Riding shotgun: A night on patrol with the HPD

by BRIDGETTE TAYLOR | 11/15/09 11:00pm

by Sarah Irving and Sarah Irving / The Dartmouth

"The past few weeks have been pretty quiet," he said. "Some classes I guess are rowdier than others, but I guess for the past few years, the classes haven't been quite as rowdy."

Fowler, a U.S. Navy veteran, has been a policeman for 11 years. With a buzz cut and athletic build, he still resembles the Navy sailor he was at age 18. Yet, deep creases around his eyes attest to his combat experience during the first Gulf War.

At around 11:30 p.m., Fowler encountered a pick-up truck with no taillights while on patrol. Fowler flashed his high beams, but the vehicle continued down the road. There was no high-speed chase, though the truck pulled over when Fowler engaged the police cruiser's emergency lights.

In addition to broken taillights, the 18-year-old driver had forgotten his license at home. Fowler let him off with a warning.

When asked why he did not issue a ticket, especially to a driver without a license, Fowler shrugged.

"I could, but that happens a lot, so I don't usually give people a ticket for that," Fowler said. "[The driver] was cooperative."

Fowler said he knew most people find such generosity surprising.

"There's a misconception that the Hanover Police Department is out hunting people or something like that," he said. "That's not the case. Obviously, if we see a violation that occurs in front of us, we're going to act upon it because the law says that's what we have to do. Or, if we get called by Safety and Security because they need help, then we'll act on something. But I'm sure there's a lot of stuff that goes unnoticed and isn't enforced."

Previously an officer in Littleton, N.H., Fowler said he transferred to the Hanover Police Department last year because the Littleton town government "was ridiculous." Town representatives often ignored police input when making community decisions, he said.

"A lot of people had lived there their whole lives," he said. "They felt they could run the town."

Fowler patrolled the Hanover area on Friday until 12:15 a.m., when dispatch called him back to the station.

Returning to the dispatch room, Fowler found dispatcher Freddy Cummings, communications officer Kevin Lahaye and Matt Culver, an official with the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission. Fowler discussed the differences between Littleton and Hanover with his colleagues.

"It's so weird here," he said. "People will ask me, What happened on your shift?' Nothing. What'd you guys do last night?' Nothing. How many cases you working on?' None."

The tone of conversation quickly changed, however, when the officers began discussing their past suicide cases.

"The worst body I had was one that was in the bedroom for two weeks," Fowler recalled. "The pet was in the locked bedroom and couldn't get out. The dog was physically eating the body."

Sergeant Dave Luther, who strode into the room around 12:30 a.m., explained the policemen's seemingly casual perspective on gruesome crime scenes.

"[When you're a police officer], you have to be like this," he said. "Otherwise, you'll go insane."

The conversation also turned to graphic recollections of moose and car collisions, as well as accounts of Dartmouth parents reacting to their children's alcohol charges.

"This one lady said, My kid would never be in possession of alcohol he's never drank in his life,'" Culver said. "I just responded, He was in possession of alcohol. I saw him pick up a bottle of wine, exclaim, Sweet,' and place it back in the bag. He's guilty.'"

The officers expressed their amusement with Dartmouth's "Sun God," public performer Johnathan James Recor MALS '10.

"Light saber guy was downtown today," Luther announced to the room. "He's got music playing. I don't know where it is, but he's got music playing."

Fowler had to enlighten an apparently confused Culver, who had not previously encountered Recor.

At 1 a.m., Fowler resumed his patrol. The night remained quiet, and even the streets of the Dartmouth campus were nearly empty. Whether Hanover is busy or not, Fowler's shift lasts until 7 a.m., meaning for another six hours, he must roam the same vacant roads.

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