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On Patrol With a Salt River Police Officer

A Salt River Police Officer cites a female driver on McDowell Road for speeding.

On a recent June evening, Au-Authm Action News reporter Sheila Begay went on a ride-along with an officer of the Salt River Police Department. She experienced a typical Friday night in a patrol unit, seeing firsthand how laws are enforced and how peace is preserved within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

While stepping into the patrol unit, I noticed all the equipment, clipboards with various papers, and pens and envelopes within an arm’s reach. A friendly veteran police officer of nearly 10 years shook my hand and greeted me, and we started my ride-along. I would spend four hours of his 10-hour shift riding along with him.

I noticed the blinking scanner on the dashboard and the loud, screeching sound it made as we passed vehicles on the road. The faster the speed, the louder it gets. “I’m used to it, but it can be annoying to most people,” the officer noted.

We drove west on McDowell Road, the radar screeching at different levels and officers speaking on the radio. This is where our first stop for the evening began: a speeding citation. A driver clocked in at 65 mph in a 45-mph zone. We did a U-turn on the road and ended up behind a van. The officer radioed dispatch to verify the license plate number.

The officer turned on his unit lights just past the On-Auk Mor Smoke Shop near McDowell and Longmore roads, south of the Community Building. He informed dispatch of the incident and took his time, observing who was in the vehicle.

“You know what happened with Officer Jair Cabrera, right?” he said. I nodded yes. Cabrera was shot and killed while making a traffic stop in the Community in 2014. “We have to be very cautious and use our intuition all the time. If it doesn’t feel right, depending on how many people are in the vehicle, or our intuition just tells us otherwise, we call for backup.”

He explained his training techniques used in a traffic stop and then exited the patrol unit. The officer approached the suspect vehicle cautiously and walked to the passenger side of the van. After a couple of minutes, the officer returned with the driver’s license and registration. He verified the information once more.

He wrote out a citation, noting that he was giving the driver a tribal citation, in which he provided her with a date and time to appear in the Salt River Court. After that, he radioed dispatch once more and closed out the incident by pushing the non-evidence button on the dash camera. “It will be saved for up to two weeks,” he said about the dashcam recording. “When there’s an incident that requires an investigation, we submit that to evidence.”

After that, we pulled over a driver who was wanted in different states, but she could not be extradited from Arizona. This stop had me nervous because the male passenger in the vehicle was tall and just looked suspicious to me. That traffic stop took a while because dispatch kept calling to check in. The officer explained that the driver had an expired registration tag. He asked her a few questions, but we eventually closed out the incident.

We pulled over another vehicle near Casino Arizona. The driver had a restraining order against her. She seemed antsy, which made me nervous. But we eventually closed that one out and ended up at Chipotle for a quick bite.

While eating, the officer warned me that we could get called out at any time. He apologized beforehand. He talked about his family at home and his other family, the other law-enforcement officers.

“I’m very lucky to have a wife who understands my life as an officer,” he said. “Sometimes, I’m talking to her or my kids and I’ll have to cut her off and hang up due to an incident. But she knows my line of duty. I’ll call her back to let her know everything is OK. I’m lucky.”

We got the call—we were dispatched to a hit-and-run. The male suspect fled the scene in Mesa and eventually drove home to the VA I housing area. Officers from Mesa came and arrested the man as he stood in front of the patrol-car spotlights, like something from a movie scene. I watched from inside the patrol unit in awe, and of course I was scared.

On to the next call. “Someone called 9-1-1 and hung up. We need to go check that out and make sure everything is OK,” said the officer.

We arrived at the address. I sat in the patrol unit and watched the officer cautiously circle the house. Nothing of concern.

We drove around the Community, and many people were sitting outside, enjoying the evening weather. Some waved, gave a nod, or even walked over to say hi and greet the officer by name. “I arrested that guy last week,” the officer mentioned.

Throughout the evening, we met a few police officers from different stations. Even though they were meeting each other for the first time, they acted as if they were old friends. They shook hands and talked about their jobs and how they liked being police officers. Most of them couldn’t wait to get home to their families.

Police officers are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. They put their lives on the line every time they put their uniforms on, for us.

The Salt River Police Department has more than 100 officers working between three different 24-hour shifts. These brave men and women keep the peace within the Community.

I asked my officer how he deals with the daily grind. He mentioned some of the gruesome things that he has seen, the most traumatic being a teen suicide and a drowned child.

“Anything involving children is always the hardest to deal with,” he said.

He mentioned seeing fellow officers cry and go home to hug their families a little tighter.

“It’s hard. Not anyone can do what we do. It’s hard at times, but someone’s gotta do it.”