Riding Along Friday Night with the Salem PD

October 10, 2014

by Bob Gibbs

As a part of my participation in the Salem Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy, sponsored by the Salem Exchange Club, I got to ride along in a patrol car with a Salem Police officer.  For my ride along I chose the Friday, 4 p.m. to midnight shift.  I thought this would be a shift with the most potential for some excitement.

My interest in the Police Academy and the ride along was to see firsthand what the Salem Police do and how they do it.  Like most everyone, I watched my fair share of “Law and Order,” “Cops” and “CSI.”  I wanted to get a more realistic view of the police department.

My shift started in the lobby of the police station.  As I waited for the officer to come out to get me, I had a chance to witness the people who come into the station.  When I first arrived, there was a man and two women in the lobby waiting to speak to an officer.  As an officer came out to the lobby, the man asked the officer if he could get his wallet and cell from his car.  From listening to the conversation, it appeared the man had been stopped the night before.

The man admitted to the officer that he was wrong in mouthing off and was embarrassed about his actions.  The officer informed the man that since the department would not be able to contact a judge until Monday, the car and everything inside the car had to stay impounded.  The man eventually said he understood and walked out of the station dejected and without his wallet or cell phone.

Next, a woman came in to bail out her daughter.  The woman would later tell me that her daughter was arrested on a drug charge.  She told me her daughter was involved with a man with a substance problem, that they had a small child together, and that he was soon getting out of rehab.

The next person to come into the station was a man carrying a very small child.  The man was at the station to bail out the mother of the child, again a drug arrest.  Soon the woman came out.  She greeted the child and they all left together.

Incidentally, all of the people mentioned were from Massachusetts.

Officer Corbin Decker then came out to the lobby and told me that it was time to go.  Once in the police vehicle, I saw all the extra electronics that are in the patrol car; there are the buttons for the lights and sirens and in the center of the console is a laptop.  As I would soon see, the laptop is a necessary tool of the modern police department.

As soon as we came to the first light at the intersection of Veterans Parkway and Route 28, Officer Decker began typing in license plate numbers.  I asked if there was something about the vehicles that he saw that was wrong.  He said no, that they often enter license plates during patrol; it is how they are able to find people and vehicles with outstanding warrants.

Traveling north on Route 28, we drove up to a vehicle that had a brake light out.  Officer Decker entered the license number and put on the patrol car lights to have the vehicle pull over to the side.  The driver pulled over and we drove up behind him.  The officer read the information that the computer had provided him and he exited the patrol car.

Before exiting the vehicle, he made a radio call to Salem dispatch informing them of his location and the license number of the car.  Walking up to the vehicle, you could see Officer Decker was closely inspecting the driver and the vehicle.  After approaching the vehicle, the officer and the driver had a short conversation, then the driver handed the officer what appeared to be his license and registration.  Officer Decker then returned to the vehicle, did some queries on the computer, and returned to the vehicle, sending the driver on his way.

Once Officer Decker returned to the vehicle, he again made a radio call to dispatch that he was clear and that he had given the driver a warning for the broken brake light.  When I asked him about the stop, he told me that many of the traffic stops in town are for equipment violations and that they end up in verbal warnings.  However, it is a way that they are able to find people that have warrants for more serious crimes.

During the evening, I witnessed Officer Decker make two other traffic stop and they all went the same way.  During each of the stops, I saw that the officer had a confidence about him, demonstrating a seriousness about his job, and yet maintaining a relaxed demeanor.  He had conversations with all of the drivers.  During one of the conversations, Officer Decker and the driver of the vehicle that he had pulled over had a short chuckle together.

Our first call was to a property owner/tenant dispute.  When we arrived at the home of the property owner, it was obvious that he was upset with the actions of the tenant.  Officer Decker listened intently to the property owner to get his side of the story.  We soon left and went to the home that the tenant was living in.  There Officer Decker listened to the tenant and then informed him that he needed to stop the actions that he had been doing.  After watching the tenant remove the offending items from the property, we returned to the property owner to tell him the problem had been taken care of.

The next call was for a person that said he or she was being harassed on the phone by a former friend.  After taking the report, we returned to the station in order that Officer Decker could try to reach the alleged harasser.  He could not reach the person, but he did leave a message.

While in the station, I saw a different officer preparing evidence from an incident that he was involved in.  I watched this officer carefully put a syringe into a plastic tube and mark the tube with an evidence sticker.  The officer pointed to a small bag that contained heroin; he also pointed out that the $50 bill on the table was taken from the woman that was involved.  The bill also contained heroin, which I could see for myself.  I was told that this evidence was from a drug arrest involving a small child being stuck with the used dirty syringe.

While preparing to go on patrol again, a dispatcher said something to Officer Decker.  I did not know what it meant, but I would soon find out.  Once in the patrol car, we drove to the front of the station.  A young man and his mother were waiting for us.  I was told this is a young man with an infatuation for police cars.  Nick, as I was told was his name, was excited to see us.  He took several snapshots, and then asked the officer to turn on the lights and sirens.  Officer Decker obliged the young man who was very excited and took a video of the patrol car with the sirens going and lights flashing.  Salem police had made a young man and his mom happy.

Continuing the patrol, we went through several neighborhoods looking for the vehicle of a known habitual offender.  We had no luck finding the car or the person in question.

Soon we received a call to go to a North Salem home for a report of a burglary.

Once at the home, Officer Decker went to the front door.  There he was met by a woman who allowed him to come into the house.  From my position in the car, I could see Officer Decker walking throughout the house.  He was obviously looking around thoroughly.  It was a while before he came back to the car to inform me that we could be here for some time.  He explained that there was a burglary and that other officers would be coming to the scene soon.  In a short time, two other police cars arrived on the scene; one officer had a camera out and another was carrying what looked like a toolbox.  They entered the home.

While I was waiting for Officer Decker, I could see that there was broken glass in the driveway.  I told Officer Decker about this glass when he came out.  He and the other officers went to inspect it; this told them that a vehicle was possibly used to take the stolen property away.

While I was waiting in the patrol car I was listening to the police radio.  I began to hear many calls, sending police and ambulances to a fight in the Oakridge Road neighborhood.

Office Decker and the other officers soon came out.  The other officers quickly raced away.  Soon we were right behind them.  We had our sirens blaring and lights flashing as we traveled down North Main Street to Bridge Street, then to Lawrence Road, on to Route 28 and then to Oakridge.  The trip from North Salem down to the Massachusetts border took us about four minutes.  Traveling down the narrow winding roads of Salem was thrilling.  However, having confidence in Officer Decker, it was not a fearful ride.  At times, we hit speeds close to 75 miles an hour.

Once at the scene, a ranking officer told Officer Decker to get me back to the station and then return.  Officer Decker seemed a little disappointed in being told to leave the scene of a large incident, but as he told me it’s all about the luck of timing and him putting in his time.  He would get his chances.  Officer Decker dropped me off in front of the station and he sped away.  Back to the scene of the crime.

During my ride along I got to see several of our Salem police officers doing their jobs.  They impressed me as very mature, smart, and professional men and women.  They obviously have been well trained.  They back each other up, not just on the road, but in the station.  They share the knowledge that they have attained with their fellow officers.  After going out on this ride along, I now feel that I know a little more about what the police officers in Salem do and I know much more about the officers themselves.  I now have even more respect for police officers than I had before my ride along.