After months of training, Adam Petersen is now a full-fledged officer of the Webster City Police Department.
Petersen graduated from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy on April 12 after 14 weeks of training. Even though he said the ILEA prepared him well for his job, the transition to the department required a lot of work. A couple field training officers were there to help him along with the transition. For four weeks each, both Officers Brandon Pritchard and Ryan Pittman rode along with Petersen.
While riding with field training officers, Petersen learned many things. He was shown around town, learning the streets, businesses and other areas. He first learned “The Square,” consisting of the major streets in town including Superior, Ohio, Beach and Second Streets. From there, Petersen was quizzed on other, smaller streets around town in case of an emergency.
In learning the community, Petersen was prepared to run traffic. In running traffic, Petersen travels around many of those major streets, checking hot spots for speeding vehicles. He also looks for seatbelt, registration, headlight and other infractions. Petersen said he’s always trying to be aware of his surroundings.
“You just kind of want to look around for everything, and that’s kind of why I like night shift as well,” Petersen said.
Usually working from the late afternoon and well into the night, Peterson spends much of his time on the road. He was a student officer when he attended Iowa State University and worked the night shift there, making the transition a bit easier. Still, Petersen has a case load and paperwork like every other officer. He was taught during field training to get his paperwork finished as soon as possible.
“I’m not one to just sit in the office and hang out,” Petersen said. “Some days I’ll spend eight hours in the office doing paperwork. Sometimes I have zero cases and I spend eight hours out here. I like it out here a lot more.”
For the last two weeks of his training, he was alone in his car. However, he had another officer go with him to every call he received.
“It was just to oversee it. It was kind of like they weren’t there, but if you needed help they’d be there to back you up,” Petersen said.
Petersen continues to learn different facets of his job as new cases arise. He said one of his cases while training was a class-B felony, a rarity for someone in his position. He learned the ins and outs of fingerprinting, and it was fingerprinting that lead to finding out who committed the crime. Petersen said learning things like that on the job are important.
“You want to cover all your bases,” Petersen said. “There’s always something in the back of your mind that you could have done more of to better yourself.”
Another facet of Petersen’s job that he continues to learn is managing civil disputes. He said many people would be surprised to know how many calls the department gets from people angry about comments made online or relationship disputes. In these situations, Petersen acts as a mediator. While running traffic, he gets a call from dispatch about such a dispute. He pulls over to give a woman a call who believes her relative’s girlfriend is trying to keep him from her. In situations like this, Petersen said he contacts both parties and tells them not to speak to each other.
“You have to tell them to be the bigger person,” Petersen said. “It’s the same kind of stuff you learned in middle school.”
Petersen faces other challenges, but has the tools to get through them. When he encounters language barriers, he uses an ELSA, Enabling Language Service Anywhere, device. The device itself is a handheld black box that when activated connects the officer to a translator who can convey information between the English-speaking officer and the non-English speaking party.
His police car functions much like a mobile office where technology and cases have to be managed. Soon after he begins running traffic, Petersen pulls into a gravel lot at the west end of town. He positions his car so his radar isn’t pointing toward traffic and pulls a bag out of his glove box. The bag contains two tuning forks, which he uses to check the calibration of the radar.
The forks ring and he strikes them together and then holds them in front of the car’s radar system. He does the same for the rear radar. Making sure the radar is working correctly is important if a speeding case goes to court where he would have to testify that the radar was checked for calibration.
With his radar set, Petersen continues patrolling the town. The radar whines as he passes cars, recording their speed. He goes to several places around town where speeding is an issue, including Broadway Street, Highway 17 and school zones.
“It’s kind of sad that some of those places are in school zones,” Petersen said. “You don’t want to see a kid hit or something like that. Even if it’s 10 o’clock at night, we’re creatures of habit. If someone continues to speed down there, you might do it when school is getting out. You don’t want anyone to get hit or hurt.”
Petersen is given discretion when it comes to deciding whether or not to pull someone over. He said there is no speed set by the department at which someone has to be pulled over. Still, being consistent with his decisions is important if a case goes to court, because inconsistency could challenge his decisions. . Usually, he’ll pull someone over if he clocks them going seven or eight miles an hour over or more.
On Highway 17, south of town, Petersen clocks a car going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. His decision to pull the car over is almost immediate as he quickly turns on his lights and turns around. He pulls up to the car, already pulled over on the side of the road, and positions his car at an angle to protect himself from nearby vehicles. After calling in the plate number to dispatch, he approaches the vehicle.
“A lot of people see it as a negative thing, getting pulled over,” Petersen said. “But it’s more stopping people and talking to them.”
He briefly speaks to the driver, heading to Ames, and takes the driver’s information back to his car. He records the information by hand, while an onboard camera continues to record the stop. Petersen said the onboard camera begins recording either when the car’s lights go on, or when he chooses to start recording through a dashboard monitor. The device also retains video captured a minute before the recording starts, and audio is captured though a microphone on Petersen’s belt.
After recording his information, Petersen gives the driver a warning. He stays at the car for a moment to continue talking with the driver, joking about the Hawkeyes and Cyclones rivalry. The driver pulls away, and Petersen turns toward town to continue running traffic. He said being positive in conversations leaves people with a good view of the department, which makes people more likely to call incidents in if they see things happen.
With academy and on the job training completed, Petersen still has room to learn. Through the challenges of his job, he said he continues to reflect on how he could do it better.
“You have to make quick decisions on what to do and what not to do,” Petersen said. “You also don’t have someone telling you if you missed something. You have to learn to be self-sufficient. You have to manage your time. You’re really on your own and you have to make sure you get everything done.”
For Petersen, Webster City seems to be a good fit. He has room to grow, enjoys meeting people and living in this community.
“It’s a really nice area to be in, I really like the town,” Petersen said.