Copping is problem solving, and this is especially true in an agency that does not have the resources of a large, urban department. Domestics, assaults, child abuse and homelessness bring different problems in a rural agency. Being a cop is about serving people, true, but the way we serve people is through helping them problem solve the crisis situation they are in. We need to think rationally and clearly in a chaotic and foggy situation.
One night my partner and I received a report of an intoxicated driver. The caller was a husband reporting the driver who was his wife. After obtaining a vehicle description and checking the area where the vehicle may be, we were unable to find it. Five minutes after clearing the call we received another call from the husband reporting that his wife had stopped along a dirt road near their house.
We returned to the area just as our dispatcher took a 911 call from the wife, reporting that she had been in a domestic with her husband. When I respond to these calls my mind begins working through how to deal with them based on the information at hand. Information changes quickly and solutions need to be adapted to fit that new information, as was the case in this call that was developing.
I came around a dark turn on the gravel road and found the vehicle pulled over on the side of the road with its yellow hazard lights flashing. I flicked my spotlight on, turned it in the direction of the car and saw the front windshield smashed. This was not a small crack or break, but rather a windshield that was so broken one would not be able to see through it. The middle of the windshield was caving into the vehicle and it was an indicator of someone’s rage.
I began getting the story from the wife, who indeed was drunk and who had her child in the vehicle with her. She told of her husband who jumped onto her car as she was leaving and began destroying the windshield with his foot. When I was in field training my trainer used to tell me that each complicated call needed to be broken down step by step in order to make sense of it. He cautioned me to not look at the big picture and get overwhelmed but to systematically work through each element of the call to reach a solution.
That was good advice for a new guy and it has stuck with me all these years. I had an intoxicated female who also had placed her child in the car, which is an aggravated factor when it comes to charing someone with DWI. Yet she was also a victim of domestic assault. Her son had just seen something traumatic and been unnerved. I had a husband just down the road inside his house who was the suspect in a domestic assault and was also expecting me to arrest his wife for DWI.
Do I arrest both and place the child in foster care for the night? Do I arrest one and not the other? Sometimes more damage can come from making an arrest. Many times the opposite is true. What would be the best outcome in a situation like this where there were no good options for me to select? These are the decisions made at 1:00 AM that have ripple effects on a family in ways that I will never see. May I never tread on them lightly.