One of my bosses, a guy with incredible amounts of experience, has consistently talked about how the police are really there for us, and how they’ve told him repeatedly to not hesitate to call them and just ask that they have a cruiser wait in the parking lot while we walk out to our car.
Tonight, I set the alarm, headed out the door, and saw a car with its parking lights on in the parking lot. Ordinarily, walking through a parking lot with someone else in it wouldn’t be a big deal. But when it’s 1:30 in the morning and you’re by yourself having just finished closing up a business, a car idling in the parking lot is suddenly a big deal.
So I quickly turned around and let myself back into the building. “Crap,” I thought to myself. “I can’t leave until they do!” (In the past I’ve noticed people in the parking lot and just gone and done a little more cleaning until they left, because people will stop in to change a tire or wax their car [wtf?!] more often than you’d imagine, but they’re gone in no time.) But it was 1:30 in the morning, and I really didn’t want to stay any longer.
And suddenly Brad’s advice registered. We have two numbers for the police department on speed dial (911, and the non-emergency number), and I have them in my phone, too. So I sat in front of the window with a good view of the car, and called. It began a really bizarre experience.
To start with, I was thrown off by the clearly-recorded, “Thank you for calling the Merrimack Police Department…” message that played. The “If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 9-1-1” bit that came next confused me even more–if this were an emergency, I’d want you to pick up the freaking phone! But alas, it was anything but an emergency, so I stayed on the line and was connected to a dispatcher.
“Yeah, good… morning. [I was going to say good evening, but realized it was almost 1:30 am] This is Matt at [business*]. I was closing up for the night, but I have someone sitting in a car in the parking lot. Would you mind just sending an officer out as I walk to my car, just for peace of mind?”
He assured me it would be no problem, asked me for my name, what number I was calling from, and where I lived. As I was giving this information, I watched a police car drive by on the main road, which was a bit ironic. He told me someone would be right out, and that was that.
As I sat there, it occurred me that I’d only mentioned where I worked once in passing, and realized that, more than likely, he’d just dispatched a cruiser to sit in my driveway at home until I got there. So I called back, and was really impressed when he seemed amazed that I’d even think that. “Oh no, you said [business]. I’ve got someone on their way out there for you.”
The irony of the passing cruiser was raised exponentially, because, as he was saying that, I saw the car drive by again in the other direction. But my years of scanner listening taught me that they rarely dispatch whoever is closest to the call, for reasons that make no sense to anyone.
So I kind of adjusted my seat, in a place where I had a view of both the car in the lot and the entrance to the parking lot, while staying in the shadow. And a minute later, a
knight in shining armor motorcycle cop rode up. I got up, set the alarm again, and walked outside.
As I walked outside, I noticed he was doing the typical police “standing behind the driver’s side door, shining his flashlight in the face of the driver” thing. And then he looked over at me, shouting, “Are you Matt?”
“Is this car the car you called about?”
I responded that it was, but that the car really hadn’t been doing anything wrong, I just wanted someone there as I walked to my car, just in case. “You’re all set. It looks like they’re just talking,” he told me. (Which was probably awkward for them, since he was standing right by their window at the time?) I thanked him again and got into my car, when I noticed he was back at their car, shining his flashlight at them some more. “I almost feel sorry for these guys,” I thought as I got in.
Right after I got in my car, though, a cruiser pulled up, drove in an awkward half-circle around their car, and then pulled up behind it, with the officer jumping out and coming to the side of the motorcycle cop. Having listened to the police at night and watched them coming home from work, it seems like it’s standard to have two officers even on routine stops. But I began to feel really bad for these people. All I wanted was a police officer around ensuring I didn’t get mugged, and now these poor people were being questioned by a second police officer.
He’d told me “You’re all set” as I came out, but now that there were two cars interrogating him, I wondered what was going on, and if they were going to want to talk to me. So I sat in my car, awkwardly arranging and rearranging things while I watched them. Eventually, I decided to leave. (And now I’m dying of curiosity to know what happened!)
I’ve seen it said that one of the main ‘reasons’ for traffic stops is a chance to look into suspicious things: that broken taillight gives officers an excuse to run your name through their databases and ask you why you’re driving at 2am. So maybe their questioning of the people in the car wasn’t entirely my doing.
But then I wished I’d had my radio with me. Did it get dispatched as a ‘safety escort’ sort of thing, or as a suspicious vehicle? I almost think it was the latter (which isn’t why I called!), given the “Is this the car you called about?” question. (Granted, sitting in your car outside a business at 1:30 a.m. while the guy inside closes up is pretty suspicious.)
* I’m omitting where I work, just because I like to be able to make occasional references to things that happen at work without having them come up on a search for us.