The Daily Illini

Joining the force: Reporter rides along with Urbana officer

By Julie Kang, Staff writer

The Urbana Police Department’s ride-along program, open to citizens and members of the University community, allows people to experience firsthand what goes on during a police officer’s shift.

The events in this article took place from 9 p.m. on Wednesday to 2 a.m. on Thursday with officer Josh Jeffers. Jeffers has been working in the department for around three years.

8:50 p.m.

Upon arrival at the Urbana Police Department, located at 400 S. Vine St., riders are asked to provide their IDs and to sign a waiver that talks about the potential dangers of the experience. It states the department is not responsible for any harm that may occur. Riders are also prohibited from recording or photographing the ride-along unless special permission has been given prior to riding.

9:13 p.m.

Jeffers drives around the area, listening closely to the radio while running several tests on license plates using his laptop. The radio messages he receives come from multiple departments in the area, including Champaign and University of Illinois police.

Messages are also sent and received from METCAD 9-1-1, the main Public Safety Answering Point serving the area. This is where all 911 calls are directed and where dispatchers relay information to officers on duty. All license plates Jeffers looks up on his laptop come back as valid.

The scary part of the job comes after work on the drive home when I’m thinking about it. In the moment, it’s more adrenaline.”

— Josh Jeffers, Urbana police officer

9:35 p.m.

Jeffers looks for cars with headlights that are not on. He explains people are usually scared when he pulls them over for not having their headlights on, but he is simply trying to help.

“We give them money for headlights if they need it. We try to get people to like us since we have such a bad reputation,” he said, laughing.

Jeffers also talks about what happened a few days ago when he was trying to talk to a man sleeping in his car at a gas station. Jeffers had been trying to determine whether or not the man was drunk and asked him to roll down his tinted windows. As the man rolled down his window, Jeffers saw a gun on the man’s lap and immediately drew his gun.

“That definitely got my heart racing,” Jeffers said. “The scary part of the job comes after work on the drive home when I’m thinking about it. In the moment, it’s more adrenaline.”

10 p.m.

Jeffers parks on a street along Lincoln Avenue near University Avenue. The police car is out of the view of vehicles driving by until they are in close proximity. Jeffers runs radar — he uses a radar that reflects radio waves off cars to determine their speed.

The radar shows almost all cars entering the street are driving past the speed limit. When they approach the location where the police car is and spot the car, they slow down significantly.

10:12 p.m.

Jeffers pulls over a car for driving at 47 mph on a street with a speed limit of 30 mph. Backup arrives and watches on the other side of the car while Jeffers speaks to the driver. The backup officer informs Jeffers the driver has a pocketknife in his pocket.

“There’s nothing wrong with (having a pocketknife). It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s nice to know what I’m getting into,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers checks the information on the driver’s ID and types it into his laptop. The driver has no warrants and has a valid license. He is issued a ticket of $120.

“I make the decision to give a ticket before I even stop the person. There’s no racial profiling — I didn’t even know what (the driver) looked like before I stopped him,” Jeffers said.

10:45 p.m.

Jeffers backs another officer’s traffic stop. He explains for night shifts, the officers always request for a backup officer to be in the area in case of an emergency.

The driver who was stopped had not stopped at a stop sign near Broadway Avenue. The driver is driving in a rental car with a license plate that does not have a sticker indicating the expiration date. The officers and the dispatchers cannot find the license plate number in their database.

“Every single license plate we type in usually comes back,” Jeffers said. “That’s really weird that it’s not coming back.”

11:15 p.m.

An unknown issue is reported to the officers: A man, who was slurring his words, gave his address to dispatchers and hung up. Jeffers drives around the location as backup.

He makes a stop at the gas station near Carle Foundation Hospital on University Avenue to talk to a worker he has grown close with while on the job.

“Interaction with the public is what we want,” Jeffers said.

12:13 a.m. Thursday

Over the radio, dispatchers say someone reported a man with a brown jacket and a hood over his head has been flagging down passersby near the soccer fields of Urbana Middle School. The reason is unknown.

12:31 a.m.

Jeffers makes a stop at the METCAD 9-1-1 office, as there are an unusually low number of calls coming in. The building is under high security, as the dispatchers play a crucial role in police departments’ jobs.

There are currently five dispatchers on the job. They manage six computer monitors — they take calls, relay information to officers, type messages and data into the system and look up any needed information. The dispatchers work eight-hour shifts.

1:25 a.m.

Jeffers backs another traffic stop on East Washington Street. The driver tells the officer he just came out of the local strip club. He is suspected to be drunk and is asked to perform a finger test. He is let go.

1:36 a.m.

Jeffers is flagged down by a man standing at the side of the road. The man said he has been walking all night from Champaign and is trying to get to where he is residing. He said he is injured. Jeffers gives him a ride home.

As he talks to the man, Jeffers realizes he is the same man who had been flagging down passersby earlier near Urbana Middle School.

Jeffers said his shift ends at 7 a.m. He usually likes to go home and watch TV until around 10 a.m. Although it is tiring to constantly change his sleep schedule, Jeffers said night shifts are one aspect he loves about his job.

“I love the adrenaline and the action,” Jeffers said. “It’s what gets me going.”

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