A Night In The Life Of A Harrisburg Police Officer (Part II)

This is Part IIof a three-part blog post about my ride along with the Harrisburg Police Department on the night of October 30, 2008. Part I is an overview of the program, my goals for participating and is the timeline up until roll call.

Part II will feature the events of the night. I scribbled fastidiously in my best shorthand each call we were dispatched to and page after page of questions I had for the officer I was riding with. His answers were brutally honest, eye-opening and sometimes shocking- but he was absolutely forthcoming and eager to talk with a member of the proverbial fourth estate about the work the HPD does on a daily and nightly basis.

And the final part will be my conclusion. The events and content of the eight hour program couldn’t possibly be summed up in one quick post (and I know how short all of our attention spans are).

11:15 PM- Wild In The Streets

We hit the beat shortly after eleven. My curious little mind chock full of questions for my partner for the night. For sake of this story, we’re going to call him X.

Adjusting myself in the front seat of the brand new Chevy Tahoe and fastening my seatbelt, we proceeded out of the parking lot, around the block on Front Street and up Market towards Second.

Making the left on Second, I immediately felt as if we were on display. Everyone notices a police car. Especially at just past eleven on a Thursday night on Second Street.

“Okay, here’s how it’s gonna work” X began “I’m gonna give you this flashlight [a big two foot Mag Light] and when we get to a call, you get out of the truck with me and hang onto the light. They’ll probably think you’re a P.O. [parole officer] so they shouldn’t really fuck with you too much. But if they do, just be cool. If they ask you any questions, just tell them to ask me.”

“Alright, so…you want me to get out and just sort of act like I belong?”

“Yup. You’re safer on the street with me than you would be in the truck alone”

We hit the light at Second and Locust and I noticed even more the cold glares we recieved from some passers by. Patrons at the Second Street Saloon who were at the outside tables made a double-take and even the homeless dude who’s perch is in front of the Commerce Bank started walking in the opposite direction.

“So how’re the new cars?”

“They’re great, man. But really, at the end of the day, it’s just a car. Y’know? At first it was really cool, but now…they’re just cars. The odd part is that before [the new squad cars] we had more guys than running cars. Now, we’ve got more cars than guys.”

“So, would you say the novelty has worn off?”

“Yeah, more or less.”

The Tahoe cruised down Second and we made a small route up Verbeke to Third and around the bar circuit. From inside a police vehicle, I began to take notice of more of my surroundings than normal. I didn’t pay much attention to the road, rather, I found myself peering into the dark alleys and watching the nuance of people milling about on the streets.

“What would you say is the biggest problem in Harrisburg with regard to the crime?”

“Drugs. Hands down, drugs.”

X went on to explain that the majority of crime in Harrisburg- muggings, robberies, break-ins- are pretty much all drug-related. Crack and Heroin are the biggest culprits. And crack is readily available and quite affordable on the streets of Harrisburg.

“Would you say it’s mostly city residents or out-of-towners looking for drugs?”

“I’d say it’s probably 50/50″ replied X.

Which was rather surprising to me. I would have thought that it would have been far more out-of-towners coming in looking for a fix. But I guess that I wasn’t that surprised to learn that we have such a large crack-smoking population in this fine City.

11:42 PM- Sequestered On Fourth Street

X was the patrol supervisor for the night. Therefore, we weren’t locked to one specific area of the city. Instead, we were like the support band of the big show. We visited and offered support for almost every call that came in.

We were dispatched to a house on Fourth street. The display on the Metro system told us that a woman thought that her landlord drugged her drink and that she felt strange.

We arrived at the home at the same time as the EMS and entered the premises. There was an elderly black woman sitting on her couch, coffee cup on the table in front of her. X strolled in confidently, but I couldn’t help constantly looking over my shoulder and being hyper-aware of the neighbors footsteps upstairs.

I watched and listened as the woman told X how her television wasn’t talking to her anymore and that she thought her landlord came into her apartment when she was out and drugged her bottle of soda.

After determining that her strange feeling was merely a result of the coffee she was drinking, we left.

Surely the night had to get more exciting than this.

Midnight- The Most Dangerous Time For An Officer Is Between 10PM and 1AM.

“Is there an area that’s worse than others for crime in the city, X? Or is it pretty much all over?”

“Dude, it’s everywhere. Walking down the streets here, you’re just not safe. You really have to look over your shoulder and not make yourself a target. And walking home from the bar- you’d think that you’re doing the right thing by not driving, but these guys [criminals] are sort of like opportunists. They see a drunk guy or girl walking all alone down Penn Street and that’s it.”

Shocked. Simply shocked I was that X would be so blunt- but not surprised at his answer. And as I thought about it, I realized he’s right. Sure, it’s great that we’ve got the bars on Second. But what about after the bars? You are a target if you’re walking alone. You can get mugged or robbed in an instant.

X told me about a woman who got held up the weekend prior. She was walking home with a pizza when she was accosted and told the robber “You can have my purse, but I’m keepin’ the pizza!”

So, now we’ve got a sense of humor established.

1:16AM- Traffic Stop

“Floating” is a term used to describe when a crackhead “loans” his car to a crack dealer in exchange for, um, crack.

Sounds like a fair trade, I guess. You get some crack, your dealer gets your car.

The vehicle which was stopped on Seventh street was a known drug user/car floater. Many times, these type of things are a big distraction for police departments because the car isn’t officially stolen although the crackhead will often report it as if it were.

And if the car turns up in East Pennsboro (or any surrounding boro) it wastes the time of the officer in the neighboring community because of the time and resources behind recovery of a stolen vehicle…which isn’t really stolen.

After a quick talking to, the Floater is sent on his way and we talk for a few minutes with the responding officer.

“I’ve pulled guys over before and they’re holding their crackpipe out of the window when I walk up.” X recalled.

I start to realize there’s a recurring theme to this night.

2:17AM- Domestic Disturbance Call

Domestic violence calls, I learned last Thursday, always result in someone taking a ride to the clink. But they’re difficult for the officer if there isn’t any noticeable injury on either party.

The woman who claimed to be “the assaulted” was across the street talking with an officer and two officers were in front of the couple’s home talking with the man. He said she’s an old crackhead and that he never hit a woman. She said he’s a heavy drinker and is running around with different women.

He said, she said.

“Most times, you need to get the people separated so they can both cool off. Give em a few hours to calm down, ’cause if we were to leave these two alone right now and then something happens, we’re in a heapload of shit.”

Even though there wasn’t any noticeable injury to either party, the man did have an outstanding traffic warrant and was taken away in cuffs.

Problem solved.

2:55AM- Domestic Disturbance Call

Another one. Similar story. Man came home drunk. Woman was tired of it. He hit her and left. She didn’t want to press charges, she just wanted him to leave.

Four hours into our shift, I’m beginning to feel like a well-armed, roving baby sitter wearing a bullet-proof vest.

“So how long are you gonna be out tonight? You in for the long haul?”

“Sure am, X. Start to finish.”

“Cool, so- we’re doing a raid on a house up in Penbrook at 6AM. You wanna come?”

Do I!?!

A RAID!? Like, swat-team, guns ablazin, yelling and helmets and riot gear raid! I was stoked! Finally some excitement in this night.

But not before visiting a few more crackheads…

Come back for the conclusion of my night with the Harrisburg Police on Thursday…

Or click HERE for the conclusion.


  1. [...] Part II will feature the events of the night. I scribbled fastidiously in my best shorthand each call we were dispatched to and page after page of questions I had for the officer I was riding with. His answers were brutally honest, eye-opening and sometimes shocking- but he was absolutely forthcoming and eager to talk with a member of the proverbial fourth estate about the work the HPD does on a daily and nightly basis. [...]

  2. Wow! We’re not even at the raid and this is already some pretty intense stuff. Just going into people’s homes as an authority what one person wants there and the other doesn’t must have been daunting at times.

  3. ProudDem4Eva says:

    Oh look…a plane! I am eagerly awaiting Part 3 before I get distracted by the squirrels running amuck in my backyard. Please feel free to include any gory details, although I don’t think Harrisburg is that exciting unless the mayor’s legal dramas are involved.

  4. 31flavors says:

    Sequestered. Hehe, cute.

  5. Jonathan says:

    It’s a cliffhanger! Can’t wait till you post part 3 with raid! Let me get my popcorn ready.

  6. Jason Smith says:

    Good stuff, Mike. Time for a Ch20 show called “Ridealong: Harrisburg.” Very educational. Roxbury, where are you?!?

  7. Mark says:

    Why are Harrisburg Cops going into Pennbrook?? Seems like their police should handle their own jobs and ours should be in Harrisburg.

  8. jerseym says:

    @Mark- Obviously, I really don’t know the how’s and why’s of the HPD executing a warrant with Pennbrook-

    And there are some details that are merely peripheral to the story-(exact locations, names, etc) but I’m pretty sure that whatever incident sparked the warrant to be issued *occurred* in Harrisburg but the person *lived* in Pennbrook. And HPD were backup to Pennbrook.

    And trust me, dude. There wasn’t a hell of a lot happening at 6AM that the boys in HPD missed.

  9. Mark says:

    As a resident of the “most dangerous, busiest and bloodiest” neighborhood I can tell you that things were not quite at 6am after trick or treat. They never are. The prostitutes are still out. Dealers are heading home but still out and this is when the backlog and long call times start right before a shift change. But past that perhaps the police departments most important jobs is to have a high visual presence, reducing the opportunity of crime.

    The reality is that it is a larger issue than that. Surrounding areas will not allow Harrisburg to annex them and unlike other States there is virtually no way around this. In fact the legislature is under court order to rewrite the annexation laws so that they are more fair and constitutional… the problem is that that order was issued in 1968. The result of our unfair annexation laws is 3rd class cities that are bankrupt. Virtually the whole tax base in our region is outside the City.

    My semi tongue in cheek response is for Harrisburg to withhold services from areas that don’t want to be annexed. After a few houses burn down and people have to live without water from a month City services would look a whole lot better. As it is, under equipped police forces and volunteer fire departments are supplemented by Harrisburg professionals.

    White flight combined with no possibility of annexation and an antiquated school funding mechanism has created a separate but “equal” system that just does not exist in other States. It means less funding for City schools, Police departments, Fire Departments, Roads, Sewer, Water and virtually anything else the City spends money on.

  10. Wayne says:

    Great post! looking forward to Part 3…