On three separate occasions I found myself pulling over to the side of the road as red and blue lights flashed brightly behind me.
The first time I ever received a speeding ticket was in Kingston Township, Luzerne County. I made my best friend call my step-mom to tell her. Yep, I was a chicken.
The other two occasions involved another speeding ticket in Plainfield Township, and a failure to obey a traffic control device in Forty Fort, Luzerne County. I've been citation free, however, since 2008!
When I enrolled in Citizens’ Police Academy, the ride-along was one of many things I was really looking forward to. I couldn’t wait to have the opportunity to be on the other side of the flashing lights, even if I was just a spectator.
After some re-scheduling, my ride-along with Colonial Regional Police was set for Nov. 30 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. I’m not a morning person, but I tried my best to be pleasant.
I was told a Wednesday morning wouldn’t be extremely exciting, and the morning started out pretty uneventful. Around lunchtime, however, things started picking up and I had the opportunity to witness a variety of incidents.
Here’s a blow-by-blow account of my ride-along experience with two officers from Colonial Regional (Editor's Note: times are approximate and not official):
7:30 a.m. – Since the office doesn’t open until 8:30 a.m., I call Northampton County’s non-emergency number to request an officer to meet me at Colonial Regional Police headquarters.
Det. Gary Hammer lets me inside and I wait for Officer Jeff Waselus to finish up some preliminary paperwork.
8 a.m. – The ride-along officially begins and we head toward Chapman Borough. I didn’t even know the borough existed until I became editor of Nazareth Patch, so Waselus took me on a mini tour.
Almost immediately after hitting the road, Waselus runs a license plate because the registration sticker is missing. Computers in the police cars allow officers to run plates themselves instead of calling dispatch every time. Although the sticker is missing, the registration comes back valid, so we move on.
8 a.m. to 9 a.m. – Waselus patrols Bath and Chapman.
After the patrol, Waselus heads toward the Westgate Mall. He has a hearing at District Judge James Narlesky’s office later in the day, so he wanted to double check stop signs and right-of-ways.
While pulling out of the mall and onto Schoenersville Road in Hanover Township, Northampton County, a woman pulled out in front of a motorcycle -- this happened a few months prior to our ride-along.
Waselus double checks the citation and determines that he cited the woman properly.
9:11 a.m. – We go to Narlesky’s office for a different traffic hearing. A woman pleaded “not guilty” to having an expired inspection. The hearing begins without the woman.
The hearing continues even though the woman was a no-show. Waselus tells Narlesky that the woman came through a DUI checkpoint set up on Schoenersville Road. He noted that her vehicle's inspection had expired in April 2011.
The woman is ruled “guilty” in absentia, which is Latin for “in the absence.” Since the woman was not present to defend herself, the judge rules in favor of Waselus.
9:14 a.m. – Three minutes later, the hearing is over.
9:23 a.m. – We head to District Judge Joseph Barner’s office to amend a traffic citation.
9:30 a.m. – We arrive at Barner’s office. Waselus makes the change.
9:45 a.m. – I switch vehicles and join Officer Andy Laudenslager, also known as “The Fred Finder.”
Laudenslager is driving an unmarked police car today while the car he normally drives is detailed. A few days before our ride-along, three or four stray dogs were piled into the back of his cruiser. What did they leave behind? Fleas. Ewwww!
9:53 a.m. – We head to Bethlehem to serve a subpoena.
10:06 a.m. – An alarm goes off at a home in Hanover Township, so we head over to check things out.
10:13 a.m. – We arrive at the home. I remain in the car while Laudenslager walks the perimeter of the home -- everything seems copacetic.
Because the incident was a false alarm, Laudenslager fills out a form that is left on the home’s front door. If there are so many false alarms, burglar alarms or accidental 911 calls in a certain period of time, the owner of the home, business or phone is fined.
10:32 a.m. – Laudenslager has the eyesight of an eagle and notices a car with a cracked windshield. The lights go on and Laudenslager pulls the driver over, because the car would not pass inspection with a windshield in that kind of shape.
The driver tells Laudenslager that the windshield was broken the night before. Since the car’s inspection is up to date, Laudenslager assumes that to be at least somewhat true. The driver is given a written warning.
10:44 a.m. – A man reports a threat to the Northampton County 911 center. Laudenslager decides to call the man instead of responding to his home because nothing had actually happened. The man was anticipating a threat, so the only thing Laudenslager could do was take a report to keep on file, just in case the threat becomes real.
11:07 a.m. – Two 911 calls are made from a business on S. Commerce Way in Hanover Township. Another officer had checked on the first call, but found nothing out of the ordinary. Laudenslager also could not find anything wrong on the second check. The dispatcher attempted to call the cell phone back, to no avail.
The call was coming from a “Phase 2,” which means the dispatcher could only give a general idea of where the call was coming from. A TracFone is one example of something that makes “Phase 2” calls.
11:15 a.m. – We attempt to eat lunch back at headquarters.
11:18 a.m. – Before we can eat, a report of a minor motor vehicle accident on Schoenersville Road in Hanover Township comes over the radio.
11:23 a.m. – We arrive at the accident. A LANtaVan rear-ended a pick-up truck. There were no injuries, so the accident was non-reportable. Laudenslager fills out a report -- the rest is in the hands of the drivers and their insurance companies.
This is also when I realize that Det. Sgt. Mike Melinsky is “stalking” me. He calls Laudenslager on his Nextel -- when the accident was wrapping up -- and asks that I look out the window and smile for a picture. “Cheese!”
11:48 a.m. – Laudenslager and I attempt lunch once again -- we are successful.
12:03 p.m. – After inhaling lunch, we head to Lower Nazareth Township for patrol.
12:11 p.m. – We spot a bald eagle in a field near Dutch Springs. We pulled over to get a closer look. It’s not every day you see a bald eagle!
12:45 p.m. – At the request of Sgt. Darrin Wendling, we checked out a truck in the parking lot of Giant Food Stores. The trailer that belonged to the truck was sitting on the side of Route 248. The problem was that the trailer’s registration didn’t match the trailer’s VIN number.
12:54 p.m. – Laudenslager makes contact with the truck’s driver. Shortly after, Wendling meets us in the parking lot. The officers had a hunch that something fishy was going on, but couldn’t formally prove anything. The driver, who was from North Carolina, eventually went on her way.
1:29 p.m. – We head to an area near Louise W. Moore County Park to clock vehicle speeds.
1:41 p.m. – Laudenslager timed a car going 47 mph in a 30 mph zone. When we caught up to the car and pulled off to the side of the road, the driver got impatient and/or nervous and tried to get out of his car. Laudenslager asked him to please get back in his vehicle, and he complied.
The driver, who was in the senior citizen age range, was on his way to pick up prescriptions. Laudenslager gave him a verbal warning.
Laudenslager said it’s fairly common for people to attempt to get out of their vehicle when they’ve never been pulled over before.
2:07 p.m. – We head to Lower Nazareth Elementary School to time vehicles heading through a school zone. Laudenslager pulls over a car going 41 mph in a 15 mph school zone.
When the driver tried to talk his way out of a citation, Laudenslager hadn’t checked in with dispatch for a few minutes -- he has to call dispatch every time he stops a vehicle, arrives at an incident, leaves an incident, etc. If an officer isn’t heard from in a while, dispatch will call him over the radio for a status check.
Wendling beat dispatch to the punch and called Laudenslager to make sure he was “10-4” at the stop.
It was a relief knowing that either Wendling or the 911 center was always keeping tabs on Laudenslager (and me).
3:30 p.m. – We head back to headquarters and I plan to head out. I had two hours of Citizens’ Police Academy class later that night, so I wanted to grab dinner, etc. As soon as we get in the building, there was a call for a motor vehicle accident with injuries.
Laudenslager looks at me and says, “You want to go, don’t you?”
We head to the two-car crash at Schoenersville and Macada roads in Hanover Township. This was the first time Laudenslager used lights, sirens and speed.
The only words that kept going through my head as we headed down Route 22 -- in a quick, but safe fashion -- were, “Oh, my goodness… this is cool… Oh, my goodness… Eeeeeeep!”
A car ran a red light and T-boned another car heading through the intersection. The woman who had the right-of-way wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, so she got knocked around pretty good.
What was the only positive thing about the car accident? It happened right in front of a hospital.
3:57 p.m. – While we were at the accident, another call came in for a domestic disturbance with “Class 4,” meaning mental health issues were involved.
Laudenslager didn’t put on his lights and sirens until Officer Justin Schippang caught up to us -- he was also assisting at the crash.
Laudenslager let Schippang go first since the lights on his car are more noticeable than they are on the unmarked cruiser.
This time we headed down Route 191 near Trinity Lutheran Church with lights, sirens and speed. And, once again, “Oh, my goodness… this is cool… Oh, my goodness… Eeeeeeep!”
The scariest part was when Schippang went through the Route 191 and Newburg Road intersection first. We were right behind him, but a driver figured that since one car came through, that was it -- they never bothered to look and make sure. Thankfully, Laudenslager took his time getting into the intersection itself -- for that exact reason.
When we arrived at the call, I stayed in the car since the situation could turn really bad, really quickly.
Laudenslager told me, “If sh*t hits the fan, this is the radio.”
Oh. My. Goodness!
Thankfully, again, the situation did not escalate. Three officers and Police Chief Roy Seiple did respond, however, because a drunken man was threatening to kill his father, who had also been drinking.
After the situation was taken care of, we headed back to headquarters. At this point I was tired and hungry -- and I was only a spectator!
I listen to the police scanner on a regular basis, and I had already learned how things work in the 911 center. It was interesting to sit on the other end of the radio -- with a police officer. You really get the full effect of how the whole operation works.
Oh, and we did have another call in there with the Northampton County Dog Warden, but I forgot to write anything down. The warden wanted to check on dogs, but the property was far back -- in the middle of a field. I don’t blame her for wanting an officer on scene!