While he didn’t have the downtown beat on Halloween, Indy reporter Chris Meagher did spend Saturday night on a ride along with one of Santa Barbara finest, Officer John Nelson. Nelson, who lives in Santa Maria, has been on the force for about a year-and-a-half. Here’s a blow-by-blow of the evening.
3:55 p.m. - We received a call from dispatch of a subject darting in and out of traffic on Montecito Street. We arrived outside JJ’s Liquor to find a 35-year-old transient having trouble standing up as a result of the alcohol he had consumed, and he became a little testy when officers tried to get him under control. One officer pulled out his Taser, but didn’t have to use it.
On the way to County Jail (our only trip of the night), Nelson tells me about an alternative to taking people to County Jail, the Sobering Center at 1 E. Haley St. If people being arrested for public intoxication and aren’t combative they can be taken to the center, where they just have to agree to stay for four hours, and then are free to go. It saves the jail from taking up more space for small violations, it saves the police paperwork, and it saves the arrested from having an arrest go on his or her record.
The city is divided into six beats for the police-the Eastside, beachfront, two downtown areas, the north end, and the Westside. We’re assigned Beat Two for today, the beachfront. Nelson works the swing shift, 12-and-a-half hours Thursday through Saturday. Once a month he works an additional ten hours to get his full hours in. While he likes the three-day work week, driving from Santa Maria “makes for really long days,” he said.
5 p.m. - A burglar alarm goes off at Quality Windows and Doors, 534 N. Milpas St., and we’re on it. On our way over the Eastside, the call is canceled by the alarm company. As we continue to cruise, Nelson tells me public service is in his blood. His dad has been a deputy in the sheriff’s department for more than 20 years, his mother is a dispatcher, and his grandfather and his grandfather’s two brothers were both firefighters. “I always knew I’d end up in law enforcement, firefighting or the military,” he said.
5:29 p.m. - We head up to Shoreline Drive and La Marina, a hot spot for pedestrians, and people sliding through a stop sign; a bad combination, as Nelson tells me.
5:30 p.m. - He’s right. Less than a minute and not even three cars after we settle in, a Previa van goes through a stop without even slowing. We pull over the van, which has Quebec plates, and the man said he was just following the car in front of him and wasn’t paying attention. Nelson gives him a warning and we head back up the hill.
5:43 p.m. - The third car we watch does essentially the same thing as the Previa. This time it’s a two-for-one, as the car we pull over has tinted front windows, a no-no in Santa Barbara. Nelson gives the driver a warning about the stop sign, and a fix-it ticket for the windows. Nelson informs me we won’t be sitting and grabbing traffic violators anymore. I sense the action is going to pick up.
6:10 p.m. - We respond to a 9-1-1 hang-up call on Chase Drive up in the hills. When the dispatcher tried calling the number back, there was no answer. We arrive first, but wait for backup. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s nothing,” Nelson says, “but that one percent is usually serious enough we wait for the other car.” Usually the call is a result of a child playing, or inadvertent buttons being hit. It turns out to be the latter in this case. An elderly woman was moving things around, including her phone, and inadvertently knocked a speed dial button for 9-1-1.
On our way back down, Nelson explains the mustache he’s begun to grow. At first it began as a bet between him and another officer, but it turned into a contest of who could grow the best mustache off all the officers on the swing shift. The bushy mustache-bearing lieutenant who oversees the shift loved the idea, and to make things interesting, not only agreed to pay for dinner at the place of the winning officer’s choice, but also to respond to the officer’s calls that night. The only problem: most have wives who are adamantly opposed to the idea.
6:30 p.m. - There’s a call of people fighting at Cabrillo ball field. We arrive to find an officer already on scene, with two fellows sitting there who explained that, after they came to find each had belts in jujitsu, they were just wrestling to see who was better.
6:40 p.m. - Time for a 7-11 bathroom run. Afterward, Nelson tells me a bit about what it’s like to be an officer of the law, and dealing with conflict day in and day out. “A lot of people seem to forget we’re humans,” he said after explaining the difficulty of separating his personal life from his work. “What helps me is to remember people who get angry at you aren’t angry at the person, they’re angry at the badge,” he said.
7:12 p.m. - Driving down State Street, we are flagged down by a pulled-over driver, who saw two men practically carrying an obviously intoxicated woman into the Hotel State Street. After finding the room, it sounds like the college-aged girl had entirely too much to drink. “She had no more than ten drinks,” her boyfriend said of his petite accomplice. It’s no wonder she’s passed out, but she is responding and opened her eyes when interacting with Nelson.
It’s time for dinner now. We meet another officer for a quick meal at Rose Cafe on the Mesa.
8:45 p.m. Nelson spots a man laying on the sidewalk in the traffic circle entrance to Stearns Wharf. It turns out to be a 42-year-old transient who had a bit too much to drink, but who entirely cooperative and seemed to be enjoying his view of the stars. In other words, the perfect person for the Sobering Center. So that’s where we took him, and that’s where he would (presumably) stay for the next four hours, sleeping off his intoxication.
We pulled out of the Sobering Center and onto Gutierrez Street, where we suddenly are facing a Hummer stretch limousine driving the wrong way down the one-way street. Whoops. It was filled with Camarillo high schoolers who had come up to enjoy dinner at Something’s Fishy before heading to the dance. I don’t think they made it to their dance, however, because they had to be there by 10 p.m., and there was a problem. While the driver of the limo-who was very nice, by the way-had the necessary paperwork on her to drive, a run of her license brought up a discrepancy. She didn’t have a medical report on file with the DMV, a must when driving commercially. The issue was eventually resolved, with the driver issued a ticket for driving the wrong way, as well as a fix-it type ticket to resolve her issues with the DMV.
10:51 p.m. We respond to a house party at 226 Oliver St. , on the Mesa. We arrived to find a small gathering of people not making much noise, but the appropriate level of noise allowed isn’t up to the officers. If someone calls on a noise complaint, it is considered disturbing the peace, and a warning must be given. So it was, and the college student dressed as a cowboy understood, as did the Playboy bunny who came out as well. They were planning on heading downtown, so we didn’t anticipate any problems from them again.
11:35 p.m. - On our way to respond to a fight in De la Guerra Plaza, we instead backed up a reckless driver situation off Santa Barbara Street at Ortega Street. We arrived to find Sgt. Gary Wolfe conducting some sobriety tests on a 30-year-old driver of a Sebring convertible dressed up in full costume as Mugatu from Zoolander for Halloween.
Nelson took over with the official field sobriety test which involved many tests, including leaning his head back and count to 30 seconds, touching his nose with whichever index finger he was told to by Nelson, walking nine steps out and nine steps back, one foot right in front of the other, and raising the foot of his choice up in the air for 20 seconds. The driver did pretty well, Nelson told me later, but they decided to give him a breathalyzer test anyway, which the driver didn’t have to do, but agreed to take. He blew a .056, under the legal limit of .08. According to Wolfe, the driving peeled out onto Anacapa Street, squealing his tires, and driving dangerously enough that pedestrians were pointing Wolfe after the car with hopes he would pull the man over. He did, and after the testing, issued a ticket for the exhibition of speeding. The driver had said there were mechanical malfunctions to the new car, which led to his erratic driving.
For those out there who’ve heard there are ways to beat breathalyzers, let me be a mythbuster- there is no way to beat the test. From sucking on pennies to breath mints, I’ve heard quite a few ways you can allegedly throw off the breathalyzer test and have a passing score. But the machines are too good these days. They might come off with a bad reading, but the machines won’t mistake that dirty penny in your mouth for you being sober. In other words, be responsible and don’t drink and drive. If you think you can fool the breathalyzer, you’re just fooling yourself.
1:10 a.m. - We receive a call from a woman on Lou Dillon Court of two males arguing with one female trying to break up the fight. We arrive to find no one really around, and all seems to be quiet.
1:29 a.m. - We’re called to a domestic disturbance down the road at Punta Gorda, but after pounding on the door, we finally wake up a woman who’s been sleeping, and find it to be a false alarm. Nelson tells me domestic disturbances can be some of the most dangerous calls to respond to, because of high-running emotions. “Sometimes people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do,” he said. “The potential for danger is there.” Nelson tells me there are three types of “415s,” or disturbing the peace calls-noise calls, fight calls or foul language.
1:46 a.m. - We’re called to 934 San Pascual St. , a complex Nelson had pointed out to me earlier in the night as a hotspot for trouble. The high-density complex is more like a slum at times, with multiple families crammed into one apartment.
On our way there, we stop at the Carrillo off-ramp for a call, but it is just a woman waiting for her friend to return with jumper cables for her dead car battery, so we move along.
At San Pascual, although we’re originally responding to a 9-1-1 hang-up call, we arrive to find a 17-year-old mother who another officer, Charley Venable, had dealt with earlier in the night. At the time, she had been at her mother’s house, and was told by Venable, for some reason or another, not to leave. Well, she had left to come to San Pascual Street, bringing her 16-month-old child with her, to visit her boyfriend (not the baby’s father, mind you). Venable was visibly frustrated by her actions, and got in touch with her probation officer. I’m not sure what ever came of the situation, but it certainly is an all-around sad one.
We went to deal with the 9-1-1 call, but everyone at the residence was asleep, and it appeared to be another false alarm.
From there we fly (well, almost, we were going 70 miles per hour down Montecito Street) to the corner of Quinientos and Quarantina streets, where we find a woman bleeding from the mouth and a man with her. The woman, who is visibly upset, but also appears to be on drugs, says a man tried to rape her. The man explained the two, who have been dating for a few weeks, were drinking at the labor line on Yanonali Street, and on their walk back began looking for the woman’s bicycle, which she had lost earlier in the day. The man rode off for five minutes to look for the bike, and returned to find the woman screaming. The police weren’t really sure what to believe since the drugs were hindering her ability to explain what happened, and though there was blood coming from her mouth, there were no signs of a struggle where she say it took place, and no signs of an attempted rape. An ambulance came to take the woman to Cottage Hospital. Police weren’t able to locate a suspect, but took photos of the scene.
3:14 a.m. - Well, I made it. Twelve hours with the boys in blue at the SBPD. Nelson has to head to Cottage Hospital to follow-up with the girl, but I think I’m going to call it a night.