Riding-along with Federal Way’s finest

A ‘typical’ day in the life of a police officer in Federal Way. It’s probably not what you think.

Haley Donwerth

Haley Donwerth

I think it’s pretty much a given that at least once, everyone has seen a police car. They’re kind of hard to miss, especially when they’re zooming down the street with their lights flashing.

For a while in college I wanted to work in law enforcement, until I had an epiphany that I knew myself way too well, there is no way I could have been a good law enforcement agent. That career field is not for the faint of heart, because, no matter where you serve, you are putting your life on the line every single day.

Even though I knew working in law enforcement was not going to be for me, I still love police ride-alongs. And also, driving around in squad cars is super fun.

So of course, when a chance came up to go on several for work, I jumped at it.

So I’m detailing my experience with one officer in particular here. My first ride-along with the Federal Way Police Department was with a rookie officer named Truitt Hartle. Rookie because he’d only been on the force for a year.

It feels exciting, getting to sit in the passenger seat of a squad car with an on-duty police officer. I’ve sat in the front seat of my relative’s cruiser before, but he was always off the clock.

By the way, did you know most squad cars are equipped with computers now? This way, officers can be kept as up-to-date as possible about different calls they are working on. Hartle said the officers are trained to be able to do this while driving, but it still takes a while to feel comfortable with it.

And we get pulled over for looking at our cell phones. Understandable and necessary, but still kind of ironic.

Here’s the not-so-fun part about being a rider: Whenever you’re shadowing an officer, that is undoubtedly the night nothing ever happens. It’s called the curse of the rider, Hartle told me, so basically it meant that night, I probably wasn’t going to see anything too exciting.

And, true to form, there wasn’t a lot to do. In total Hartle pulled over three cars, only giving a ticket to one, and we ended the night with a stop by the Walmart off Pete Von Reichbauer Avenue for a shoplifting suspect.

Maybe not the typical exciting night you’d expect watching as many crime shows as I do, but it was really interesting to see a different perspective of the work the FWPD does.

Because what I saw that night, more than anything, is a pretty typical one for police officers, if you could call any night for them typical.

People make calls in to report suspicious activity, and undoubtedly there’ll be a call about a potential shoplifting suspect, so for the most part it’s the officers’ jobs to follow-up on calls and check out any potential criminal activity. More than anything, this just leads to a bunch of paperwork at the end of the night.

It was the stop we made at Walmart that I thought was the most exciting. In a small room off the side of the main entrance, labeled “Employees Only,” sat a plain clothes security officer, several TV screens hooked up to cameras around the store and a young man — the suspected shoplifter.

By the time we got there another officer was already in the room as well, questioning the suspect about why he attempted to steal a bag of frozen potatoes.

It became quickly evident that the young man was a current methamphetamine user, but said he was down to less than one gram a day. He was trying to get over his addiction, he said.

Both officers started to search him, and on his person they found various drug paraphernalia, as well as some items in his bag along with an extensive number of pens and pencils and a sketchpad.

None of this is why the officers arrested him and later transported him to SCORE jail, though.

After they ran a background check on him, it turns out that he had an existing warrant from another Washington city. Since I was riding with Hartle that night, we were the lucky ones who went to Des Moines to book him into jail.

Since starting with the Mirror, I’ve spent a lot of time reporting on SCORE jail, especially since the City Council recently decided to leave the interlocal agreement, so I was excited to finally see the jail for myself.

It’s situated at the end of a long road just down the hill from the Angle Lake Station in Des Moines. There’s one entrance for people to park at the front of the building, but Hartle drove to a security gate, which led to a port-area where soon-to-be inmates could be booked and processed into the system.

I don’t know what I was picturing that process to look like, but it was a lot more laid back and relaxed than I anticipated.

We had to wait for the electric door to be opened by one of the corrections officers, and inside directly in the middle of the floor was a metal detector the inmates walked through to make sure they weren’t concealing any contraband on their person.

Off to the right of the room was one door that led to an interview room, and another that housed the jail uniforms and other items for the inmates. To the left was one room labeled “Decontamination,” where the inmates changed into their uniforms.

One of the corrections officers collected and labeled the inmates things for storage, and Hartle worked with another officer to get the inmate fully booked.

After he was booked and processed, it was pretty late, maybe 10 p.m., so we headed back to City Hall. He was going to spend the rest of his shift doing paperwork for the activity he responded to, and I decided to head home.

I wish I’d stayed a little bit longer, because the next day Hartle sent me an email — further proof the curse of the rider really does exist.

Not 10 minutes after I left, he said, they received a call in to an apparent shooting near Pacific Highway.

All in all, not quite as exciting as it might look on TV, I’ll give you that. But a fascinating and difficult job all the same.

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