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Mostly warnings on YSPD late shift

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This is the forth in a series of articles
examining the local police department and its relationship to the village.

• Click here to view all the articles the series


At 11 p.m. on Friday night Yellow Springs Police officer Jessica Frazier was making her usual rounds across the village when she came across a pickup truck idling with its headlights on in the parking lot at Ellis Park. She pulled her cruiser into the lot, swung around behind the truck with a spot light and walked to the passenger’s side to find out why the vehicle was in the park well after it closes at dark. While she and the driver were chatting, a second Yellow Springs officer, Mark Charles, pulled in as a safety measure and put a second spotlight on the unknown vehicle.

It turned out that Frazier knew the driver, a villager who said she had stopped at the park to make a phone call. They talked for several minutes, Frazier advised the driver that people are not permitted in the park after dark, and the driver left. The stop ended, as most do in the village, without incident.

During a ride-along with this reporter last Friday evening, local police displayed an eagerness to explain their process and offer the perspective of an on-duty officer. That night, three officers reported to the PD for evening duty; Frazier and Charles for the regular evening shift, and Jeff Beam for special detail with the Greene County ACE Task Force — his first. The on-duty officer passed along the relevant information about the day shift and the fresh officers suited up to take over the watch.

The evening shift

With a few hours of daylight still left, Charles put out a “signal 2” to dispatcher Ruth Peterson and started out cruising the main drags to catch a glimpse of the people in the downtown area before heading south to nowhere in particular. His aim: cover all the village streets evenly to maintain public awareness of officer presence and keep people on the roadways safe.

“I look for patterns so I notice when something is out of place — like garage doors that are half open,” Charles said. “I don’t have a routine, I just try to be observant and make sure people are okay.”

Within the first 60 seconds of the shift, Charles pointed out three vehicles with license plate violations, including no plate light, obscured plates and no front plate. He didn’t hesitate to drive on by. According to police, about a third of the vehicles they see every day have a violation, and officers typically only stop the ones with multiple violations or some evidence of suspicious behavior. Most of the actual vehicle stops are resolved with a verbal or written warning.

“If you stopped every vehicle for every infraction, you’d be nonstop, pulling hundreds of people over every day,” Charles said. “It would be impossible.”

Speeding is a slightly different story. Every officer has a personal limit, and on Friday night, when the radar in Charles’ vehicle clocked a black sedan headed westbound on Fairfield Pike at 20 miles over the 25 miles per hour limit, he made a safe but quick 180 degree turn for the stop. Approaching the vehicle in the driving early spring snow, he learned that the 16-year-old driver from Centerville (who was upset at being stopped) was restricted to driving with a parent and had recently been suspended after an accident. Charles relayed to dispatch for verification and began writing a juvenile traffic citation while waiting for the driver’s mother to arrive. Then three young men in hooded jackets approached the cruiser.

“We’re here to rescue our friend,” one of the boys said.

Charles ushered the teenagers to the side of the road for safety and asked who they were and what they were doing there. After a chilly roadside interview, Charles learned that the juvenile driver had called her friends to come get her without telling him. He spoke to the mother when she arrived and released the juvenile with a simple citation of speeding and driving in violation of operator’s license.

“Citations are issued to correct behavior,” he said. Though he could have written the driver a warning instead, Charles felt that since she had recently had an accident and had driving restrictions placed on her license, and was now caught speeding, a court hearing might serve as yet another warning to her about improving her unsafe driving.

Frazier also believes that her job makes a positive difference. She recently stopped a woman for speeding through a crosswalk near Mills Lawn School, where two children had been waiting to cross the street. When she informed the driver, the driver was appalled that she had been in such a rush, and Frazier felt that a warning would suffice to change that driver’s habits — at least for a while.

More tools than they use

At the beginning of every shift and after every speeding citation, officers are required to calibrate their radar equipment with metal tuning forks and record the time in case the charge is challenged in court. The equipment is quite reliable, according to Charles, so usually no adjustments are needed. After returning to the police station, Charles checks his radar and arranges other equipment in his mobile office. It’s a tight space for everything he must roll around with.

The computer is the biggest obstacle but also one of the handiest tools. It sits on a swivel arm and offers access to all the Village and State laws officers use in their citations. It also allows the officers on duty to track each other on a digital map to facilitate patrol and expedite backup when necessary. The cruisers are also equipped with radar that picks up the speed of other vehicles both in front of and behind the cruiser, and two license plate scanners that use a national database to check for stolen vehicles. Communication gear, including a police radio, lights and sirens, are located just in front of the shotgun and AR rifle that are standard issue for every cruiser. Last but not least is Purell, an antibacterial hand solution that Charles uses faithfully.

The officers themselves heft a 38-pound load of equipment as well, including a protective vest, two pairs of handcuffs, a taser, a duty weapon and two extra magazines, a radio, a microphone for the dash camera and a duty knife. Most of the equipment they don’t use regularly, but Charles feels more confident when he is prepared.

The spotlight, for instance, came in very handy Friday night, when Frazier stopped a driver for speeding on Corry Street. The vehicle had just turned onto a dark and woody part of Grinnell Road and the spot allowed the officer to see that there were two occupants in the vehicle who appeared calm. Frazier still approached the vehicle cautiously, as she does with every stop, because she has no idea who she will meet in the vehicle ahead and she has been trained, for personal safety, to expect the worst.

“Just because I think the worst doesn’t mean I will act on it,” she said. “But you never want to let your guard down.”

For Frazier, every time she approaches a vehicle with unknown occupants, she gets what is known as an adrenaline dump, when emotions of fight, flight or freeze are triggered. She went through scenario training in police academy to handle her own reactions, and believes that “just because I get a dump doesn’t mean I’m on the verge of overreacting … If I overstep our use of force continuum, I’m not okay,” she said. “I will never overstep my bounds.”

But officers are also trained to stay in control of the situation, and are constantly watching body movement, hands and eyes for signs of aggression in those they deal with. Talking is always the ideal response method, said Frazier, who received crisis intervention training (CIT) and believes she developed strong interpersonal skills working at the Greene County Jail for a year before coming to Yellow Springs last spring. She sees her primary role as a mediator and counselor to help people stay within the limits of the law.

“My experience in the jail in close quarters is it’s easier to talk to people and explain to them what’s going on — it’s easier to be a mediator,” especially with “people you know,” she said.

But when someone isn’t responding to the verbal address and “wants to take it to the next level by escalating, we have to escalate too,” she said. “People have to know that we will always be plus one.”

The boredom of duty

Frazier is a small, fast officer who is constantly multitasking in her cruiser, focusing radar on cars she can’t see, looking for people in the neighborhood, scanning the police radio and just driving her own vehicle. But she had no problem pulling over three cars for speeding Friday night and issuing three warnings to the drivers. Each stop lasted an average of eight minutes. She joked with one car full of teenagers who had just come from Young’s Dairy, asking if they brought her any ice cream.

“I want people to feel comfortable,” she said.

Later in the evening both Frazier and Charles got out of their vehicles with flashlights and walked the streets to make sure  downtown businesses had locked their doors for the night. They also stepped into the late-night bars, the Dayton Street Gulch and Peach’s Grill, to talk to folks there and make sure no one needed a ride home. Patrons did not appear surprised to see a cop in their midst, and several stopped to talk to Frazier.

After walking through some parking lots and checking vehicles for people in need of assistance (one driver sounded like she was having car trouble but was in fact demonstrating to her friends that her horn sounded like a coffee grinder), Frazier headed out again to patrol the streets. Though driving around at night can be agonizingly boring at times (and typically eats up about a half tank of gas per shift), Frazier still loves the part of her job when she gets to interact with people. She’s outgoing and likes to kid (she said “just kidding” about five times while cruising and talking). And she also loves the fact that the purpose of her job is to help people.

“I’m there in times of crisis for people, people who’ve been hurt, and I’m there to help kids who might be starting to get into bad behaviors,” she said. “It’s a unique job and I love what I do.”

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