A Day At The Hampton Cop Shop
'Keen Green' or 'Mean Green'?
By Brendan DuBois
The Beachcomber, Thursday, July 9, 1981
HAMPTON - It's an early Thursday evening in Hampton, and the traffic moves slowly over the Seabrook Bridge into town. Hampton Police Sgt. Robert Towler sits in the green and white cruiser, watching the traffic. He is in the middle of his second shift that day, working a total of 16 hours, and though he will be able to leave at 11 that night, he has to report back to work at 7 a.m. the next day.
Towler sits motionless, tired after a long day, but his eyes are not still. He continuously looks at the traffic, in his rearview and sideview mirror, and he looks through the - window on the passenger's side. He is very much aware of what is going on around him.
"This is part of police work," the 29-year-old Towler says. "People who drive by and see me immediately slow down and watch their driving. I'm looking for anything unusual, a car with taillights missing, balding tires, or I might see a guy that looks like the composite of somebody we're looking for. I'm making people more conscious of the police presence."
Towler is the shift supervisor for the department that night, which means he is responsible for all that goes on. The shift supervisor also works as a roving police unit, handling any problems or trouble spots, and acting as a backup for other units.
The cruiser he drives is a 1980 Plymouth police package, which has 75,000 miles on the odometer, and averages about 2,000 miles a week of travel.
Below the dashboard is the two-way radio, and below that is the panel that controls the lights and siren. Next to the radio and console, standing upright and locked, is a 12-gauge pumpaction shotgun.
The cruiser is designated Unit 6, which is how Towler identifies himself to the dispatcher. The radio is always on, and as he watches the traffic, he also listens.
Two Hampton police motorscooters pass by, their blue lights flashing, and they pull over a car heading towards Seabrook. Towler switches on the blue lights mounted on the roof and pulls the car out of the parking lot, easing it behind the two parked cycles. The flashing blue lights reflect off the back window of the parked car, as the two policemen walk up to the car, one on each side.
"This is part of the supervisor's job, providing back-up," Towler says. "When you're on the job, you're always thinking officer survival. See how they are standing in back of the car, not in front of the door? That way, the persons inside can't open the doors quick and knock them down."
The situation with the stopped car is under control, and Towler switches off the blue lights and heads into the traffic, up towards Ocean Boulevard.
"Unit 6 is clear," he says into the microphone.
"10-5, Unit 6," comes the reply from the dispatcher.
Last year, the Hampton Police Department handled more than 10,000 log entries, for complaints received and services rendered by the department. But the log entries don't accurately reflect the number of times policemen are called on to do their job.
Whenever Towler stops and helps school-aged girls across a busy street, or stops a car driving the wrong way up Ashworth Avenue, or gives directions to a lost tourist, he's doing his job, but the time spent doesn't get recorded.
As the night progresses, fog rolls in from the ocean, covering the beach area and the streets. Towler doesn't like the fog, because it always means a heightened chance of a bad traffic accident somewhere.
He's on Ashworth Avenue when the call comes over the radio. The two police motorscooters are now in pursuit of a motorcycle, at the upper end of Ocean Boulevard.
In one fluid motion Towler unhooks the microphone, says "Unit 6 responding" and switches on the blue lights. He turns the car onto a side road and just before he reaches Ocean Boulevard, he switches on the siren. Traffic comes to a halt as he comes out and heads north, and he increases the speed. Both hands are on the steering wheel, and he stares intently into the fog and darkness, watching for cars not pulling over or some child running into his path.
He slows down as he reaches the area, and sees the parked motorscooters, their lights flashing. The motorcycle they had been chasing had stopped. Towler gets out of the cruiser and talks to the two officers, who are standing next to two men in handcuffs. The policemen had seen the motorcycle go by, and the passenger had thrown a beer bottle over the seawall. Both men had been drinking, with the passenger holding a six-pack between his legs.
One of the handcuffed men starts complaining to Towler about being arrested. Towler shrugs his shoulders.
"Hey, don't give us a hard time and we won't give you a hard time." The man continues to swear as he and his companion are placed in the back seat of the cruiser.
"Watch your head," Towler says.
On the back of the drivers seat is a Plexiglas shield with a sliding window, which Towler shuts. The doors in the back seat have no handles for the door or windows.
"Unit 6 to headquarters, I'm bringing two in," he says, as he starts to drive back to the station: Within seconds, an odor of beer fills the cruiser. The men in the back seat start talking.
"C'mon man, how about giving us a break," the one on the left says. "We didn't know we we're breaking the law."
"How about my bike, man, what's going to happen to my bike?" the other says. "It'll be taken to a garage," Towler says.
"Great, just great."
"Hey man, I've got to get to work at 12 tonight."
"Oh, shut your mouth," the second man says.
They laugh and swear at each other, as Towler reaches the back of the police station. Towler and the two men go into the booking room, which contains a series of shelves on one side of the room that contains bottles and cans of wine and beer, evidence for upcoming trials. On the other side of the room is a low bench, where the prisoners sit while they're being processed. Doors in the booking room lead to holding cells, interrogation rooms and other parts of the station.
Towler enters the interrogation room with the driver of the motorcycle, who is a bearded man in his 30s. The man has the handcuffs removed, and sits down next to a table that has a -breathalyzer' machine on top.
"Okay, let's see if we can get through this paperwork," Towler says. He tells the man that he has been arrested for driving while intoxicated, and he reads the man his rights. He explains the different procedures available to him, and Towler asks the man if he would take a breathalyzer test."If it's below .10, you can walk out the door," Towler says. If he does take the breathalyzer and comes over .10, he will be held for bail but won't lose the license until proven guilty in a trial. And if he refuses the breathalyzer, he will lose the license for 120 days.
The man explains in a slurred voice that he had just gotten his license back a week or so ago, and he refuses to take the test.
Towler nods and continues to fill out the paperwork, and then leaves the man with a booking officer, a policeman who stays in the station and processes prisoners. The motorcyclist's passenger is upset that he might lose his job at the shipyard, where he has to go to work at midnight. He is also upset because when he was asked to empty his pockets, a police officer found a small box that contained drugs for which he had no prescription.
Towler goes back to his cruiser and is back on patrol. Later, with the car parked on Ocean Boulevard, he watches the crowds of people walk back and forth on the sidewalks. He has an hour or so left before he can go to bed and sleep a few hours before coming back work.
"There's such a variety in this job, which is why I love it," Towler says. "This town means a lot to me, and there's no boredom at all in the job. You have no idea what will happen each day."
Although it's this idea of never knowing what will happen next is what make the officers love their job, it's also the factor that leads to the incredible stresses they deal with every day.
From one moment to the next, they may be helping someone find an address, trying to save the life of a man trapped in a wrecked car, or chasing a suspect on foot through the dark back streets of town. On one occasion they may be called heroes, on another they may be called pigs.
They continuously deal with the worst in human nature, of criminals, drunks, runaways and drug addicts, and after a while on the job, part of them inevitably hardens, so they are accused of being cynical and unfeeling. But they stick with it, partly because of the feeling that they are performing a necessary duty, and partly because of the intense camaraderie they feel between each other. Each policeman has his own way of handling stress. One reads books every night before going to bed. Another plays chess on an electronic computer. Another goes into a dark room and listens to soft music. And, unfortunately, some turn to alcohol.
"The hardest thing on this job is dealing with emotional stress," says Officer Jim Tuttle, who's been with the department since 1970. "Usually, it takes about two hours to unwind after a shift. And if a guy comes home after 11, he usually pops open a couple of beers and watches the Tonight show. Pretty soon it turns into a habit, and then into a problem."
The police department also has a high rate of divorce and marital problems, which are directly linked to job pressures. Some officers cope by going to professional counselors, to learn to deal with their job and personal problems.
Learning about stress is part of the police officer's training, which is long and rigorous. An applicant has to go through a written and oral exam, along with being interviewed by a police board that asks high stress questions. There is also psychological testing, along with an extensive background check of the applicant. A regular police officer usually goes through the eight-week course of the N.H. Police Standards Academy.
Most of the officers in the Hampton department have had some college education. Towler has a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice, along with a minor in psychology. Tuttle has an associate's degree in law enforcement.
On a Friday night, Tuttle is patrolling the North Beach area of town, traveling along the back roads and doing what is known as "showing the flag," letting residents know that the department is on patrol.
There is also another reason. Since the open container law has gone into effect, drinking along the beach area has moved further into town, along the back roads and side streets. "Friday's usually a busy night," Tuttle says. "People are coming into town for the weekend, young kids are drinking and so on. What we do is try to work the problem areas, like the side streets and parking lots."
A call comes over the radio, that Chief Robert Mark is making an arrest in the D Street parking lot. Tuttle turns his car onto Ashworth Avenue and heads into the parking lot. Chief Mark, in civilian clothes, is standing with two men in handcuffs. Tuttle stops the car and steps out.
"This one is for open container, and this one's for possession of a controlled drug," Mark says. He was with his wife on his time off, when he spotted the pair drinking and smoking in a parked car.
The two men are placed into the back of the police cruiser while Mark and another officer search the car. They look into the ash tray underneath the seats and between the seat cushions. An open bottle of beer that one of the two had been drinking is given to an officer, who rides with Tuttle to the booking room at the police station.
In the booking room, Tuttle tapes the mouth of the bottle of beer, and adds a tag that describes the arrest. There are also several forms to fill out, ranging from a complaint form to one describing the person arrested.
Mark arrives and removes the handcuffs off one of the men. The person is spread-eagled on the wall of the room, as Mark searches him along his arms, legs and torso.
"Where do you go to school?" Mark asks.
Harvard," one of them replies. "I'm a law student."
Then each of the two men removes their shoes, belts and empties their pockets on the counter. The possessions are placed in a paper bag and tagged, and they are taken to a gray holding cell, to await the arrival of a bail commissioner.
The booking room has several persons that afternoon, with some asking each other the classic question: "What are you in for?"
Tuttle returns to his cruiser and drives into the center of town, where he receives a call from the dispatcher about somebody drinking in public on High Street. He reaches High Street and, the person who phoned in the complaint waves the cruiser down, saying that the car with the drinkers has moved. While Tuttle has stopped, a car pulls up and a woman asks directions to Rte. 1.
Then the radio comes to life again, a report of a burglary in progress at Lafayette Road, with an officer on foot chasing the suspect.
"Unit 7 responding," Tuttle says. He switches on the blue lights and siren and makes a U-turn on High Street. The car picks up speed as he goes down one street and up another, and then he is on Lafayette Road, heading south towards the Hampton Falls line.
As he drives, he listens to the radio and to the progress of the chase. Officer Pete Smith is running after the man, whom he saw run from the scene.
"He's heading into the back yards of the houses," Smith says over the radio.
"He's wearing a red shirt. Jimmy, see if you can't cut him off."
Tuttle reaches the scene and pulls the cruiser over to the side of the road. He runs into the woods on the left side of the road, hoping to cut off the suspect. He listens to the portable radio he carries on his belt, to see if any other officers have spotted him. The radio is quiet.
During the next hour he walks slowly back and forth in the woods, pausing every few minutes to listen to the sound of somebody crashing through the brush. Other police units arrive, but nobody spots the suspect.
Smith walks out of the woods into a clearing, to talk to Tuttle. He carries a shotgun over his shoulder, and seems disappointed at losing, the suspect.
"I could see him right in front of me," he says. Smith tells Tuttle that he recognized the man as a recently released prisoner, who has a record of burglaries in the area.
State police cars arrive at the scene, next to a van full of stolen antiques the man was attempting to transport. A bloodhound is with the state police, and for another hour they try to track the man's scent through the woods to no avail. The suspect has managed to elude the police, though they are pretty sure they know who it is.
It's now dark, and Tuttle returns to his car to resume his patrol. Since he has spent several hours at the burglary scene, there is no time for a break, and no supper for Jim Tuttle.
All part of the job," he says.
During a busy weekend at Hampton, officers sometimes arrest more than a 100 people, mostly for alcohol-related offenses. And officers readily admit that if they had the time, money and manpower, they could easily arrest four times that amount.
Tuttle returns to Ocean Boulevard, where the sidewalks are crowded with vacationers and tourists. As one officer puts it: "Each summer, Hampton gets its own strip of New York City along the beach."
And the Hampton police do their best to keep that strip and the rest of town under control.