In Paducah I arrange to ride with the Police Department. I’m paired with Officer Kelly Drew but we had a fair amount of contact with the other officers on that shift as well. Kelly amazed me with his background (broken home, alcoholic abusive father, but saved by his grandfather who guided him through his adolescence) and his approach to his work and people. This was shortly after Ferguson and several other police shootings, but I watched Kelly defuse and calm potentially violent situations. “I want you to just go inside and don’t come out until tomorrow morning” he said to one very loud and drunken man at the Motel 6 who seemed to be doing everything he possibly could to get himself arrested. Being with Kelly was re-affirming though he said he’d never want his son to become a police officer.
Later on during my second trip to Paducah, I get a call from Jody Cash who tells me, in his soft, almost feminine voice (during my shift with him a phone caller kept referring to him as “Ma’m”) that he’s a State Police Officer and is willing to let me do a “ride-along” with him. We set this up, and I meet him at 8 am that Friday at the State Police Post outside Mayfield. During his shift he’s the only officer covering 3 counties – McCracken, Ballard, and Carlisle. Jody has always had a religious calling and began preaching when he was 16. At some point though, he realized that being a preacher wasn’t the right path for him and he began a career in law enforcement. He sees his religious calling as being better fulfilled as a police officer – this might seem like a contradiction in terms but as I spent the day – an uneventful one – with him, I could see he meant it in the way he treated the people he encountered. He had an air of calm about him, smiled a lot, laughed a lot, showed intuitive people skills and was a good judge of character. It’s obvious he loves what he does and is comfortable with who he is. He told me most cops really don’t like having passengers, but he likes the company. At one point he asked me if I was cold, explaining the he wears a bullet proof vest at all times and it’s hot, so he cranks up the AC in his car. As one of his fellow officers said to him once “I’d rather sweat than bleed.” His car (a Dodge Charger) is really his office, with weapons, phone, computer, printer (traffic tickets on the spot), “desk” light, etc. He showed considerable skill at typing in license numbers while driving at high speed. He tells me in some detail about the one time he had to kill someone. Any time a state officer kills someone they are required to take at least 2 weeks off – Jody took 3. He recounts how another officer killed someone and could never returned to the force. He calls himself a “shit magnet” because he feels like when something happens, he’s always close by. He doesn’t pull people over for speeding unless the are going at least 10 mph over the limit on smaller roads, and 15 over on highways –- very generous I told him. He tells me how he questions people to see if they are lying. He recounts the following exchange with a suspected drug dealer: “Do you live here?” “No.” “Did you spend last night here?” “Yes.” “Was last night the only night you’ve spent here?” “Yes sir, last night was the only night I’ve ever spent here.” Then he bursts out laughing and says “if only you knew how long I’ve been watching you.” Jody is an amazing man, and like Kelly, belies the myth of corrupt and abusive cops.