Columbia Heights, Minnesota
By Francisco Rivera, iLander Staff Reporter
Last weekend I spent some time in a police car. No, I didn’t get into any trouble. I was actually involved in something quite fascinating: I got to see what Heights police officers see when they’re driving around town.
It’s a privilege we’re all given, but many of us are not aware of it. All citizens of Columbia Heights can, if they’d like, observe the police department as they go about a typical day in their dangerous line of work.
Bill Monberg was my host officer for the evening. At 24, he has been with the Columbia Heights Police Departments (CHPD) since he was 21.
Fires, thefts and stolen cars
We drove around a little, and then the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system informed us about an older man who had called the station complaining that someone had stolen some of his belongings. When we arrived at his home, he told us everything he had to say and Officer Monberg took down all of the information given.
“We usually pass this kind of thing along to our investigators at the station,” Monberg said. We continued patrolling the town. It wasn’t long before the system gave us another assignment.
The CAD system informed us about a possible fire that needed attention. We cut things short, flicked on all of the lights and zoomed across town. Honestly, my heart really started pumping at this point. Going 60-70 mph in a residential area feels a lot different than going 60 or 70 mph on a freeway.
“This is definitely one of the more exciting parts of the job, but it also requires the most attention,” Monberg said. “It’s incredible how some people won’t get out of the way or check to see where the sirens are coming from. Every intersection becomes extremely dangerous.”
When we arrived to the apartment building, the smell of burning food was in the air. Officer Monberg was given the keys to the room that seemed to be the source of the smoke. The fire department arrived and took care of things while Monberg and I answered questions from other tenants in the building.
“We answer fire calls because usually we can get there first. We’ve got cars out on the road already,” Monberg said. “We handle some of the more mundane things that need attention and then they take over.”
As things were wrapping up at the apartment building, we got back into the squad car and went back to the streets. We only drove a few blocks before the system gave us another assignment. This one was much more serious.
A vehicle marked stolen was found in the parking lot of a local business and one of the men inside the car was tased for walking away from an officer who had been repeatedly shouting for the man to stop. Officer Monberg turned on the lights and we sped off to the scene as quickly as we could.
We spent quite some time at this location as the officers discussed what happened and how to handle the situation. I maintained my distance and observed. Things quieted down, and Officer Monberg and I were given the all-clear to move on.
“Force is something that we all try to avoid using,” Monberg said, “but sometimes when people aren’t cooperating you’ve got to (use it).”
What it’s like on the job
As the officer and I continued patrolling, I got a chance to ask him a few questions about how he feels about his line of work.
"It’s a tough but exciting job,” Monberg said. “Sometimes, it feels like everyone hates you. They make you feel like you’re picking on them and you start to feel like the bad guy, but that’s when I have to remind myself that the people I interact with are not the kind of people who are excited to see me.”
The officer said that sometimes people simply take “firmness” the wrong way and feel disrespected, but made it clear to me that the officers at CHPD try their best to treat everyone with respect.
“Even on slow nights, this sure beats sitting at a desk from 9 to 5,” Monberg said. “I could never see myself doing that.”
I asked the officer if he would describe our night as a typical night -- a strange question considering we only rode for about three-and-a-half hours, and he still had well over half his shift to go.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘typical night’ on this job,” Monberg said. “Things happen quickly and without warning. You never know what you’re going to get.”
As mentioned earlier, Monberg has been a police officer since he was 21.
“I think I was too young, to be honest,” Monberg said. “I wouldn’t recommend others start that young. You could use more life experience.”
He decided to become a police officer after a few “I’ve got to be a cop” moments in his life, he said.
“When I was 16, I had just gotten my license and was driving my mom’s mini-van around town with some friends when suddenly a woman on a moped slammed into the side of the car,” Monberg said. “I was terrified. I had no idea if she was OK and I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless.
“I can’t really explain how relieved I was when I saw the police arrive. That’s when I realized that I wanted people to be able to see me and feel safe and protected. I wanted to give others the feeling of security I felt that day.”
It will open your eyes
As the evening wore on, we wrapped things up. I thanked Officer Monberg for putting up with me for the night and we shook hands before parting ways.
The ride-along was eye-opening. I would recommend anyone who has an interest, or even a curiosity, about what it’s like to be an officer to try it out. The officers were all very nice and were more than happy to show an average citizen what they do.
I had a lot of fun getting to know the officer on a more personal level. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the men and women at the CHPD are real people – real people who risk their lives every day for citizens like us. And for that I thank them.
(Photo: A police car like the one Francisco Rivera rode in while shadowing a police officer. Photo by Francisco Rivera.)
How to do your own ride-along
Signing up was easy enough. I stopped by the new public safety building during office hours and filled out some forms. A few weeks later, I received a call from the police department and we picked a time and day.
When I first got to the station, I met with the officers who worked the “C” shift as they started roll call. Officers at CHPD work one of three 12-hour shifts: A, B, or C.
The A-shift, or the “morning” shift, works from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The B-shift goes from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Lastly, the C-shift works from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The officers typically work for two days, and then have two days off.
For more information, visit the CHPD website or call (763) 706-8100.