Arment: Not a job to be underestimated

I was recently afforded the opportunity to go on a ride along with state trooper Jeremy Schaffer.

Getting into a Iowa State Patrol car and going out with a trooper for shift might have been awkward, except that I’ve served with Schaffer in the Marine Corps, so there was no need for introductions. After a brief familiarization to the gear in the vehicle, we were on our way.

Trying to get my bearings on where exactly Schaffer’s area of operation was, I asked him to clue me in. His answer reminded me of my love of no-nonsense professionalism.

“District Nine, which includes the counties of Franklin, Hardin, Butler, Grundy, Bremer and Black Hawk,” if you look at a map he listed them as they appear stacked from left to right “it includes the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Metro area, portions of Interstate 35, Highway 20, Interstate 380 and Highway 218,” he said.

District Nine is a large area, to say the least.

Schaffer isn’t just cruising to keep speeds down and bust drunk drivers, the State Patrol responds to all kinds of things: natural disasters, delivering organs and blood, even helping vehicles stranded vehicles. The State Patrol is more or less the premier in Iowa law enforcement, so don’t think of them as meter maids or speeding ticket jockeys.

My next question was one that may seem like clever thinking to civilians, but is just standard operating procedure to military types. I asked him who else was out in the area operating with us.

I assumed there would be someone else; some other trooper on duty in District Nine because it was so large. It’s pretty established doctrine in the military that things are employed in pairs, be it machine guns or soldiers. Two things can support each other. They can watch each other, and if one goes down the other can get on the radio and call in help. But I forgot to take into account how tight Iowa’s budget is.

“On today’s shift I’m the only trooper working the night shift in District Nine,” Schaffer said. “If there are any situations where they asked for a trooper, I would have what could be up to a 100-mile response time.”

I was extremely taken aback by this, and still a little shocked. With no other troopers about to help, it could be pretty easy to get into hot water very quickly. Pull over the wrong people, take a round to the shoulder, and suddenly you really need someone else to come get you and quick.

I thought maybe I was missing something. They couldn’t be stretched that thin, there had to be local law enforcement to help out, right? So I asked him to break it down for me.

“As a State Trooper we operate by ourselves, we don’t operate in two-man cars. We usually don’t operate in the same area as another trooper because of the low man-power. What it boils down to is response time, if I were to be involved in a situation where maybe I was in a fight, shooting, pursuit or some other serious situation, and I needed somebody to back me up, the response time for another trooper to get there could be 30, 40 minutes or even longer,” Schaffer said.

“At that point I’m relying on local agencies, county deputies or maybe local city police officers to respond. In certain times there may not be anybody on duty. Not every county staffs a 24-hour deputy,” he said, “so there’s nobody else out besides me and a handful of local city police officers. They may not be able to respond to help.”

That’s an unfortunate thing, when the budget dictates one of the most basic forms of public safety.

Your car dies, you get robbed, your tire pops or whatever the case may be: you call 911. If it’s late at night on a country road, highway or interstate, chances are State Patrol will be tasked out to come and assist you. Chances are also high the responding officers estimated time of arrival to your position will be somewhat lengthy. The budget is also affecting their equipment, as the State Patrol currently has no Tasers, so with no easy way out they must rely on muscle and mace to subdue people.

I understand money is sparse around the state, and everyone is tightening their belts. But I become concerned when it starts to affect the safety of myself and others; and especially worried when it starts to put the lives of officers in situations that leave them hanging.