Oklahoma City police ridealong: Southwest Division
It is officer Travis Vernier's first day back on patrol, and he's still a bit worn out from the schedule shift.
Last week, Vernier participated in the department's “rifle school,” where he qualified to carry an assault rifle on duty.
A grueling week that includes rigorous target practice, the class runs regular hours, the opposite of Vernier's 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. second shift schedule.
Unfortunately for him, troublemakers never get tired.
The first call of the day is a domestic disturbance at a home near SW 44 and Independence Avenue. A couple have spent the afternoon drinking and are arguing outside their home, laying hands on each other and starting to antagonize neighbors.
Vernier isn't the first on scene, and officers have separated the couple when he arrives. The boyfriend is talking to officers in his driveway, insisting it was no big deal and that everything is fine. But while they talk, his girlfriend — ordered by another officer to remain on the curb while they sort things out — walks right into the open door of the neighbor across the street.
An officer dashes after her. Emerging seconds later with the woman by the arm, he leads her into the back seat of a police cruiser, lecturing her sternly about walking into peoples' homes illegally.
Vernier and the other officer continue to discuss the situation, and the woman begins pounding on the inside of the police car window with her head. Once more, the officer rushes across the street.
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This time, he says, he's taking her to jail. After a few quick words with the boyfriend and remaining neighbors, police begin to clear the scene.
Vernier gets a phone call from a supervisor. A citizen has lodged a complaint, accusing the officer of using his lights to avoid a red light. What the caller does not know is that Vernier was “running hot” to the disturbance call, but dropped his speed and killed the flashing lights after other officers arrived first.
The caller had followed Vernier several miles and phoned in the complaint. Vernier and the supervisor drop the matter. There's another call waiting.
This one is a larceny call from Walmart's loss prevention team at their store just north of Interstate 40 near MacArthur Boulevard. A couple is in custody, accused of shoplifting cans of baby formula.
By the time Vernier arrives, security has completed its incident reports and the pair are ready to be taken to the Oklahoma County jail for booking. They're lined up side-by-side against the wall as they're searched and their pockets emptied in the sally port, a chamber between two electronic doors of which only one is open at a time, to prevent escape.
After they're checked at the entrance, the couple must be cleared by medical staff. The intake process —including medical clearances and mugshots— take hours, but Vernier's job is done, and it's time to hit the streets once more.
When the police divisions were redrawn based on the city's call volumes, the north-south division between Hefner and Southwest divisions was set at NW 10, a busy street with high crime and call volumes.
Working NW 10 was known by officers as “riding the dime,” and he rides it back to the western edge of downtown for another disturbance call.
A business owner has reported a drunken transient sleeping beneath a tree in an empty lot. The transient isn't “home” when Vernier pulls up, but he remains on scene updating incidents in his computer terminal.
Then, backlit by the final few minutes of sunlight, a figure ambles across the field. Vernier meets him at the tree.
The officer introduces himself and asks for ID. The man plops down while attempting to retrieve it from his pocket. Vernier asks if he's been drinking.
“A little bit,” he replies.
“Do you want to go to detox?”
“Yeah,” the man says.
“Have you been there before?” Vernier asks.
“A few times.”
The Public Inebriate Alternative is a way for drunks to avoid a jail cell and files. They must be peaceable and agree to go. A night on a detox cot is a mandatory 12-hour stay.
The man's blood alcohol registers a .26 in a breath test, about the level where drunkenness becomes dangerous. Only a few scattered beds are occupied when the newest guest arrives.
After a brief check-in, Vernier heads to his car.
Another call comes from the Walmart where the shoplifters were picked up. A man's estranged stepbrother has shown up in Oklahoma City and is asking for a ride. They want police there in an attempt to talk the man into rehab.
The stepbrother wears a wide smile and carries an acoustic guitar. The family wants him searched for drugs before they let him in the car.
“We can't just search his pockets like that. It would be violating his rights,” Vernier tells the family. The stepbrother wanders off across the lot and officers disperse.
A domestic abuse call comes in from an apartment complex on the edge of Bethany. Vernier speeds to the scene. Witnesses standing in the courtyard direct him to the victim's door.
He pounds loudly and announces his presence.
Seconds later, a woman opens the door. There are large, fresh welts on the side of her face and head. One of them is trickling blood.
“He threw a lighter at me,” she tells Vernier.
“No, he didn't. A lighter doesn't leave bruises like a fist,” Vernier counters.
“He didn't hit me,” she retorts.
“I'm afraid the next time I come out here will be because he killed you,” Vernier tells her as she slams the door on him.
She might not want to press the issue, but the visible wounds on her face mean they can make an arrest if they can find the batterer. Vernier crawls the nearby streets, shining his light into ditches and shadowed spots, but finds no trace.
The calls have slackened for the time being, so Vernier radios to dispatch that he'll be out of service for a few minutes. Oklahoma City police officers have partners, but they usually ride in separate vehicles. He radios his partner to meet him at an abandoned industrial site west of downtown.
All is quiet on the outside. They pull back a metal panel and enter the pitch-black building.
Their flashlights play across piles of trash. Near the back is a rusting stolen car. The bank won't bother to repossess it, Vernier says, so it rests in silent decay among the debris.
His flashlight reveals other rooms. The beam lands on a group of people sitting in a circle, and he walks over to greet them.
After a short conversation, the officers return to the cavernous main room where they're met by the self-appointed “security guard” of the building.
“It's good to see you again,” Vernier tells him.
“It's always good to see you guys again. I appreciate you coming to check on us. It helps keep things quiet around here,” the sentinel tells them.
Since everything is normal at the makeshift apartment complex, they clear the scene.
“This isn't something polite society understands, but if you talk to them, many of them are choosing to live this way. They don't have to pay bills, and they don't have to get up and go to work,” Vernier said.
A carjacking is reported, and Vernier speeds along Interstate 40 to find a man who has been pistol-whipped between the eyes and left on the side of the highway.
Vernier speaks to the victim briefly, then leaves him with officers while he scours the area for the vehicle, which reportedly has overheated twice and might still be limping about the area. He scours restaurant and hotel parking lots and drives the ares, but calls off the search after about 20 minutes.
Some nights the good guys don't win.