Written by Jennifer Pine during the PCVI Summer Writing Seminar ’20
Twenty-two years old, sitting in my patrol car on a Thursday afternoon, working as military police on the largest military installation in the free world – Fort Hood. I couldn’t believe it. Just a mere two years ago, I was working at McDonald’s and sleeping on my friend’s floor, with no real direction for my life. I was in the 64th Military Police Company – a combat support unit. Our sister company, 410th, was currently deployed so we were getting a lot more road time. We had been on patrol for almost eight months, and I was really getting into the swing of things.
I always enjoyed hitting up the schools when I was on patrol. When I had the time, I would let the elementary students play in the patrol car. The kids loved talking on the bull horn and playing with the lights and sirens.
“Mrs. Windsor! Hands up!” One second grader yelled to his teacher as she played along raising her hands.
“Tommy, you’re under arrest!” Another screamed. The teachers loved it as it gave them a moment of peace and it was great PR for the police on base.
A few weeks ago, before my shift ended, I rolled up on a class heading to the playground. I had every intention of stopping and letting them play in the patrol car when I got a call. Being Texas I had the air blasting but I kept the window cracked so I could still hear what was going on around me. As I was waiting for them to cross into the playground, their voices entered my car.
“Hey look! It’s the MPs!” said one boy, pointing at me.
“Maybe he’ll let us play!” The three of them look at each other and back at me with wide eyes in anticipation. As I drove past them heading to my call, the next sentence found my ears.
“It’s a girl!” The little boy said with such disapproval. I began laughing – out of the mouths of babes. Looking back in my mirror, I could see the teacher pulling the students aside to what could only be assumed as a life lesson.
Thursday’s on Fort Hood were what the post general called “Phantom Family Night.” The military police working the road called it “Phantom Family ‘Fight’ Night.” Soldiers were released from duty at 1500 to spend time with their families and by 2100 the holding cells at the station were usually full. I had one hour left on my shift and I was excited for the night off. A group from my platoon was going out to Cody’s, the local watering hole.
A smirk came across my face as I started thinking about the dance club slash bar. Cody’s was my first introduction to country music. Before getting stationed in Texas, if you asked me what kind of music I listened to I would reply with “Everything but Jazz and Country!” Now I was a two-stepping, line-dancing, swing-dancing, contest-entering newly converted cowgirl!
I was sitting at one of my favorite “hiding” spots at the local middle school. I sat in the parking lot, facing the road. A patch of grass only a few yards wide made me visible to passers-by, making them think twice about speeding in the neighborhood; but too far away to pull anyone over. Sometimes at the end of a long day the reports just weren’t worth it.
My patrol supervisor, SGT Kevin Hall came to visit. SGT Hall had been my mentor and friend since I arrived on Fort Hood. He knew my routine since he was the one who taught me most of the good spots. He backed his patrol car next to mine so we could talk face-to-face. As he rolled down his window, he removed his hat and ran his hand through his short, blonde hair. He was always one for looking professional and it showed everyday with his pressed uniform and highly shined boots.
“Don’t forget to finish your patrol report,” He said.
I rolled my eyes at him, “I always finish my reports!” Waving my clipboard in the air.
“Yea, I know. But what kind of supervisor would I be if I didn’t mention it?” he said with a smile. “Oh, what time are we all meeting up tonight?”
“I’ll be there around 8. The swing dance contest starts at 9. You’re still my partner, right?” Kevin was about to respond when a ‘be on the lookout’, or BOLO, came across our radios. We turned them up and listened carefully.
“All patrols – be on the lookout for a red, Mazda Protégé, Texas plate 123456. One adult black male occupant. The driver is wanted in connection with an assault on his wife. Use caution when attempting to stop – their 10-month old child is in the backseat.” Kevin and I looked at each other and shook our heads: Family Fight Night had started early.
The road I was watching was the one of two that entered that neighborhood and traffic was sparse. I was half hoping that he would pass by…but then again, the paperwork would be a bitch. I figured I would have an easy time spotting the vehicle since my neighbor had one very similar. In fact, for half a second I thought it was him until the plate number came across. My neighbor was from Kansas.
Looking towards the road, I see a red car. As it gets closer to where Kevin and I are parked, it speeds up just a little. My pulse quickens as it gets closer. My mouth drops as the red Mazda passes by. I back up and peel out of the parking lot without saying a word to Kevin. I’m speeding just enough to catch up to the Mazda so I can read the plate. Still running code 1 – no lights, no sirens – I pick up my mic and call dispatch.
“Hood, this is Patrol 315,” I say over the radio.
“Go with your traffic 315.”
“Hood, I have that BOLO in sight. Confirm Red Mazda Protégé, Texas plate 123456, one driver.”
“315 that’s a good copy and confirm that it is the vehicle. Proceed with caution 315.”
My adrenaline is pumping so fast. I can’t see any markers to tell dispatch where I am or what road I’m on. I can only see the vehicle in front of me, like tunnel vision. I reach down with my right hand and turn on my lights. I’m now running code 2. The Mazda isn’t speeding, isn’t driving crazy. Other than the BOLO, I have no reason to pull him over.
I tap my siren, just one quick chirp to get his attention. Our eyes meet in his rearview mirror. His eyes widen and he sits up taller, like he’s seeing me behind him for the first time. For a second I think he’s going to run. If he makes it off base, I’ve lost him.
“315, what’s your location?” I hear dispatch over the radio. I can’t answer, I don’t know. “315, what is your location?” Dispatch says over the radio a little more urgently. I finally look around and give my location.
“Hood, 315. I’m heading East on Tank Destroyer Boulevard. I am running code 2 in an attempt to stop the BOLO.”
“315, good copy. I’ll get back up heading your way.”
The red Mazda pulls into a shoppette, the Army’s version of a Cumberland Farms. I reach for my mic and I realize I’m shaking. I take a deep breath in an attempt to calm myself. I’m all alone on this traffic stop. While it’s not my first, this is my first BOLO stop. I key the mic and try to speak without shaking.
“Hood, 315. I have that vehicle stopped at the Clear Creek Shoppette. Will be conducting a felony stop, if needed.”
“315 good copy. Backup is on the way.”
I open my patrol car door and get out. I release the thumb break on my holster keeping my hand on the pistol grip, but do not pull my firearm. I take a deep breath to steady my nerves and call out to the driver from behind the patrol car door.
“Driver, turn the vehicle off and throw the keys out the window!”
He doesn’t move. The vehicle stays running. I’m trying to remember my training. What do I do next?! I know there is a baby in that vehicle, but I also know the mother/wife/victim is at the ER because of this man, so she claims. I have to get him out and in custody. He’s already run from us and the Killeen Police. I repeat my instructions.
“Driver, turn off the vehicle and throw the keys out the window onto the ground!”
Nothing. Shit! Now what? I hear Kevin come across the radio.
“315 this is 300, go to tac 3.”
Not willing to take my eyes off the vehicle or the uncooperative driver, and not wanting to remove my right hand from my sidearm, I reach with my left hand to the radio on my duty belt. Counting the clicks on the dial as I switch to channel three, the unrecorded tac.
“Jenn, where the hell are you?” Kevin asks. “We are at Clear Creek Shoppette and you are not!” I look left and see the plaque on the wall ‘Welcome to Comanche Nation.’
“Shit Kevin. I’m at Comanche Shoppette.”
This is a big mistake. Now my backup is farther away. Granted it’s only about a half mile but a lot can happen in that half mile – the ‘what-if’s’ begin to race through my mind.
What if he takes off again? What if he pulls a weapon? What if he fires at me? What if I have to shoot him? What if…. the uncertainty is swimming in my head. I tell myself to get a grip.
I do the one thing I’ve dreaded since completing my training. I pull my 9mm Beretta and point it at the driver.
“Driver, turn the vehicle off, throw the keys out the window!” The sight of my sidearm made him move. The keys fly out the window and land on the ground a few feet away from the vehicle. I breathe a small sigh, one small victory.
“Open the driver side door and step out of the vehicle!” He complies. Another small sigh of relief. The driver towers over the roof of the Mazda. He is wearing civilian clothes, shorts and a t-shirt. As he turns his head slightly over his left shoulder to look at me, I can see his face has streaks of dried tears. His shoulders are slumped. He looks defeated.
“Keeping your arms held high above your head, walk backwards towards my voice!”
I’m barking out orders like I’ve done this before. I can see the patrons out of the corner of my eye single file out of the shoppette and move away from the scene unfolding in front of them. As the driver passes the back bumper of his vehicle, I bark out my next instruction.
“Driver get down on the ground, on your stomach! Arms straight out to the side, palms up!” He slowly goes down to one knee, then the other; I’m not rushing him. He uses his hands to get into the pushup position then lowers himself on the ground. His hands reach out to his side.
My backup arrives. I see the two patrol cars enter the parking lot. One to the front of the Mazda – nose to nose and the second behind and to the right of me. I keep my firearm aimed at him – just in case.
Kevin is in the second car and approaches the driver on the ground and places him in handcuffs. I holster my sidearm while Kevin carefully gets the driver to a sitting position.
Kevin looks at me and says, “Good job PFC Johnson. Can you check the baby?” I don’t hesitate. I open the backdoor and I finally notice he is screaming. As I unbuckle him from the carseat, I give him a once over; he’s not hurt. He is wearing a onesie that says ‘Daddy’s little slugger’ with a pattern of little baseball bats and no shoes. Holding him close, I start the ‘baby bounce’ I haven’t done since babysitting and the little man settles down.
The second officer moves the car seat from the Mazda to my patrol car and we head to the station. The mother had been released from the ER and is waiting for her baby boy in an interrogation room; the only private room for her. As I hand her son over, her eyes are filled with joyful tears. My job is done. We got the bad guy, rescued the baby, and reunited mother and son; all without incident. I take in the moment. This. This is why I wanted to become a police officer. And the mIlitary helped make that happen.
Back at the station, I head into the squad room to begin the hours of paperwork. The last two hours’ emotions hit me all at once and I collapse to the floor. My body is shaking, tears are coming, and I can’t stop. Kevin, who was right behind me, helps me up and to a chair. He holds my hands as I try to compose myself. He doesn’t let anyone else into the squad room. After about five minutes, I compose myself.
“That was the single scariest thing I have ever done.”
“First felony stop?”
“Yea. Did it show?”
“Nope. You did it by the book. Only next time, get your shoppettes right?!” He smiles at me. Besides being my patrol supervisor, he is also my squad leader and my friend. “Come on. Let’s get this paperwork done so we can get drunk tonight!”
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