On Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of riding along with Waterloo Police Officer Jeremy Nicholls for two and a half hours. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I walked into the Police Station but luckily, Waterloo Mayor, Quentin Hart pointed me in the right direction. I met with the second watch commander, Lieutenant McClelland who then introduced me to Officer Nichols and we went on our way.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Officer Nicholls was a really laid back guy and very easy to talk to, in fact he told me to call him Jeremy. Jeremy was working the “downtown beat and he explained to me that Waterloo is divided into three sections (east, west, and downtown) for the officers and that they use phonetics to easily identify themselves on the radio. For example: the phonetic for the west side is William, east side is Edward, and downtown is Ocean (although Jeremy had no idea why they picked ocean for downtown). So when Officer Nicholls radioed in, he identified himself as “Ocean-1”. Officer Nicholls is one of the newer officers on the force, having been an officer for not even two years yet (1 year and 8 months) and he works the second shift, which is from 3pm to 11pm.
An interesting piece of information that I learned is that the warmer it is outside, the more calls they get. He said, in the summer, they can get up to 20 calls a person/day in the summer but in the winter, it might only be 5. When we started to drive around Waterloo, I asked Officer Nicholls if there was a plan or if he had to do something specifically and he said: “we’re pretty independent in terms of where we go and what we are doing unless we are working an active case or we get a call from dispatch”. He also said: “the main thing is to always be out and about, be a presence”. So that’s what we did, we were driving around our area until we either saw something or got a call from dispatch. Unfortunately, about 15 minutes into our ride, we had to go back to the station to change cars because one of the brake lights was out in the car we started in. Jeremy complained that he hated changing cars.
After we changed cars, we didn’t have to wait long before we got a call from dispatch. The call said that someone had hit a parked car, there was an unknown injury, and that there was a huge crowd of people around. By default, two officers (the closest two) respond to the scene. Because of the unknown injury, fire and rescue also responded to the scene. Unfortunately, whoever made the call didn’t give the correct address to dispatch so we ended up not where we were supposed to be. We finally got the right address and we sped off. Officer Nicholls explained that one of the most frustrating things for officers is trying to get around traffic. He ended up turning on the lights and after the call was done, I asked him why he decided to use the lights and he responded: “It’s always a situational thing. You have to think about if it’s worth the risk to potentially endanger lives when you turn on emergency lights”. We got to the scene to find the damaged cars and the crowd of people. Turns out, the guy driving the van, who didn’t speak any English, stopped in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. Someone behind him got very impatient and angry so the van driver peeled out as fast as he could. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have complete control and he hit a parked car. Once everything was figured out, the other officer handled the insurance information exchange and we left the scene.
Not too long after, we got called to another car accident. As we pulled up, it looked to be pretty bad. One of the cars had the front driver’s side headlight and bumper completely crushed. As it turns out, that was from another accident and the driver just hadn’t got it fixed yet. The current accident, he just bumped into the car in front of him but didn’t cause any damage. Officer Nicholls told me: “One of the first things we do in an accident is run everybody’s information to see if there are any outstanding warrants on them or anything like that”. After running the two drivers’ information it was revealed that neither driver had up to date insurance which is a $400 fine normally but doubles if you’re in an accident. Jeremy decided not to give either of them a ticket because no one was hurt in the accident and there wasn’t really any damage.
We kind of had a little bit of down time after that so Jeremy showed me all of the different programs on his computer. He said that the computer is an absolute necessity. It gives him the call in writing, tells you where the call is coming from, has an IM feature so the officers can communicate with each other if there is information that needs to be shared but they don’t want to use the radio in case someone else scans the signal and listens in. The computer also has a status monitor so everyone knows where everyone else is, a GPS program, and it runs plates and IDs. He also explained the main radio channels. Channel 1 is everyone else except Waterloo PD, so like the sheriff’s office and state troopers. Channel 2 is Waterloo PD. Channel 3 is information and Channel 4 is a private channel. During this little lull, Officer Nicholls and I talked a lot about Waterloo. I told him that my dad grew up in Waterloo and that my Grandpa was a Waterloo Police Officer and he told me that he grew up in a military family but spent most of his time in Waterloo after his father retired. He told me that: “the hardest thing during training was learning all the streets and how to get around town”. I laughed at that but believe it to be true. Waterloo is confusing if you haven’t spent a lot of time there. We also talked about the reputation of Waterloo and the misconceptions. A lot of people think that the East side is way worse than the West side but in truth, the sector that gets the most calls is W-10, on the west side. We drove through this sector and Jeremy said that it’s where the most gang activity happens. We drove by one house and he told me to look for the bullet holes in the walls and front door. I swear there must have been 50 or more. Then we turned the corner and were in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city, which seems crazy. Most of those homes were beautiful but for sale very cheap because people don’t want to live that close to the gang neighborhood. Unfortunately, Jeremy said that: “Waterloo gets a bad rep all together not just from people, but other police officers, they just think it’s a war zone”. He went on to say: “Most of what we do is the boring stuff. We go most of our shifts with nothing exciting to talk about and a bunch of reports to write but there are those nights were things get crazy”.
Our third and final call during our time together came when another officer spotted someone parking in a car without license plates. Officer Nicholls was the next closest officer so he responded as well. When we got there, the other officer was getting ready to search the car. This is legal because of the no plates and no insurance. Instead of towing the car, they were doing an “impound in place”. That gave them a reason to search the car. Also, the guy had narcotics priors. The car search revealed two baggies of marijuana and a pipe that the guy didn’t tell them about when they asked before doing the inventory search, so the officers arrested him. Officer Nicholls cuffed him and put him in the other officer’s car. Then, they had a conversation that led to the guy who was arrested making a deal to give up his dealer so the officers could bust someone higher up. They went back to the station and that ended my ride.
This was a very eye opening experience for me and I enjoyed my time. I asked Jeremy why he decided to become a cop and he said: “I was on the fence in terms of college because I wanted to study law but when I was 18, I took a ride along with someone in the gang unit and I got hooked. I loved the excitement and freedom”. In his short time as a Waterloo Police Officer, Officer Nicholls has worked on homicides, shootings, and stabbings but remains extremely passionate about what he does. He told me that he wished more people did ride alongs, especially our generation because: “most of the time when people do a ride a long, they see what it’s really like and it changes their opinions”. I agree and I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of Waterloo’s finest.