I’ve never willingly walked into a police station, certainly not one in a foreign country. I was freelancing as a photojournalist in Michigan, when I was given the opportunity to spend a 12-hour shift with an officer from the Grand Rapids Police Department. Since I was feeling particularly mischievous, I asked them if I could do my ride-along on October 31. I’ve often heard that officers hate working on Halloween, so I was positively itching to experience the horrors of the night.
When the evening finally came, I felt a bit anxious about riding along with Officer Stevens. I was hyperventilating underneath the fluorescent lights of the police station bathroom. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if I offended him with a stupid joke? What if he was that officer who caught me inhaling a Frosty milkshake in an empty parking lot at 3 a.m.?
I was simply told, “wear comfy shoes, no jeans.” Since the rules were so vague, I couldn’t decide if wearing my Batman costume would be a tad distasteful. I ended up wearing an all-black ensemble and left the cape at home. I still had the ability to blend into the night, if the situation called for it.
I arrived at the quiet station around 5:30 p.m. and was given a faded bulletproof vest. I put it on with trembling hands and waited for Lt. Mark Ostapowicz to lead me into the Squad Room. During what was possibly the longest elevator ride ever, Mark told me that I missed out on the action-packed shift last night. There were shooting homicides at a place called Chicken Coop. “They’ve got good chicken, but not worth dying for,” joked Mark.
It was that precise second when I realized that all my hot talk of wanting to fight criminals, to tangle with baddies, and wrestle around with crooks, was all but a fantasy. Wearing a uniform and being sassy wasn’t real police work. Real police work involves mistakes that could result in death.
Mark stepped out of the elevator. I hesitantly followed him into a room with several uniformed officers. I nodded and casually looked around for any surprise traps. Officer Stevens introduced himself, and to my relief, he wasn’t any of the officers who had pulled me over in the past years.
“So, I hear you’re a journalist,” he said in a polite, conversational manner as we entered his cruiser. I spent the next few minutes convincing him I was merely curious, and that I wasn’t out to get him. He must have bought the act, because he didn’t punch me in the face.
We chatted amicably and cruised around the streets for a bit, issuing a few parking tickets. The night had come and cold raindrops were sprinkling down onto the city. I asked why some neighborhoods were much more crowded than others, and he explained the rules of trick-or-treating. Kids scope out the areas and flock to the houses that give out the best candy. It was my first time seeing Halloween traditions played out in real life, and it was surprisingly just like the movies.
As we drove past trick-or-treaters, I suggested that we snatch one of their candy bags and drive off like maniacs. “What are they gonna do, call the cops?” I cackled. He laughed but seemed resistant to join me in marauding the city.
We were soon interrupted by a call. The person on the radio kept repeating something about a “possible G6.” A stern look washed upon Stevens’ face so I internally freaked out. What could a G6 possibly be? Is it a gun or a tank? We better not be heading to the Chicken Coop, people get shot over there! When we arrived at a deserted, dark parking lot I could barely unbuckle my seatbelt from how my hands shivered in fear. It turned out to be a child in a Darth Maul mask reporting his stolen Halloween candy.
I never knew quite what to do during calls. I mostly stood silently in the corner, awkwardly lurking behind dark shadows as people mistook me for a nosy neighbor. It was hard not to say anything at all when we had someone handcuffed in the back of the cruiser. Stevens would casually speak with me, but I couldn’t shake the desire to include the future inmate in our conversation. When we pulled into the county jail, Stevens had to remove all of his weapons and place them in a locker.
“You’re not carrying any weapons, are you?” He asked. “No…unless these guns are considered dangerous,” I responded, gesturing seriously toward my biceps. The silent stares from both him and the handcuffed woman were a bit uncomfortable.
We entered the facility and I tentatively wandered around while Stevens filled out the woman’s paperwork. Jail staffers were quite kind and asked many curious questions about Kuwait. They gave me Halloween candy as a distraction from the leering inmates. We headed back out to the cruiser to continue our crusade for justice. We found something to eat at Wendy’s and I tried a Twinkie for the very first time.
The vest became heavier and hotter as the night progressed. We responded to many incidents throughout the shift, but the final call was probably the most hectic. It was a traffic stop involving a reckless driver. He placed her in the backseat and I spent a few moments of silence with her. Well, I was silent, but she was screeching about whatever random thoughts she had in her drunken stupor.
Other officers quickly joined us on the scene. She became hysterical and started fighting in the backseat. They tried to verbally diffuse the situation and I found myself wanting to reach over, grab one of their Tasers, and zap her myself.
We went back to the jail, where the accused lass kept screaming her head off. She was finally taken to a cell after all the paperwork was processed. I stood sullenly in the corner as she swore at me and flashed vulgar signs from behind the glass doors. The jail staffers offered me some cupcakes this time and we were finally able to leave.
The calls that Stevens received were often spliced in between our conversations and laughter. He would recover from the tensions of a scene and begin laughing again, when he’d suddenly be reeled back into his stressful duties. It was like a badly edited movie, one moment we were outdoing each other with awful jokes, and in the next, my heart was racing as he yelled “put your hands up!” at a strange man trying to break into a window.
When sun started peeking out from the clouds, the calls drastically slowed down. We headed back to the police station to turn in some documents, and at around 4 a.m. I called it quits. I took off the borrowed vest, feeling both a physical and mental weight lifted off my chest.
I left the GRPD with a newer understanding of officers and the community they protect and serve. I never thought that my travels would lead me to spending so much time with American officers, but I was fascinated by what I saw and the interesting characters I met along the way.
It was an unforgettable Halloween experience. I drove back home in silence, longing for the childlike comfort of my Batman pajamas.