcement officer answered the call, putting his life on the line to serve and protect.
Pic from: thesun.co.uk