Chasing bad guys, responding to bank robberies and apprehending criminals – it’s what you see on television, but the job of a police officer is actually quite different.
Huntsville Police Department (HPD) West Precinct Officer Michael Tucker explained a typical shift involves helping community members on their worst days.
“The morning shift is usually quieter,” said Tucker, who has been on the force for more than a decade. “Working second shift for most of my career, this shift has definitely been a bit different. I now am sent to traffic accidents during morning rush hour or calls from citizens who woke up to a property crime or theft that happened overnight.”
Moving to morning shift made sense for Tucker. He now has nights and weekends off, giving him time to attend his kids’ sporting events and after-school activities.
Hitting the streets
Tucker starts each workday at roll call, where he receives instructions from his sergeant or lieutenant on his assigned zone. He hits the streets just after 6:30 a.m. and heads toward Research Park and University Drive to patrol the area and wait for a call to come out.
On a recent morning, a radio dispatcher sent Tucker to the site of a broken-down vehicle, which was less than a half mile down the road. Putting his patrol vehicle car in gear, Tucker headed out to assist the citizen.
When Tucker arrived, the citizen explained she had a flat tire and had called for a tow truck to help her change it.
“It can take at least an hour or longer for a tow truck to respond to one of these calls,” he said. “We will sit with the citizen with our lights on to make sure they don’t get hit. Once the tow truck arrives, we will make sure vehicles are slowing down and moving over to keep the driver safe.”
Protect and serve
While waiting for the tow truck, Tucker explained he grew up just down the road in Athens. The Elkmont High School graduate joined the National Guard prior to becoming an officer at HPD. Now a senior officer on his squad, Tucker is regarded by his peers, who seek his input about the calls they’re working.
Tucker previously worked on the department’s second shift, which starts about 2:30 p.m. and finishes up at 11 p.m.
“The calls you receive during the different shift hours vary greatly,” he said. “Just as people in different areas of town have different needs so do the types of calls that come out during the different hours.”
After spending nearly an hour with the citizen waiting for a tow truck, Tucker hit the streets again.
While approaching Jeff Road, he noticed a brick in the middle of the turn lane, something that could easily damage someone’s car. Stopping and quickly activating his lights, Tucker moved the brick out of the road and continued on with his shift.
‘Beat cop’ benefits
HPD offers many specialized units, but Tucker believes spending time on the streets as a “beat cop” is invaluable experience in the law enforcement world.
The next call that came out over the radio was a vehicle fire just a few short miles away. Plumes of smoke could be seen from Research Park Boulevard. Upon arriving, firefighters explained the fire was completely out.
Under a shade tree on a hot summer day, the truck’s distraught owner explained to Tucker that he had just purchased the truck, now lost to fire.
Tucker kept other vehicles out of the area, while a tow truck was called and firefighters worked to get their equipment off the roadway. Tucker helped console the driver, as he waited for a ride and made sure cars stayed out of the area until the debris was cleared.
“It wasn’t an easy day for that citizen, but my job was to do everything I could to help assist him,” he said. “Sometimes, there isn’t much you can do to help someone, but I try to be as understanding as possible.”
A Call to Be the Best
If you have a heart for public service, the Huntsville Police Department could be the perfect fit for you. Tucker recommends anyone who is interested in joining the force to sign up for a ride-along with an officer to truly understand what the job entails.
“Our community stands behind us and you can feel it when you’re on calls,” he said. “Even on someone’s worst days, we still hear thank you and are reminded by citizens of their support.”
If you receive a job offer, Tucker says soak everything you learn in the academy in because once you hit the streets, you will have a duty to serve and protect the community.
While being a police officer is a rewarding career, Tucker explained it can also be tough.
“Sit down and talk with your husband, wife, girlfriend, parents or kids,” he added. ”If you decide to become an officer, you’ll need a solid support system. It’s not always an easy job, but it sure is rewarding.”