Starting the summer in a police car

Marana’s interns share their summer experiences.

Anthony HunterAs a Town of Marana intern, I’ll have a busy summer filled with opportunities to learn about the community and how local government works.

A week ago Friday, I did a ride-along with Officer Dan Rowan of the Marana Police Department. It was the fifth in a series of rotations I’m making through the Town over the coming weeks. So far I have spent time with several departments: Parks and Recreation, Courts, Legal and two days with the Marana Police Department. It has all been invaluable.

Every Town function is wildly different, but completely intertwined and interdependent. It has been intriguing to see how well-oiled this municipal machine is and trying to discover the key to it all. Within five to 10 minutes of leaving the police substation, Officer Rowan received a call reporting a possible DUI suspect. This was at roughly 9 a.m. Immediately, the public service machine kicked into gear. We were off in a heartbeat to try and locate the suspect’s vehicle. The citizen who spotted the suspect was on the phone with dispatch, feeding information about the subject’s whereabouts. Dispatch passed this along while Officer Rowan put the rubber to the pavement in an accelerated search westbound on Ina Road.

Unfortunately, Starbucks was the only landmark available to the citizen helping guide us. A brief moment of confusion sprang from the sheer ubiquity of these mega-cafés, necessitating a quick 180 degree turnaround to cross eastbound under I-10, where a second Starbucks lies not-so-surprisingly close. We would later learn that the suspect had been driving onto curbs, nearly hitting a woman on a horse, and swerving into oncoming traffic. Finding him or her was immediately necessary.

Officer Rowan made quick work of the rest of the chase and the suspect was apprehended. He or she will not be back in the driver’s seat for quite a while. The next several hours I spent observing the side of police work not seen on television: long, long waits and hand-cramping loads of paperwork (Officer Rowan was kind enough not to outsource the latter to his intern ride-along). But I also had the chance to see one of the largest unseen parts of the job: cooperation.

As a civilian I maintain in my mind an image of police officers as automatic agents of the criminal justice system, almost robotic in their execution of society’s laws. To call this ignorant is understating the point. The process that I observed was one of the most organic, roots-driven systems I’ve seen. From the moment a call comes in from dispatch, officers are communicating with each other: Who can get there first? Who can get there second for back-up? Who might have street-level knowledge of the area or suspect? Each situation is different and requires adaptability, teamwork and a great deal of discretion. In my graduate textbooks they call these situational imperatives, but in reality it’s much more natural than any jargon can convey. And the process only continues as the situation wears on, with officers assisting each other on the scene, sometimes for extra cover or to discuss the proper way to move forward or sometimes just to be there for support.

This is perhaps what makes the system work so well, not just in the police department, but across Marana. There’s no piece of the Town, no aspect of its service too small to not deserve real human attention. There are not simply rules written and promises made, but coordinated campaigns to make the Town a better place. Doing government right on paper is one thing, but getting your hands dirty, like when Officer Rowan took me to the dry bed of the Santa Cruz on foot, peering under bridges and beyond where by-the-book might take you. That’s what it takes to say that you’re a public servant.

So that’s my first week. Not what I expected from a summer internship. Got myself involved in a bit of a car chase, stopped by the county jail, dirtied up my well-polished shoes. Whatever happened to schleppin’ coffee?

Anthony Hunter is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the University of Arizona. Look for intern Heath Vescovi-Chiordi’s blog later this week.

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