Walks of life

Jam of the week: “Rollin’ and Stratchin'” by Daft Punk

One of the reasons I love my job is that I get an inside look at many different walks of life. I had the opportunity to do just that on Friday when I went on a ride-along with Officer Adam Petersen of the Webster City Police Department.

Rather than just sitting down and talking about his daily work, I got the chance to take a small look through the window of his career on this ride-along. While the ride lasted only a couple hours, it was very interesting to see how a police officer functions during his job. Like many other people, my interaction with the police is largely limited to when I lose track of my speed while driving on the Interstate. Of course, I also interact with them on the job occasionally, but never really got a look into what they do until I did this story with Petersen.

After signing a release form, I got into Petersen’s car and he began driving around town. While much of what we discussed on the ride pertained to his training at the department, I got a chance to pick his brain on how he does things. Petersen was a very amiable guy, which sort of surprised me considering his line of work. Having spent more time watching cop dramas than actually talking with police officers, I didn’t exactly expect the ride to go like “Training Day,” but it was eye-opening to hear Petersen talk about conflict resolution and staying positive on the job.

His role as a mediator did surprise me. While we were driving around town, he got a call from dispatch about an ongoing civil dispute. Using a cell phone provided by the department, he pulled over and gave the woman a call. I don’t recall the full conversation, as I turned off my microphone to ensure the call’s privacy, but he simply provided her with some sound advice: Don’t call the other party, and try to be the bigger person.

That calm and collected demeanor that Petersen displayed was a far cry from the hardened, tough cop that the media conjures up. Of course, I was only with him for a traffic stop and not any situation where he would have had to use force. Still, learning that this officer, charged with upholding the law, sworn to put his life on the line if needed, was really just a nice guy at heart reminds me that I have a lot of preconceived notions about people. I have a lot of room to grow as a person and a journalist, and realizing that people are pretty much people is, unfortunately, something that I need to remind myself of.

Speaking of that traffic stop, it was interesting to see the other side of that situation. Having luckily spent only a few times on the other side of the stop, I was again surprised at how Petersen viewed the interaction not as a means to punish someone, but rather as a way to have a conversation. I wrote in my feature story about Petersen that he joked with the driver he pulled over about his Hawkeye allegiance, and I laughed when I heard the audio come through to the car when he said he’d be back to write a ticket for the Cyclones fan he had pulled over.

Even though I get to tell these stories, these unique stories of people’s lives, they’re all more alike than different. I get back to the office and check my Facebook, he gets back to the office and checks his fantasy football draft. We both joke about finding apartments in town and enjoying the same businesses and parks in Webster City. Even if our walks are different, we’re all still walking.