(Editor’s note: Some of the details below have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.)
A light snow began to fall as a steady stream of headlights inched its way up to the traffic light at Routes 10 and 322 in Honey Brook Borough. It was five o’clock and if there is rush hour traffic in Honey Brook, this is about as bad as it gets.
Police Chief Pat Ely is at his desk, phone pressed against his ear. “OK. Yes. Thank you. I’ll keep my eye on it. Yes. Thanks.” He sets down the phone and pauses to listen as the radio alerts him to an accident in a nearby township. The phone rings again.
“Hello. This is Chief Ely. How can I help you?”
For an area with a population of only around 1,700 people, there’s plenty for the police department to do.
Ely came to Honey Brook in 2008 after working as a patrolman in Parkesburg. He has training as a sniper, and has worked as a member of a SWAT team. On the other hand, he has also had experience with the more gentle aspects of up-close policing, teaching bicycle patrolling across the state. He has also worked as a white tail deer, turkey and predator hunting guide in Missouri.
“A lot of places, they rate their police on how many arrests they make,” says Ely. “I think the best way to judge the effectiveness of a police department is how few arrests they make. That means the police are doing their job.”
A woman had called earlier and asked the chief to look for her daughter, who had left the house after a fight. So now it is time to head out onto the road.
Ely eases his black Dodge Charger out onto Route 10 and east onto 322. Though there are some similarities between Honey Brook Borough and the mythical town of Mayberry RFD, Ely’s patrol car leaves Sheriff Andy’s in the dust. Packed with electronic gear, it looks more like the cockpit of the space shuttle than a black and white 1960s Ford Galaxy. Gone are the flashing domes and bars, replaced with high intensity lights mounted so low on the car that you don’t know it’s the police behind you until those lights flood your rear view mirror.
The chief slows in front of the Turkey Hill where the girl who left her home often spends time with her friends. There is no sign of the girl.
“I’m looking. I’m constantly looking,” said Ely. “Police have to be multi-taskers. We look as cars go by. A headlight out, an expired inspection sticker.”
Just ahead, a white Toyota Celica makes a right hand turn, failing to use a turn signal. Ely closes the gap and now the Toyota turns right again, this time apparently aware of the patrol car and using the turn signal. When the car turns right yet again, Ely punches the keyboard of his computer and then snaps on the flashing lights. The Toyota comes to a halt.
Ely approaches the car on the passenger side.
Ely sweeps the inside of the car with his flashlight then moves to the driver’s side. The driver dutifully hands him their driver license, registration and insurance card but then suddenly reaches over toward the back seat. Ely’s hand is instantly on his gun. The woman straightens and the hand drops away from the weapon.
“As soon as she rolled down the window, I could smell it,” said the veteran police officer. Within minutes, the suspect is out of the car, hands behind her back, getting read her rights. She cheerfully walks, smiling and stumbling slightly, to the back of the patrol car.
Standing in the flashing light, Ely removes two containers from the car. They turn out to be a small metal tube containing roaches or smoked marijuana cigarettes and a Tupperware container with a baggie of marijuana.
“I should of stayed home,” moans the woman.
“Not to be smart,” says Ely, “You shouldn’t smoke pot.”
Now handcuffed and seated in the back of the patrol car, the situation hits her and she begins to wail.
“You know why we (approach a car on the passenger side)?” he asks me. “It’s because most people are right handed and if they have a gun, they’re probably going to have it close to their right hand side. But you can’t get a good look at their right hand side when you come up to the car on the driver’s side. We can also get a good look at the passenger compartment.”
“Am I going to spend the night in jail and all that?” cries the suspect.
“Probably not,” says Ely, now aware that the woman is becoming hysterical.
“I need to call someone.”
“When we get back to the station,” he says gently. “Now calm down. Take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose. Take a deep breath.”
The woman becomes calmer.
As Ely calls for a female officer to perform a pat down on the woman, the suspect cries over and over.
“This CAN NOT be happening. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
It took only eight minutes from the time Chief Ely first left the station until he had his first arrest. Fortunately, the rest of the night was uneventful.
Back at the station, I ask Ely if drugs are a big problem in Honey Brook.
“No more than anywhere else,” he says. “I’ve got nothing bad to say about Honey Brook. I really like it here. In fact, I’m considering moving here.”
As I was leaving the police station, I stopped to talk to another law enforcement officer who was parked in the driveway.
“He’s a good one,” he said, nodding toward Ely as he got in his car for the ride home. “I think he’s one of the best chiefs in the county.”
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