Patrolling the streets with a local cop
During the life of an average citizen, his or her association with law enforcement may only occur under less than pleasant circumstances. It may be a speeding citation, a traffic accident, trying to justify your outdated inspection sticker or a simple parking violation. While some do have this limited view of their local law enforcement, there is another way to become up close and personal with the required training, responsibility and commitment police officers have to the communities they serve. And that is to spend a few hours riding around with one of them in a patrol car. That is exactly how the information for this story was obtained.
Cpl. Danne Vance has been serving the village of Barboursville as a policeman for more than 27 years. His position requires constant training and retraining to keep abreast of the ever-changing laws that govern his job. While he admits his position is part arbitrator, part counselor and often a peacekeeper of domestic disagreements, he does love his work -- even when he's seen as the bad guy when arrests have to be made.
"I realize that being a policeman is a thankless job," said Vance. "But at the end of a shift, it's a good feeling to know you helped redirect a teenager going the wrong direction with his life, or made an arrest of a drunken driver before he killed someone. When you can resolve a domestic disagreement without it escalating into a dangerous situation, it makes you feel good about the job. You never know when weapons are going to become involved. Even something as simple as getting a bicycle rider off of I-64 has the potential to escalate. There are situations when we don't try and decide who is right, we just act upon what is right, and what the law says. It isn't a popular position at times, but it's necessary."
Vance says there is never a typical day for a policeman. The misuse of prescription drugs has created a new set of dangerous problems for law enforcement. Those involved with meth labs are still ending up in jail or killing themselves and others in the process. Vance defined a good day as one when solutions are solved without violence, when his gun stays in its holster, when he doesn't see the mangled results of a drunken driver or when he doesn't need to call the parents of a underage shoplifter.
During the course of this interview, Vance offered some sound advice for homeowners and Christmas shoppers alike. "Keep bushes around doors and windows trimmed so they don't become ideal hiding places for thieves. If away for an evening, put a few inside lights on timers. Use motion detectors to turn on outside lights. And a dog is probably one of the best alarm systems you can have."
Vance went on to say that if your car keys have a panic button that activates the horn, for obvious reasons, it's a good idea to have those keys on the nightstand during the night.
"We need the public to always be alert," said Vance. "Many don't want to become involved, but you may be the one to help us solve the next crime in your neighborhood. Anything that looks suspicious, report it. Call 911 if necessary, get descriptions of what you are reporting, license numbers, color of car -- the more you observe, the better our chances of an arrest become."
With the holiday season already here, officer Vance discussed a litany of safety measures and precautions to help make your holiday season a happy one.
"Shoppers should always try and walk to and from their vehicle with another person. If this isn't possible, consider walking near other shoppers in the parking lot. Many people are not aware that they can ask the security officer at the mall to accompany them to their car, especially during the hours of darkness. Parents who use a video arcade or a toy store as a babysitter should know that children are abducted every year from such locations."
Vance also shared his concerns about parking in well-lighted areas. Many times shoppers arrive at the mall during daylight, but when they leave, they must locate their car in darkness. Park as close to entrances as possible. Keep packages and valuables in the trunk, and always make your most expensive purchases last so they are not left in the car alone. Always make sure there is no one hiding in the rear of the car before entering.
"Let common sense prevail when using an ATM," said Vance. "Never use one alone after dark. Look around before you use it, making sure that no suspicious people are nearby. Make the transaction as quickly as possible."
Vance said the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs have long-lasting and expensive consequences. "If you're suspected of such a violation, pulled over and fail the onsite sobriety test, you will be arrested and your car impounded at your expense. It's such an easy solution to have a designated driver and avoid losing your license or become involved in an accident."
Fact is, Vance doesn't even enjoy giving tickets.
"We don't make the laws that govern our highways," said Vance. "It's just our job to enforce them. We patrol Route 60 for many reasons. There are people who work at the mall who live close enough to walk to work. It's congested with school buses loading and off loading. Evening traffic is often at a standstill because of accidents. The public should understand that posted speed limits are enforced because there are people who would otherwise ignore them."
Vance won his recent political race for Cabell County magistrate, and he will soon be retiring from full-time law enforcement to pursue his duties as magistrate.
Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer looking for someone with a list of items that will make Huntington a better community in 2013. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.