I'm taking the Decatur Citizens Police Academy, and to graduate I'm required to spend at least four hours on patrol with a Decatur police officer. I chose to ride on the night shift Oct. 6.
7 p.m. I meet Officer Kimberly Horton in the squad room as she prepares for a 12-hour shift. She's one of two officers patrolling in a car this night. Normally three patrol, but one officer is out today.
7:10 p.m. Horton inspects the Ford Crown Victoria patrol car, marking a checklist as she tests the computer mounted between the front seats, siren, blue lights, headlights and video camera. The back seat is a hard plastic bench without cushions to make cleaning easier. "It can get gross," she said. "They urinate, defecate, everything back there."
7:15 p.m. It's dusk. We head to the south side and slowly drive down Madison, where a lot of car break-ins have happened. Horton says you can't predict what will happen on a shift. "That's one thing I like about my job."
7:25 p.m. She parks and telephones a woman whose car was stolen from the Boys and Girls Club. She gets the woman's father and explains DeKalb police found the car with her handbag intact. He already knew.
7:30 p.m. At a stop light on College Avenue, Horton types the tag number of a car into her computer. She does this several times during the night, always randomly, just seeing what comes up. "These are the tools we use," she said.
7:35 p.m. Dispatch calls. An Oakhurst resident reports an unknown white male knocked on her front door, asked for help finding his cellphone, wife and child and walked away. Very fishy. We drive around the block but don't see anybody.
7:40 p.m. On Park Drive, we walk around some houses under construction and she shines a flashlight on doors and windows. A few minutes later the driver of a Cadillac with a Talbot County asks Horton for directions. He's off course several miles.
8 p.m. We walk around a house on Avery Street. The residents are out-of-town and asked police to check.
8:05 p.m. We park at Renfroe Middle School and walk down Kings Highway. She shines a flashlight into 20 vehicles parked on the curb. If the car is unlocked or has something valuable on the seat, like a cell phone, she puts a blue sheet of paper on the windshield telling the owner they're making it easy for the bad guys. She congratulates others for making cars a "harder target."
8:25 p.m. On Ashley Street, she notices some little kids and adults in Halloween costumes. Horton stops and says, "You guys look so nice." They've been to a pumpkin carving party.
8:30 p.m. We cruise and Horton says she thought about being a police officer earlier in her life, when she lived in Memphis, but she wasn't really ready for the demands of the job. "You have to have a level head to do this."
8:40 p.m. We go to the police station. Horton checks to make sure the driver's license left in the car taken from the Boys and Girls Club is no longer designated as "stolen" in the state computer system.
8:50 p.m. We pass a man in downtown Decatur. "He's homeless. He doesn't bother anyone. He just stands -- and lurks."
8:51 p.m. She pulls into Chick-fil-A for dinner but immediately leaves to back up another officer making a traffic stop on Commerce.
8:58 p.m. We walk into Chick-fil-A, get to the counter, but dash out because of a prowler call in Oakhurst. Two other cars arrive at the house. The residents come to the door with wiggling children in their arms. The alarm system was accidentally tripped.
9:11 p.m. We leave Chick-fil-A for a third time because a woman on Chelsea Drive complained about kids in her yard. We see some kids but they live in the neighborhood. About 9:25 p.m., we finally sit down and eat dinner.
10:02 p.m. Near Agnes Scott College, Horton runs a Maryland tag. The car is a Honda Accord but the computer says the tag belongs to a scooter. "That's no scooter," she says, activating the blue lights in front of Avery Glen apartments. She talks to the driver, types in information and discovers he's from Bowie, Md., and driving with a suspended license. That means no warning -- state law requires her to make an arrest.
10:11 p.m. Backup arrives and Horton cuffs the driver and puts him in the back seat. "Oh my god, oh my god," he says to himself. "I am doomed. I can't have this, I can't have this on my record."
10:15 p.m. Students in party clothes walk by and stare. Horton calls the driver's friend, an Agnes Scott student who comes to the scene with a friend. Horton makes sure her driver's license is valid and she drives the car away.
10:25 p.m. Horton types on her laptop and a printer behind the seats spits out a ticket. She tells the driver he'll be booked at the police station, not the DeKalb County Jail, and won't have to post bond.
10:29 p.m. As we drive to the station, Horton explains why she's giving him a break. "He's a college student. He seems to be trying to do the right thing." He's placed in a holding cell and the cuffs are removed. She types his information into a computer one more time.
10:35 p.m. She spends about 25 minutes making the required three sets of fingerprints, including palm prints. She gives him liquid soap to wash the ink off his hands but he discovers the faucet isn't working in the bathroom, so he has to wipe his hands on a paper towel. Horton tells him to come to his court hearing at municipal court at the police station, not the DeKalb Courthouse. "Don't miss that hearing," she says, and he replies, "Yes, mam." At 10:11 p.m., more than an hour after she started the arrest, he walks out of the station.
11:15 p.m. Our ride-along ends. Horton says she hopes to make a DUI arrest later that night.
The next day. I send an email to Horton asking about the rest of her shift. She replied, "The night was very interesting after you left. I did get one DUI, the person was almost 4 times the legal limit. And to top that off she had several baggies of marijuana in her possession. You missed an interesting traffic stop."