9 p.m.: Death waiver
I arrived at the station nervous, not knowing what to expect. I was told to wait in the lobby for Officer Melanie Hacker to return, as she was out on patrol. She had been at work since 4 p.m. when her shift began.
While I waited, a woman and her baby girl came in to get a restraining order against the girl’s father. I heard Hacker’s voice before I saw her, as she goo-gooed over the baby playing on the floor.
I stood up and introduced myself. Hacker took me through a door to the back of the department where I signed a ride-along waiver, relinquishing the department from responsibility if anything happened to me.
Then we headed to her police vehicle where she showed me a red panic button. “Press it if I run off after someone or if I get shot,” Hacker said. Surprisingly, I felt safe with her. Although we are the same age, I already had a great respect for this courageous lady.
9:30 p.m.: FIRST CALL
The first call we got was for criminal mischief. Apparently, someone shot a BB gun pellet through the window of a house in Harker Heights. When we arrived, I chose to stay in the car and listen to Hacker talk to the family through the speakers. I could hear her explain the reporting process as well as how she liked their choice in curtains and granite counter-tops. She took photos to go with the report the family filed.
10 p.m.: Runaway
We returned to the department so Hacker could call a woman who reported her 14-year-old daughter had run away from home.
“She is a frequent flier; I’m not the only officer who has dealt with her,” Hacker said.
Hacker left a message on the girl’s phone telling her if she did not return home she would be reported as a runaway.
10:30 p.m.: C-Roc
We stopped by the parking lot of C-Roc, one of the busiest night clubs in Harker Heights. Standing under the overhang of the club, we were joined by Officer Russell “Rusty” Dunagan. He noticed the lights in the parking lot were not working.
“Around 2 a.m. someone might use the darkness to start shooting at people,” he said.
As it began to thunder and rain, a bouncer at the club said a breaker went out and was being worked on.
11 p.m.: Tacos
Police department policy does not allow officers to patronize any of the local bars during their off time, Hacker said. However, they are welcome to eat at the taco truck outside of Wet Willy’s. Standing in a gushing river of rainwater flowing under the taco truck, the officers and I ate a quick dinner before heading to Murphy’s gas station for a bathroom break.
11:30 p.m.: No lights
Just as Hacker said she rarely stops vehicles for “mechanical” issues, like a broken head light, especially not in poor conditions, we noticed the vehicle driving in front of us did not have their lights on. Hacker pulled the car over and discovered that the driver did not have a license. Contending with the rain, Hacker wrote the man a smudged ticket and gave him his court date.
Midnight: Blue hair
Hacker received a call that the young runaway had returned home. The mother asked Hacker to talk to the daughter, and she agreed, asking Dunagan to join her in case she had to take the girl into custody.
“It’s tricky dealing with juveniles because they don’t have respect for us and they know there is nothing we can do to them,” Hacker said.
Again, I stayed in the car and listened from afar but the rain pounding on the roof made it difficult to follow the conversation.
“Did you hear me get into her, about what I would do if she were my kid?” said Hacker, when she returned. “I told her I would first make her dye her hair back (from blue) to its natural color and she would not be allowed to have a cellphone and would have to use the computer in front of me.”
1 a.m.: Unfit
After a smoke break in a car wash bay, we got a domestic dispute call from dispatch. Until then, my heart rate had not really risen with the various calls we responded to. This one, however, was different.
As Hacker said, things can go south really fast with domestic calls. Since officers are never sent to domestic calls alone, Dunagan followed us.
When we arrived on the scene, a woman covered in mud would not tell the officers what happened. They did learn her eight children were in the home. Hacker, making a judgment call about the woman’s fitness as a mother and the condition of her house, called Child Protective Services. The officers eventually calmed the mother and a friend took her away from the house for the night.
1:45 a.m.: Zero Bar Thirty
On Friday and Saturday nights, standard operating procedure calls for officers to show their presence on Veteran’s Memorial Boulevard as bars close. As the time changed from 1:59 a.m. to 3 a.m. because of Daylight Saving Time, Hacker and three other officers stood together in front of Wet Willy’s. They all had a good laugh about the naked man one of the officers arrested earlier that day.
3 a.m.: Pursuit
My ride-along shift came to a close. On our way back to the station, Hacker was rerouted by a call from dispatch about a suspicious gray SUV on Indian Trail that might have an intoxicated driver. “Here we go,” I thought. “Finally, a high-speed chase.”
We crossed under U.S. Highway 190 but didn’t see any vehicles.
Then, with far more vigilant eyes than mine, Hacker spotted a car that matched the suspicious vehicle’s description.
“Be careful Melanie, no need to get killed,” Hacker said to herself.
Catching up to the gray SUV, Hacker followed as they turned into a shopping center. My heart raced as she turned on the flashing red and blue lights, pulled the vehicle over and got out with flashlight in hand.
After talking to the passengers, Hacker determined they were not the people reported by dispatch.
Instead of making an arrest or launching into a high-speed chase, Hacker offered the SUV passengers advice on good restaurants that were open at that late hour.
3:30 a.m.: Reports
“There is an old saying, good reports keep you out of courts,” Hacker said.
Reports are one of the most consuming aspects of a police officer’s job, since they’re required to write one for every event on shift.
Hours are spent making sure every detail is included in the reports because, “if it is not in the report, it did not happen,” Dunagan said.
Almost 12 hours after her shift began, Hacker brought me back to the station to finish her reports before calling it a day.
I went home to sleep.