Silverio witnesses island justice during ride-along

Stefan Silverio

Finance director

(April 16, 2015)

Sophomore Stefan Silverio poses next to the Nantucket Police Department cruiser.

A police car is a bad place to be unless you are on a ride along. I spent last Friday night in Officer Kevin Nagle’s cruiser, and got the chance to observe what a night shift is like.

Before entering the police car, I was given a tour of the new police station. To my surprise, it does not contain swimming pools or tennis courts, despite the fact that it looks enormous from the outside. Actually, the new police station is much smaller than it looks. One interesting thing that I learned while touring the station was that prisoners are not able to flush the toilets while in the cells and the jail guard has to flush it for them from the outside. This is so prisoners cannot flush drugs down the toilets or intentionally clog them.

After touring the cells, we got in the cruiser. Officer Nagle explained to me that each cruiser is equipped with a “main radio light bar with a camera system that automatically turns on its camera and lights after the car has made made contact with an object or hits a large bump.” The cruiser is also equipped with 360 degree lighting and cameras so that it can view potential threats from any side of the vehicle. Officer Nagle has access to various siren frequencies that he can change while in the process of pulling someone over. Nagle added that “it is important to have access to several different frequencies so that people can not claim they are deaf to a certain frequency of siren and therefore not be accountable for not pulling over.” The cruiser is also equipped with various lights, such as a light attached to the windshield that can be operated by hand. According to Officer Nagle, “the purpose of these lights is to give the officer a strategic advantage over cars that he or she pulls over. You can use these lights to block out people’s vision from certain areas when you are parked behind them. This would allow me to exit my vehicle without the car ahead of me who was pulled over seeing me.” Aside from cameras and lights, Officer Nagle’s cruiser also contained an upgraded engine and upgraded shocks. These two components help give the police crusier an advantage over a regular car. In all, Nagle explained that each cruiser contains over 1500 ft of wires. “After all policing is like chess, you have to outsmart the bad guy,” said Nagle.

After learning about the cruiser, we finally began our patrol. One of the first things that Officer Nagle allowed me to do on the ride along was operate the license plate scanner. The license plate scanner is essentially a laptop computer which is positioned in the space between the driver and passenger seat. Officer Nagle pulled behind a car, and I typed the digits of the cars license plate into the scanner. I was absolutely shocked at the amount of information that this scanner came up with. The scanner gave us a picture of the “owner and operator,” the history of why the person likes the car they own, the current status of the person’s license (whether its suspended, canceled, or clear), and whether or not the vehicle is a commercial or private vehicle. It even warns you of any criminals who have a similar name to the person you are about to pull over. After I keyed in the license plate of the car ahead of us, the scanner claimed that the man was an “armed and dangerous member of an organized terrorist group.” This terrified me, to say the least, and made me question why I was doing a ride along because it seemed as though I was about to become involved in a late night encounter with an “armed and dangerous terrorist group member.” Officer Nagle then explained to me that this man was not actually an organized terrorist member but actually his neighbor, and that the scanner was only claiming this because he had a similar name to a known “armed and dangerous terrorist,” living somewhere else in the world. Therefore, our first car matched the description of the scanner and we drove off.  Officer Nagle explained to me that “even if a car matches the description on the scanner but you are feeling suspicious about the car, there is always a way to pull it over.” Officer Nagle elaborated on this statement by saying that “aside from all the more obvious ways that you can pull over a car, you can also always pull over a car if you are unable to read their license plate because it is covered or illegible.”

At this point it had gotten dark and snow began to cover the road. “The night shift is totally different,” said Officer Nagle, “I might stay in notoriously bad neighborhoods, and check out all the ‘sketchy places’ if there’s someone waiting in a beach parking lot at midnight, I may knock on the car window and see what they’re up to.” We pulled behind a Ford Explorer just as he said this. The car appeared to have only one headlight working. “We’re going to pull this guy over,” he said. He then turned on the flashing light bar and the car pulled over to the curb. “Two things that you always want to do when you pull someone over,” said Officer Nagle, “is turn the wheel completely in the opposite direction of the curb. You want to do this so that if the car you have pulled over drives away, you can quickly get back in your car and pull away from the curb. You also want to ‘cut the car in half’ meaning park you car not completely behind theirs but edged out into the road a little. You want to do this so that oncoming traffic can take notice of your parked car and give you space so that you can walk between the cars safely.” Before he exited the vehicle, he also reported to the “dispatch” on his radio that he had a “motor vehicle stop on Old South Road.” As Officer Nagle excited the vehicle, he gave me permission to come with him as long as I stayed behind him. When Nagle made it to the parked vehicle, he first stated to the person that he was being “audio and video recorded.” He then requested the man’s license and registration and asked him questions such as “where are you coming from,” and “where are you going.” After giving this man a verbal warning, we both returned to the vehicle. Nagle then explained to me that the man was polite, was “aware of his broken light and was getting it fixed, and seemed very nervous about being stopped by the police. For this reason,” explained Nagle, “we’ll just give him a verbal warning.” Nagle then reported to dispatch that we were “clear” (driving away) and that he had just given the man a verbal warning for a broken headlight.

After pulling away, I asked Officer Nagle about how policing differs on Nantucket during the summer and winter.  I wanted to know specifically whether it followed the pattern of “more drugs in the winter and more alcohol in the summer,” as this is a theory I have heard from several people. Officer Nagle explained that “it really varies. During summer nights there are drunk people everywhere. This makes me feel like there may be more drugs in the winter, but it may just also be that since the summers are so crazy we are not able to focus in on the drugs like we are in the winter.”

This brought up me next question of whether or not there were more police on patrol during the summer than in the winter. Officer Nagle replied that “in both the summer and the winter we try to have two sergeants and three patrolmen on at the same time. However, we are not always able to do this due to scheduling, sicknesses, and vacation. During the summer however, we also have ‘summer specials’ who work on bikes during the day.” Officer Nagle then explained that the island is split up between patrol officers. “We have it divided into a east , west, mid-island and town areas. However, most officers share the mid-island and town sections because they are generally the busiest areas and those closest to the station. However, each officer is responsible for calls in his or her section. Each night shift goes from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and every day shift from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.” He explained that “sometimes staying awake becomes difficult but after about a week of night shifts one get used to it. However, I still know a couple of guys who drink coffee like water so they can stay up.” Officer Nagle then began to explain how officers are assigned shifts. “When you are first starting as an officer, you have to first complete six months of day shifts followed by six months of night shifts. After this first year is completed, you can then begin bidding for shifts with other officers. Shift bids occur twice each year. During a shift bid, each officer changes his shift and uniform. Shift bids are done by seniority so the older officers get to chose first. A lot of these officers have children so most of them will chose the day shift. This is why often the younger officers are on the nightshift.” To me, the night shift seemed much less desirable than the day shift, but Officer Nagle disagreed. “There are pros and cons to both. The day shift in the summer for instance, is extremely hard due to the enormous volume of calls that we receive. However, people are usually in a better mood during the day and this is an advantage of the day shift.”

As we continued to patrol the island, Officer Nagle told me what he likes most about his job. “I think it’s a fun job,” he said. You have to be a people person and you have to let the people know you’re in charge. My two favorite parts of the job are helping others and making sure they feel safe and getting the freedom that you have on patrol. He explained that you “have the freedom to do whatever you want to. You can drive around known drug houses and notoriously bad neighborhoods looking for suspicious activity, you can go from door to door asking if people have seen any suspicious activity, or you can just park your cruiser in front of known drug houses that you are not yet able to search because you don’t have a warrant and listen as they flush their drugs down the toilet thinking that you are about to enter their house.”

As we pulled behind a car at a rotary intersection, we noticed a car that did not fully stop at the stop sign but did what Officer Nagle  described as the “California roll,” (kept moving). “We’re going to pull this guy over,” said Nagle. Before exiting the vehicle, he asked me to run the cars license plate through the scanner to make sure that the person’s license was clear and that the vehicle matched its registered description. Officer Nagle also reported to dispatch that we had a “Motor Vehicle stop because of a failed stop at a stop sign on Sparks Ave.” As we approached the vehicle, he again explained to the woman that she was being “audio and video recorded,” and requested her license and registration. Officer Nagle explained that she had failed to stop at the stop sign and gave her a verbal warning. As we returned to the cruiser he asked if I would like to report to dispatch what happened on the call. I said yes and reported that we were “clear from our motor vehicle stop and that we had given out just a verbal warning.” Since we had stopped two cars and were yet to give out a ticket, I asked Nagle about his ticketing giving policy was. Nagle replied saying that “you have to be human, you can’t be a robot. The only times I give out tickets are when the person is being inappropriate or unreasonable , using drugs, or if they cause an accident.” Nagle explained that he wished people understood this and did not give policemen the bad reputation they often do.

As we neared the end of the ride along I asked Officer Nagle if I was the only ride along he had ever done and what the policy was for ride alongs. “Typically in the summer, officers in training  do them but I think many people in the community aren’t even aware that we offer them. I love doing them with anyone who is curious about law enforcement and policing.”

Tags: ,