By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Thursday, May 15
It's 9 p.m. – A public service officer escorts me upstairs to the briefing room. I wait while the night-time patrol officers snack on a box of hours-old fried chicken in the briefing room and watch the San Antonio Spurs versus the New Orleans Hornets on a big-screen TV.
It's 9:15 p.m. – The night-time patrol sergeant calls roll and gives patrol area assignments for the evening. I request to be assigned to a patrol on Bundrant Drive because I had covered shootings there. I know it's a hot bed for crime. He assigns me to a patrol officer on Bundrant Drive. Then the other officers tell me Bundrant Drive has slowed down since "Operation Blue Canopy." The people stay inside now that the police are around. I ask to be changed to see some "action." I'm assigned to a downtown patrol officer with a reputation for being aggressive. I am brought downstairs, where I sign a waiver. The officer asks the sergeant if the waiver means he cannot give chase if one happens. The sergeant gives the bad news: There will be no chasing tonight.
At 9:25 p.m. I am in the parking lot behind the police station checking out the cruiser. The police officer unloads his SWAT gear from his unmarked car into his patrol cruiser trunk. I stare as he loads his rifle into the car.
He has been with KPD for five years.
I hop into the passenger's seat and the officer gets into the driver's seat. He signs into his Mobile Data Terminal, the in-car computer that operates through a touch screen. The system dispatches him to calls, displays a touch-screen map and a view of the car's camera, among many other tasks.
He runs a test of his lights and sirens. His car pops up on a map on the MDT.
We head onto the streets of downtown Killeen.
At 9:35 p.m. the officer begins his downtown patrol east of 10th Street, where he routinely encounters drugs and prostitutes. He said prostitutes have decreased significantly in Killeen since the 1980s based on what he has heard from senior officers. He stills sees them and they are one of the toughest parts of his job.
In a military town, prostitution can be a business, he said. He understands that prostitutes are part of the town, but that doesn't keep him from arresting them.
He grew up in Killeen. He chose to be an officer after working in retail and constantly seeing people steal from him, but not being able to do anything.
"I was working a retail job and pretty much I was tired of people stealing from my job. I said, 'Hey I want to do something to make a difference and take care of those people.'"
The streets he is tasked with protecting are the streets he calls home.
"You kind of take it personal if a store in your area gets robbed," he said. The officer patrols, waiting for the dispatch in Belton to show calls for service.
I don't have to wait much longer for our first call. An officer requests backup in executing an arrest warrant just north of Rancier Avenue. On the way, I look at the dimly lit streets of Killeen, curious as to why I see people walking downtown.
"It's just a lot of people walking around and they don't really have a reason to be walking around," he said.
We pull up behind the officer with the warrant. He has handcuffed a short man. The officer tells me to stay in the car. I watch from the passenger seat as they escort the man into the vehicle. The arrest is made. As we're pulling away, a young man pulls up to the window and asks why we just took his friend away. He tells us his friend was arrested last week and shouldn't have been arrested again. All the officer can tell him is to check with the Killeen City Jail, where the arrested man is headed.
He resumes patrol at 9:40 p.m., making a lap around his downtown patrol area, getting a feel for the evening and seeing if any of the regular streetwalkers are out tonight.
"You get to know the regular people that you stop out on," he said. "You have to know where you are in the city."
A few moments later, the dispatch goes from zero calls holding to nine calls. I'm ready for some excitement.
At 9:51 p.m. the officer responds to a call about people doing drugs at the corner of Terrace and W.S. Young drives. We drive, slowly, down Terrace Drive into Conder Park. He turns off his lights to blend in and we're concealed by the darkness. He uses a spotlight intermittently to search the park's dark areas, which are numerous. He pulls up next to a car parked in a lot. I wait in the car while he talks to the person in the car. A woman is just sitting in her car on the phone, he said.
"We used to get a bit of action in the park, but it's slowed down a bit," he said. People stopped committing crimes in the park after KPD stiffened enforcement. Now they have found new places, he said. He thinks they might return during the summer months, though.
I listen as a call about a domestic disturbance on Gray Street comes on the scanner at 10 p.m. We're on our way.
Then, over the radio, comes the news that a suspect in a narcotics search has fled into downtown.
I hold onto my seat as we make a quick U-turn. We're driving one block over from the suspect.
The officer turns right and pulls up behind the vehicle on Rancier Avenue. He turns on his lights and sirens. The vehicle pulls over.
"Wait here," he said to me.
The suspect starts to get out of his car.
"Stay in your car," the officer says. I'm waiting in the car as alternative music plays in the background, all while the officer handcuffs the suspect outside the car.
The officer, another officer and an undercover organized crime detective search the suspect and the vehicle. They find a large wad of cash. They put him behind me in the back seat of the cruiser. Only a barrier separates me from him. He asks me to get the officer's attention. I am apprehensive because I don't want to bother them while they are working. I get an officer's attention and the suspect asks him if he can write down some numbers from a cell phone. The officer tells him he can get those numbers back at the jail. The officer tells me I can step out of the car.
I overhear from the undercover detective's radio that officers at the suspect's apartment found drugs. The officer returns to the car and we take the suspect to the jail on a charge of possession of a controlled substance.
The only noise I hear is radio chatter and the officer's rock music playing. I hear a woman's name come across the scanner.
"That's my girl," the suspect tells us. "Is she going to be OK?"
The officer tells him he does not know.
At 10:21 p.m. we arrive at the jail. I wait inside until the officer takes the suspect out of the car. He tells me I can follow him into the jail. I follow them down a cramped hallway. The officer waves a metal detector over the suspect outside the jail. He puts him into the jail and the suspect sits on a bench, waiting to be booked. The officer tells me to wait a minute while he fills out the paperwork to get him booked.
It's 10:38 p.m. – We get back in the car and drive onto the Avenue C.
We arrive at the scene of a violent domestic dispute in the 1500 block of Metropolitan Drive. The street is dark and I can see two shadowy figures next to two cars. The officer tells me to wait in the cruiser. He talks to the figures. I watch as he walks to the front door and talks to more people involved. A few moments later, several people drive away. The situation is resolved.
Another officer passes by and tells him this isn't the first time they have been to the residence and it probably won't be the last.
"I need to go fill up," the officer tells me at 10:55 p.m. We ride across town and fill up at the police barn off Little Nolan Road.
"Some nights, we go from the time we get on, to the time we get off. It's non-stop." Two hours in and this night has been moderately busy, he said.
It's 10:59 p.m. – A shots-fired call on WestCliff Road comes across the radio.
"You have your seat belt on?" the officer asks me.
He turns on his lights and sirens, accelerates rapidly and we speed across U.S. Highway 190 down W.S. Young as vehicles pull over to the side of the road.
At 11:06 p.m. I see an ambulance with its lights out parked along Lake Road. The ambulance waits for the police to respond to see if anybody was hit.
We arrive at an apartment complex, seconds behind another officer. This one is a no-brainer: I'm waiting in the car.
People are sitting on the steps and tell him they didn't see or hear anything.
No one was shot. No one has a complaint. No bullets were found. On to the next call. The first officer remains on scene.
Now it's 11:20 p.m. – We drive down Rancier and we pass W.S. Young. I covered a shooting at this intersection a little more than a month ago. Shots were fired from one vehicle into another.
At this hour, the streetlights and car dealerships at each corner are the only thing keeping it from being dark. We drive down the street to the 7-Eleven on Rancier Avenue. The officer gets an energy drink and talks to the clerks. I follow behind, observing.
He asks them how they are doing tonight and the clerk tells him they had one problem, but that's it.
As we walk back to the car, the officer tells me he passes by this store nightly to find out what's going on in his patrol area.
The two clerks have each been robbed before, he said. One of them was assaulted by a group of juveniles a few weeks earlier.
At 11:40 p.m. the officer drives around 14th Street and Parmer Lane. While patrolling, he is waved over by a man he has arrested multiple times, at least once with drugs. The officer rolls down my window. The homeless man tells us about a teen-aged burglar down the street. The officer asks him about other characters in the neighborhood. The man tells us about a "Juju" and a "Fabien."
The man walks away down the street carrying a bag in his hand. Another officer passes and tells us that he did not see anything where the man said the teen burglar was located.
11:48 p.m. – We're riding around downtown Killeen again by Rancier Avenue. The officer stops a car when it straddles two lanes while making a wide-right turn onto W.S. Young Drive.
He runs the vehicle and driver history. I wait in the car. The driver's record comes back clean. He lets the person off with a verbal warning.
This officer has earned a reputation for being "aggressive" and a "traffic nazi" among his fellow officers.
"I like to get narcotics, get those off the street, and guns," he said. "I like to get into the action ... I'm just trying to clean up the streets."
He wants to clean up his hometown.
"People that drive downtown Killeen – that have never been here before – don't need to see all the prostitution and drug addicts that are walking around. That's something they don't need to see. It gives us a bad reputation for our city."
He said crimes such as burglaries and forgeries often happen because people are trying to get money for their next drug-induced "high."
But it's not the criminals he cares about. It's the people in the homes that count on him to protect them. A few months ago, he took a call about an older couple who were the victims of serial burglars in neighborhood. The burglars were looking for goods and money to trade for drugs.
"They were asleep in their house and someone pried their door open, stole their wallet, cell phone," he said. "The suspect could have easily hurt them very bad. You could tell in those people's faces that they were just scared."
By midnight the night has slowed down. He patrols downtown again. We see a man and a woman outside an apartment complex on Harbor Street. He pulls over and talks to them. It's dark and he asks me to wait in the car. He runs the woman's criminal history over the radio. She has a prior arrest in Temple for prostitution, he said.
Five minutes later, a loud screeching noise comes from a few blocks away. The officer rushes back to the car. We rush over in the direction of the screeching, but we see nothing.
At 12:10 a.m. the officer responds to a complaint about a man being run down. He believes the complaint is related to the sound of tires peeling off.
I wait in the car again while he talks to a man. The man gets pretty heated and emotional. He tells the officer the vehicle with the tires peeling off tried to run him over.
He and another officer at the scene take the victim's information.
We give the victim a ride in the back seat to a motel on Veterans Memorial Boulevard. Another officer says that he may have the suspect vehicle pulled over a few blocks away.
It's 12:30 a.m. – The officer assists on a traffic stop at Second Street and West Dean Avenue. I wait in the car. A child, a woman and another man get out the vehicle. The driver gets handcuffed and put into the other officer's cruiser. Everybody disperses. The officer returns to the car and tells me the driver had a suspended license.
At 12:48 a.m. the officer resumes patrol and spots an apartment on Gilmer Street that has its door open and lights on. Several people have been arrested at this address, the officer said. The woman tells the officer she had her door open because she has no air conditioning.
"From Gilmer to 10th Street, there's still just a lot of people that walk around. The transients, drug addicts, prostitutes. They have to stay somewhere and unfortunately they stay on the city streets," the officer said.
He resumes patrol and will continue until his shifts ends at 7 a.m. It's time for me to go. I've done my four-hour ride-along. He apologizes that I did not get to see more. He said some nights are busy.
"Sometimes it gets ridiculous. You literally go from one call to the next," he said.
This was just four hours on a Thursday. This was not one of those nights.
His night is only half-way done. The officer has four more hours of patrol to go and then reports that follow afterward.