More talk than tickets as Breeze rides along with Sgt. Georgitsis
More talk than tickets as Breeze rides along with Sgt. Georgitsis
PAWTUCKET - When I was a young boy growing up in Mansfield, Mass., I somehow came about believing that it was illegal to look a police officer "in the eyeballs."
As I'd bounce my tennis ball along the sidewalk on Pratt Street, thinking I might somehow become Larry Bird if I did it long enough, I'd catch a glimpse of a cruiser coming my way and quickly duck my head to avoid eye contact.
Today, I'm proud to say, I can look officers right in the eye, and have even gotten to know some as friends. Though I've overcome my childlike fears, I still have this strange fascination with what police do, the dangers they face, and the underworld of crime they deal with every day.
Ride along with me as I travel with one of Pawtucket's finest officers along city streets.
8:31 p.m. - I walk in the door of the Pawtucket Police Department and meet the supervisor on duty for second shift, Sgt. Teddy Georgitsis (He doesn't bother to sound out the name and just spells it for me).
First I have to sign a waiver. I don't read the fine print but I'm sure it says something about barring my wife from suing the department should anything happen to me.
8:35 - Georgitsis takes me on a tour, introducing me to veteran dispatchers Traceylee Colvin and Robert Langlois. Colvin or Langlois had just answered call number 47,313 for the department since Jan. 1, according to the number on their computer screens.
"So is it true that bad weather and good TV shows make for a calmer night?" I ask, thinking about the rain and unseasonably low temperature of 59 degrees outside.
"The weather has a lot to do with it," says Colvin, smiling.
A call comes in as we talk and Langlois answers it.
"What's going on at Pawtucket House of Pizza?" I ask, seeing the name of the popular pizza place pop up on the screen.
"We got the prisoners food and we have to send a car to pick it up," says Langlois.
We chat for a few more minutes and Georgitsis and I walk back out to the lobby. We find Sgt. Dave Holden, who is on desk duty for the evening. Holden is using a video monitor to keep an eye on those two prisoners arrested earlier for assault and obstruction. A special delivery from Pawtucket House of Pizza would certainly help with the boredom, I think.
8:44 p.m. - Georgitsis and I head out to his waiting police SUV, taking off toward Main Street. "Just do your thing and pretend I'm not here," I tell him.
Georgitsis tells me he follows me on Twitter (@TheStoryShorey). "Oh yea? What's your handle?" I ask. He refuses to tell me, but notes that the social media site is helpful to his work.
"I can see if the east side kids are going to do something on the west side," he says. "Like you, I want to know what's going on in the city."
The thing to remember about Pawtucket is just how unpredictable it is, says Georgitsis. He doesn't buy into the whole bad weather theory, preferring to have the mindset that something could happen at any time. There is "a little strategy" to how police patrol the city, he says, "but a lot of what we do is reactionary."
Georgitsis, who was just promoted to sergeant in April, is big on getting to know the people, asking lots of questions of just about everyone he sees.
"They call it community policing, but I think it's just being a good cop," he tells me.
There are seven police districts in the city, says Georgitsis, and 12 officers on the road for second shift. All are encouraged to change up their routes regularly, rarely being in the same place at the same time two nights in a row.
8:52 p.m. - As we swing around for a quick look behind Jay-L Mingos Sports Bar and Grille, I ask the burning question: "Have you ever been on a prostitution sting?"
Georgitsis smiles, saying he did go on one but was assigned to drive the arrest wagon. The best approach with the city's prostitution issue is for officers to "be proactive" and "keep their thumb" on the issue, he says. As with anyone else, it's important to stop to chat with prostitutes, remind them that they're being watched and that they don't want to be arrested.
Georgitsis spots a man peering in the side door at the Lynch Arena. He's just watching the hockey game, the man tells Georgitsis, and no, he doesn't want to go inside.
8:57 p.m. - We head past the Hope Artiste Village on Main Street. Police District 5 is one of the "best and worst" districts, says Georgitsis. Being poor doesn't equal being a criminal, he tells me, and there are plenty of great people who live and work here.
9 p.m. - We pull up next to Ama's Variety & Mini Mart. Owner Ama Amponsah is a hugger, welcoming both of us with outstretched arms and her trademark giant smile.
"What's the state of our city? Quiet?" asks Amponsah. "For now," Georgitsis responds.
Ama and Isaac Amponsah are involved with just about every local cause you can imagine. Like many others in this city, they have a stake in what happens on its streets every day, says Georgitsis. He asks Ama about a certain type of bread she sells "every so often." It makes "the best French toast I've ever had," he says.
9:07 p.m. - We continue our patrol of this industrial area, checking behind darkened buildings for anyone doing unsavory things like dumping unwanted mattresses or selling drugs.
9:09 p.m. - A call comes over the radio for a broken down car. No big deal. We hit some local parks. All parks close at 9 p.m. and no one's out.
We drive by the makeshift shrine built in memory of Aleida DePina, the 10-year-old allegedly abused to death by her father. Georgitsis tells me he helps lead the Pawtucket Police Department's peer support team, a valuable resource for officers who see plenty of awful things like the DePina case on a yearly basis.
9:30 p.m. - There's a traffic stop somewhere in the city and the officer who pulled over the gray Honda let the driver off with a warning.
9:34 p.m. - A call comes over the radio for a suspected DUI. The on the other side of the city have it covered.
9:38 p.m. - My head jolts back as Georgitsis flicks on the lights and takes off after a yellow Lancer. The driver had run a red light on George Bennett Highway as someone in the car threw a cigarette out the window. I had somehow missed both infractions.
"We" get backup from Patrolman Nathan Gallison, who stands watch over the Lancer while Georgitsis checks the license and registration for the driver of the car. The driver is let off with a warning.
9:44 p.m. - We drive off again, turning onto Broadway. Georgitsis explains the misperceptions of the police department.
"An uneventful night is a good night," he says. "This isn't a sitcom. We don't solve all of the world's problems in a half hour."
The Pawtucket Police Department was Georgitsis' first choice when he was choosing jobs. His father was the owner of the old Cup 'N Saucer and the Georgitsis family attends the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church on Walcott Street. When the church's festival returns later in August, Georgitsis will be one of the cooks making all the fabulous food.
10:05 p.m. - We reach Slater Memorial Park. All is quiet except for one driver turning around at the Armistice Boulevard end. Georgitsis stops to make sure he's not planning to stay.
We hit Countryside, completing our west to east trek across the city. We see one woman walking her dog who looks far more suspicious of us than we are of her.
"Not everyone's a suspect," Georgitsis reminds me.
10:20 p.m. - We take off for Agnes Little Elementary School across from McCoy Stadium after hearing a report that the alarm there is going off and an officer is hearing "rumbling" and "rustling" sounds inside the building.
I'm left in the car as officers set up a perimeter. Georgitsis doesn't tell me to stay in the car but I can tell that's the expectation. I feel about as helpful as Richard Castle early on his time as Kate Beckett's sidekick.
10:28 p.m. - There's lots of hollering and flashlights going every which way.
Much to my disappointment, officers found no one to drag out the front door of the school in handcuffs. The alarm could have been anything, says Georgitsis. And the "rumbling" and "rustling?" No idea, he says.
10:38 p.m. - We get a call that a woman who is known to police is reporting that her ex-boyfriend on Hughes Street wants to kill himself. There are supposedly "numerous handguns in his apartment," according to the former girlfriend.
10:40 p.m. - We park well away from the home of the old boyfriend and Georgitsis this time tells me to stay in the car.
"Whatever you do, don't abandon the car," he says.
"But what if someone hijacks me?" I ask.
He laughs. "Tell them you're an undercover cop."
Officers in the distance start banging on the doors and windows. No answer. My passenger side window won't go back up. I start frequent checks of my side mirror for anyone sneaking up on me.
10:50 p.m. - Curious neighbors start popping out for a smoke. With one of them staring me down, I sit up a bit straighter and put on my best police face.
Eventually the ex-boyfriend, clearly intoxicated, stumbles out the front door, telling police he was sleeping with air conditioning and hadn't heard all the loud banging. He scoffed at the idea that he wanted to harm himself.
10:58 p.m. - This wasn't the ex-girlfriend's first unsubstantiated report about her former lover, said Georgitsis, getting back in the driver's seat, but police can do little about it. They have to respond to every call and there's no way to prove that she's calling them out of spite instead of genuine concern for her ex-boyfriend's well-being.
"She can say she honestly thought he was going to harm himself," said Georgitsis.
11 p.m. - We head back for the police department. Georgitsis doesn't want to leave all the end-of-the-shift paperwork to Holden.
11:09 p.m. - Time for me to head home. This was pretty great, I tell Georgitsis and Holden, but I know I'm probably leaving just as things are about to get really crazy.
Maybe next time I'll try the overnight shift.