There’s a good chance that at some point during the day, the question of who is looking out for our best interest becomes answered. It could be that police cruiser paroling the streets, or perhaps at the scene of an accident or maybe strategically parked to catch speeders. Windham is a relatively quiet town in comparison to say, Portland, but by all means it is not as crime free as it may be thought. A good portion of what calls are responded to never reach the ears of the citizens they were sworn and continue to protect.
On November 17, I was afforded the opportunity, through the police departments ride along program, to be that preverbal fly on the wall during the course of an average working day of law enforcement. My perch was the front seat of a police cruiser driven by Officer Ernest MacVane III for the up close and personal experience of what is involved in protecting and serving Windham. What goes through an officer’s mind during the course of a shift is complex and ever changing.
MacVane’s day begins well before his shift starts. “On the way to work for a 6:30 a.m. start I think about what I may see. I have to mentally prepare for the day ahead. It’s extremely important to be in the right state of mind before and during your shift. I always doing situational training in my mind while working, weighing options for specific situations. If for some reason I cannot wrap my head around the day or the focus just isn’t there its wise, no, imperative, not to be there,” explained MacVane.
On this particular day the majority of what I saw involved numerous traffic violations resulting in both warnings and tickets. Since officers are aware drivers hate when this happens there is a method to the madness. To momentarily diffuse a drivers’ attitude, the officer presents their own pleasant tone. “My initial contact is non-confrontational and requiring a response. Setting the tone with ‘good afternoon and how you are’ is important,” shared MacVane.
While this day may have seemed uneventful, witnessing the procedures and thought process before approaching the vehicle did shed a new light and appreciation on the potential risks. Pulling over a vehicle is not necessarily routine. There is more than meets the eye and that lends itself the element of potential danger.
“I have no idea who this is. Did this guy just shoot his wife; does he have a warrant I don’t know about? How many people are in the car? Is there somebody hidden that is going to shoot me as I walk up there,” questioned MacVane. And there are other red flags. “The way they position the car when they stop. Do they put the car in park or is their foot still on the brake?” These elements have to be processed without haste.
Aside from traffic violations, there are also those elevated instances that can test an officer’s composure and training. Finding yourself in a scary or a life threatening situation is more often, than imagined. “I have been in several. One in particular involved a shooting a couple of years ago where a man was standing outside armed with a gun, and he ultimately ended up getting shot,” shared MacVane. But not before putting him and other responding law enforcement officers in harm’s way.
Law enforcement is not what it used to be. “It’s a very difficult time to be a police officer right now. Cops are getting killed all over the country. I think one of the reasons for this is that we, as officers, lose our identity. People see the uniform and it is immediately associated with authority and oppression; losing what’s really behind it, maybe a son, a friend, a father,” explained MacVane. To this end the Windham Police Department deems it necessary and customary to extend contact beyond enforcement.
“We a have a strong police chief in Kevin Schofield; strong in a sense that he wants us out of our cars and interacting with citizens, he wants us out of our cars being involved with the kids.”
MacVane compliments this philosophy with his own take. “The stronger we are with the community the more our citizens will trust us, and the safer we are going to be. The greatest complement an officer can receive is when a citizen calls the police station and specifically asks for you because of the trust and knowledge that they can count on you. It’s beyond humbling. It’s a testament to that officer’s relationship with that person. It’s a very big deal,” he exclaimed. With experience in negotiating, several years as a paramedic and as a Federal DEA undercover agent, officer MacVane is bound to be called upon more often than not.
When he isn’t out conversing with the many relationships that he has established and nurtured over the 17 years with the department, MacVane the man is spending quality time with the love of his life, 10-year-old son Tyler, with whom he shares all of the many passions for adventure. He also is extremely fond of his two canine buddies, “my girl Kyla and my boy Sully.”
When questioned about the leaving the department or Windham in general, he responds, “When I retire, and that won’t be anytime soon, it will be from Windham. I love this town and its people,” From the six hours I spent riding shotgun (pun intended), it was obvious by observing his professional demeanor, dedication and popularity that the feeling was mutual. More importantly there was my own observation and enlightenment that a law enforcer’s day can change without a moment’s notice.
For more information about the ride-along program, visit the Windham Public Safety Building at 375 Gray Road.