Our Police: Up Close and Personal

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My first night, I’m riding with Sergeant John Dolgos, an 18-year veteran of the Chestertown Police Force, and Cadette Samuel Kinser, currently a student at the Police Academy.
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Dolgos tells me he likes the unpredictability of his job, how it changes from minute to minute. I got a dose of that firsthand. We’re cruising through a suburban neighborhood, and garbled words come through the radio. Before I can blink, Dolgos has switched on the sirens and is speeding towards the main road. “A cardiac arrest,” he says as he takes a swift turn.
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The rush of riding in a speeding cop car is exhilarating, but eerie. I know we’re driving towards something that isn’t pleasant. We arrive at the call on High Street, and I’m allowed to stand outside the car as the officers rush off. It’s dark, and the flashing lights make the humid night more chilling. Now I understand what Dolgos means when he says, “this job shows you two different worlds.”
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The officers’ movements remind me of a well-rehearsed play. They swiftly dash in and out of the house with coordination and communication that I can’t hear, but can only see. Twenty minutes later, the patient is inside the ambulance, and the officers come back to the car, much more weary than before. I can see beads of sweat run down their faces. They inform me that the patient was on the top floor in a historic house with a very tight, circular staircase. Taking a body board down those stairs was no easy task, and with their bulletproof vests in this humidity, the officers heat up fast.
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The urgency of this call is a sharp contrast to the tedium of the rest of their days. As we cruise down Rt. 213, Dolgos and Kinser explain that paperwork is a major player in law enforcement, a task that takes up about 75 percent of their job. A detailed sheet is required for every traffic stop, and each officer writes a weekly comprehensive report.
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I’m beginning to grasp the amount of multitasking and attention to detail that’s required in this job. While chatting with me, the officers are checking headlights, speeds, and tags of cars, as well as listening to the dispatcher. “This is probably twenty careers in one,” Dolgos says. “Mediator, social worker, medical technican, the list goes on.”
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Kinser explains that their job is often misunderstood; some citizens believe that the men in blue are “just out to get them,” and others wonder why officers can’t do more to put a stop to crime. In actuality, Maryland law is generally less strict than other states, especially in punishment for juveniles, says Dolgos. Officers also need to have probable cause to make an arrest, which includes plain sight, smell, or a search warrant. “We can’t do more because of the law, and that’s the bottom line,” Dolgos says.
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Despite the restrictions, their impact on the community is not diminished. As we drive, I lose count of how many people greet Dolgos with a smile and a joke. Dolgos stresses the importance of building a strong rapport within the community. And as the night progresses, the evidence of that rapport is everywhere.
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On another humid evening, I’m sitting next to Officer Guinn, known as “Mr. Nice Guy” among his fellow officers. Guinn is a bit of a class clown, a self-described “41-year-old kid.”
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“I love my job,” he says without hesitation, and compares his fellow officers to brothers. “You can equate the people we work with to a big, dysfunctional family. You get to see the happy side, the sad side, and the disgruntled side of all these personalities. It’s good to have that kind of rapport with your guys,” says Guinn.
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We get a call that someone’s witnessed an assault in Kent Plaza between some teenagers, and drive over to discover not a soul around. Twenty minutes later, we track down the group across town. After some questioning, the officers figure out that the kids were simply horsing around. Guinn points out the repetitive problem of kids hanging out in places where they shouldn’t at hours past their bedtime. But he believes that the kids are not solely to blame because Chestertown lacks a location where juveniles can hang out in a safe environment. “The town needs to give them a place that’s decent, a place that’s constructive,” he says.
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We drive over the bridge to Royal Farms for some refreshments, where Guinn jokes with employees and grabs some coffee that’s free for officers. That coffee comes in handy for the next few hours as the clock creeps closer to two a.m. Guinn is wide-awake, making jokes and checking speeds on the occasional lone car.
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I ask Guinn how he can stay awake and alert for such a long period of time, especially during one of his four-day shifts. Those free coffees and sodas at Royal Farms can help for only so long, and for me, their magic wore off long ago. He tells me that there have been a few times when he’s gone to the dispatcher’s office for a little shuteye, but for the most part, it’s an endurance workout. Endurance is the key skill for these officers. Over the span of Guinn’s 12-hour shift, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., he’s never once off-the-clock.
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After over 20 hours in a cop car, I can say I’ve learned a lot from simple observation. Patience and multi-tasking, for example, are the silent but invaluable skills these officers possess.
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But it took a lot of thinking afterwards to realize what this job means. It’s not just checking speeds and patrolling neighborhoods. Their obvious mission is to enforce the law. But another mission of theirs is not so easily seen, and is even easier for citizens to misconstrue it. These men are here to unify the community, a community of two different worlds.

Letters to Editor

  1. Bobby Joe says

    A wonderful piece! All should read this to get a better understanding of the superb job our law enforcement
    folks do under sometimes very difficult circumstances.

  2. “The town needs to give them a place that’s decent, a place that’s constructive,” I think the county just went into considerable debt to do just that.

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