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CBS 2 EXCLUSIVE: Cedar Rapids Police Ride Along
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- Patrol Lieutenant Charlie Fields climbs into his patrol car, taking a large flashlight from his back pocket and dropping it into its holder between the drivers seat and the cars center console. He shifts into reverse to back out of his parking spot in the Cedar Rapids Police Department lot. To his right is a laptop secured to the cars dashboard. Below it is his police radio and above it is a dashboard camera that will record everything he sees through the windshield.
The camera is just as much for the publics protection as it is for his, and Lt. Fields will use it at least twice in the next two hours.
The laptop allows him to see the cameras stream and also keep an eye on the several other police cars on the road, and the calls they go to, during the afternoon shift. Lt. Fields is responsible for overseeing all of them. We are taking to the streets with the first squad of the afternoon, who will be on duty from four until two in the morning.
When we ride with Lt. Fields, it is the Friday of a week where people who live near 15th Street Southeast reported gunshots on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Police Chief Wayne Jerman said those days prompted the Police Department Captains to come up with a new way to patrol the surrounding community. That meeting resulted in more patrol cars driving on those streets in the nighttime hours.
Some people who live on those streets say it makes them feel safer while others say there are much better things the police can be doing with their time, like actively investigating the shots fired reports, rather than making traffic stops.
Its human nature, some people dont like the police, says Lt. Fields as he drives near the two street corners where shots were fired just a few days before. For some people, it calms them down.
Throughout the afternoon, Lt. Fields waves at people we pass walking on sidewalks and doing work on their homes. Many wave back. Some younger children shout a greeting as the car passes. At other times, just the presence of the patrol car causes the people who see it to curse at Lt. Fields.
Some people arent our biggest fans, he says. Yet, we cant get there fast enough when they want us there.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, TAKING PRIDE
We are with Lt. Fields to see what its like for a police officer to interact with the public they protect, especially in the wake of so many shots fired reports in such a short amount of time. He says police officers everywhere battle the idea that they are robots.
The public perceives us as non-caring and non-feeling, said Lt. Fields. Thats the farthest from the truth.
Lt. Fields points out that the Cedar Rapids Police Department takes part in community outreach through the Shop with a Cop program, where local children partner with officers to buy gifts around the holidays. He says officers volunteer their own time as individuals all the time, giving back to the community when theyre off the clock.
If we didnt care about people, would there be any officers in Cedar Rapids? asked Lt. Fields.
Officers community interaction in their personal time might make some progress in changing public perceptions, but Lt. Fields says what officers do when theyre wearing their uniform can have long-lasting benefits.
"If you build those relationships with the community, it makes them more comfortable when you interact with them on a more serious note, said Lt. Fields. If you build that comfort level before there's a stressful situation, it makes our job a lot easier."
One big problem police say they run into after any incident, whether guns were involved or not, is gathering information. As much as the department might try, Lt. Fields recognizes that officers cannot be everywhere all the time. He says they need witnesses to give information about the people and vehicles involved, which can be hard to come by.
He says sometimes even the victims choose not to cooperate for any one of what could be a handful of reasons.
When asked if thats because the victim in one incident could be a perpetrator in another, Lt. Fields responded, That could very well be the case.
Despite recent events, Lt. Fields says the neighborhood around 15th Street Southeast used to be much worse. He says a lot of factors played a role in making the area nicer, but for the role he and the police department played, hes proud.
"As a young officer I was involved in some community policing actions that changed some of the things that happened down there. That makes you feel good as a police officer but like I alluded to before, we're happy when we're successful at our jobs."
Just as we were entering the last half hour of our time with Lt. Fields, he was pulling out of an alley when he noticed a car parked along the street that a group of four males were climbing into. While nearly all the other interactions throughout the ride had been neutral or positive, this instantly took on a different feel.
As the men crossed the street to get into the car, the man who got into the passenger seat started yelling at Lt. Fields to stop harassing him. He then went into the glove compartment of the car and pulled out the registration and insurance and showing Lt. Fields that he was ready to be pulled over.
As soon as the car turns on and pulls away, Lt. Fields follows, calls for back up and when he gets it, pulls the car over.
As he gets out of the squad car and approaches, he yells for the driver to turn the car off throughout the entire stop, Lt. Fields and the four officers who showed up to back him up kept their eyes locked on the car. After a few minutes, he driver is given a warning to get the windshield fixed, and they are allowed to return home with no ticket.
COMMUNITY POLICING IN ACTION
The traffic stop is a good example of the importance of community policing. By having an entire group of officers who patrol the same neighborhoods for at least a year at at a time, the officers understand the dynamic of the people who live near by.
When getting ready to pull the car over, Lt. Fields gave a description of the situation, including the car, and mentioned the name of the one of the men inside. He said since he and the other police officers on the road at that time know the man's personal history in the neighborhood and with police, they were quick to back him up.
"I asked for one car," said Lt. Fields about his request for back up for the traffic stop. "And I got three."