'No such thing as an average night'

A deputy never knows what a shift has in store.

A deputy never knows what a shift has in store.

February 11, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

A Thursday evening with snow in the forecast has any number of possibilities when you're a patrol officer with the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Regardless of the outlook, 13-year veteran Deputy 1st Class Tracey Peyton works his shift with a few staples.

There's the cup of fresh coffee steaming on his car's console amid the controls, radar and radios that blip through the night with police chatter.

"I like Sheetz's" coffee, he said, although he prefers it straight. "Cream and sugar, it's poison to coffee," he said.

Peyton, 40, turns down a sandwich. "I don't eat on the shift. Never have. ... I'm chewing gum."

Peyton's other necessities: A 4.6-liter engine Ford Crown Victoria - car No. 133; a police baton; pepper spray; a pair of handcuffs; a pen and a notepad; and his .40-caliber Beretta. Although, he said, "in 13 years I never have" had to use the gun, "and hope that I never have to."


At about 6:30 p.m. last Thursday, Peyton picked up a reporter and a photographer and headed out into the night.

Peyton cruised along Washington County's back roads watching his on-board radar for speeders.

The little box is on the right side of his dashboard: one LED number on the radar showed his speed - 40 - and the other number showed an oncoming vehicle's speed.

A number flashed: 62.

Peyton turned around and stomped on the accelerator to speed up to the truck. The driver eased over and stopped.

"I got a '10-38,'" Peyton called into the radio, indicating to the dispatcher he had stopped a vehicle.

The driver was on the road again in a few minutes.

"Car speedometers aren't accurate," Peyton said. There's no telling how fast the old truck's speedometer had indicated the car was going, so with everything else checking out, Peyton gave the driver a warning.

There's no such thing as an average night, Peyton said. He could be on the road all night, or he could be tied up for five hours filing paperwork for an arrest.

Admittedly it was a slow night, but "you never know when or if," he said. Weekends are typically more active, but "there have been Tuesday nights that have been hopping."

When there's no one else in the car, his FM radio keeps him company: bluegrass and classical make his list but "I like heavy metal, too," he said.

Later in the night the University of Maryland game buzzed in the background.

After another traffic stop, the radio crackled. A dispatcher said a man wanted to file a missing person's report.

Peyton rolled his car over to the man's house. His 16-year-old son had run away to either Ocean City, Md., or Waynesboro, Pa.

The officer and the father conversed in the kitchen. It turned out several deputies had been to the house before: The man had a stack of police reports cataloging his son's previous run-ins with the law.

A cat crawled on the table over Peyton's paperwork, occasionally nuzzling him in the face.

"I don't mind that," Peyton said back in his cruiser when asked about the feline affection. "It's the people that get me."

The man whose son was missing was helpful, and that is welcome. Many times he'll go to a call and people will be rude or uninterested, Peyton said. "They'll be watching TV."

Back at the Sheriff's Department on Western Maryland Parkway, Peyton spent the next hour and a half typing and contacting people about the missing boy.

First he filed a report with the National Crime Information Center. Any missing person is reported to that U.S. Justice Department office. Next he contacted local departments to put out a lookout for the boy. If the boy didn't turn up in the next three days, a press release would go out to media outlets.

After punching in a computer report for the Sheriff's Department, Peyton called up a Pennsylvania police department.

He explained the case. The officer on the other end of the line knew the boy, too.

"I'm glad you know who I'm talking about," Peyton said. The person on the other line replied. Peyton finished up: "So if you run across him (let us know) ... Well, he's in (the missing person's database) again. ... Appreciate it."

By 11:30 p.m., it had been snowing for close to two hours and the roads were slick. Two vehicles collided north of town along U.S. 11, and Peyton and another officer responded.

No one was injured, but a minivan had been dinged. The drivers of both vehicles and their passengers were standing in the falling snow. The two drivers were exchanging insurance information.

If the nights aren't predictable, Peyton said, there's probably one constant about his job: "I see people at their worst moments. ... Most of my contact with people is when something bad has happened."

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