On Patrol In Lakewood
THE LAKEWOOD OBSERVER GETS A FRONT ROW SEAT AS THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE LAKEWOOD POLICE DEPARTMENT SERVE AND PROTECT
It’s just after 7:30pm on a summer Friday night and I am at Rising Star Coffee on Detroit Road. I am riding along with Officer Jakub Mejstrik for a story for The Lakewood Observer.
“Did you bring your mug?” the man behind the counter asks Mejstrik.
“Nah, I forget it today,” he replies.
Mejstrik likes to start his shift off with coffee whenever he can, but today things got busy for him. He has already taken a call at the very start of his shift before picking me up at LPD headquarters. Unlike most employees, Mejstrik does not have the luxury of putting off work until he gets his coffee. When his shift starts at 7pm Mejstrik is ready to go -- coffee or not.
As the barista hands Mejstrik the “usual” - with almond milk - Mejstrik runs into a man and a small child. Mejstrik has seen the duo before.
The child immediately runs over and greets Mejstrik. It is obvious she is full of energy and outgoingly friendly.
“Man, I don’t know how you do it. She keeps you on your toes,” Mejstrik jokes with the man.
Small town policing at its finest: a stop at the local coffee shop for “the usual,” and a friendly conversation with a couple of regulars. And with that, we hit the streets.
Just Another Shift
As we patrol Mejstrik, a 5 year veteran of the force, has stories from calls he has handled nearly all over town. There is the time he spotted people attempting to purchase alcohol without an ID ("the interaction they were having with the gas station employee just seemed off") and later learned one of them had felony warrants. Or the time a man punched the window of a bus requiring officers to apply a tourniquet to prevent him from bleeding to death. There are also more tragic stories involving death or serious injury. For Mejstrik, these stories are just another day on the job. For most of us, experiencing just one of these situations ourselves would be more than we could handle in a lifetime.
As much as Mejstrik sees on the job he still seems to have fun with it. Mejstrik is from Czechoslovakia and came to the United States in 1999. He spent several years as a top chef (he is a vegan, and yes he is very excited about The Vegan Donut Company that is soon to open on Detroit Road). He makes quick-witted jokes with his fellow officers and is quick to wave and greet people.
While Officer Mejstrik might at first appear to be laid back and casual his mindset is anything but. From the moment we hit the road Mejstrik is hypervigilant. We engage in conversation but the entire time Mejstrik’s mind appears to be in several places at once. As we cruise down Detroit Road towards the west end of town he is monitoring his radio, watching his computer to see what his fellow officers are doing, and running plates of nearby vehicles. Above all else he is watching everything that goes on around him.
A lot of people think when we are on patrol we are just cruising around the neighborhoods,” Mejstrik tells me. “But I am watching everything that goes on around me. I like to know where people are at and what people are doing here.”
His hypervigilance pays off early in the shift. As we are on patrol he spots a small bunny running along Riverside Drive. He circles back and instantly spots the bunny again. I still don’t yet see the small creature, but as Mejstrik activates his emergency lights to stop traffic I finally spot it. In a few seconds and with the help of a passing motorist the bunny is escorted away from the concrete wall and across the street to safety.
This time Mejstrik’s vigilance helped out a rabbit but in the past it has helped him nab individuals with felony warrants, apprehend drunk drivers, and spot criminal activity. No matter how big or how small, if it’s happening in Mejstrik’s beat chances are he’ll spot it.
If the rabbit tested Mejstrik’s vigilance the first call of my ridealong tested his diplomatic skills. We are dispatched for a noise complaint. Upon arrival all is quiet, but Mejstrik lingers in the area for a bit. Within a few minutes he identifies the source of the noise; a couple of young children are blowing on plastic whistles. Mejstrik approaches the children and politely asks if their parents are home. The children -- the young boy especially -- are fascinated by Officer Mejstrik (and his gun in particular).
Mejstrik explains to the grandmother the children cannot be blowing on the whistles. She seems agitated as she claims that other neighbors make noise all the time. Mejstrik hears her concerns and asks her to call next time she feels her neighbors are too loud. He strikes the right balance of firmness and empathy with this woman before she heads inside.
“I understand her concerns,” he tells me. “But if I was trying to catch some sleep before my shift that whistle would bother me too. You have to look at it from both ways."
Mejstrik always seems to strike the right balance as he talks with people. Despite his badge and gun, and despite his frequent interactions with people who are violating traffic laws or engaging in criminal activity, he never seems to talk down to them.
As we are assisting another officer who is citing a highschooler for skateboarding on city streets Mejstrik strikes up a conversation with the young man. Mejstrik, too, is an avid skateboarder. He understands why the highschooler was skateboarding on the recently paved smooth street but “it just ain’t worth the risk” he tells him.
Perhaps the most eye-opening experience of a police ride along is the unknown. This is not your bedroom and you are not watching YouTube videos of police interactions. Every call is an unknown and the environment is not controlled.
The vehicle Mejstrik stopped for no visible plate? We had no clue who the driver was nor what their intentions were when they popped open the driver’s door. Traffic stops often present some of the greatest threats to law enforcement especially when the vehicle has no visible plate.
Throughout the night we respond to several complaints of loud noise. Mejstrik walks up the driveway of each residence not knowing who is back there nor how they will react to the unexpected sight of a police officer.
It’s now after 1am and Mejstrik is preparing to meet up with a fellow officer for some foot patrol on Detroit Road near Around the Corner. Just as he prepares to exit his cruiser a call comes out for a man that was spotted peeping in to a neighbor’s bedroom window. It takes us less than four minutes to respond to the apartment complex on Clifton Avenue, but three cruisers are already on scene. We walk up along with another officer. In the back they join other officers in the search for the perp. They shine their lights under cars and in garages while other officers speak with the shaken women.
Mejstrik spots a small basement with an unlocked door. Not knowing who or what is on the other side, Mejstrik and a fellow officer yell out “Lakewood Police!” as they head down the stairs. They reemerge a few minutes later.
The woman, now on the brink of tears, explains to officers how she is not sure if she feels safe tonight and she does not know what to do.
“I will be in the area,” one officer reassures her. “I will make sure to swing by a few times.”
Mejstrik assists another officer as they move the bench away from her window.
A third officer suggests she purchase curtains that are not see-through.
The woman now seems much calmer. A female officer stays on-scene with the woman to gather additional information as the other officers start to head back.
The response from LPD was impressive; multiple officers were searching the back of the apartment complex within minutes of the call. Their empathy was on display as they took steps to secure the apartment and reassure the resident.
The Shift Continues
It is nearing 2am and my ridealong has come to an end but for Mejstrik his shift is only a little over half over. Lakewood Police Officers work 12 hours shifts, and Mejstrik's shift runs for 7pm to 7am This cuts down on the need for overtime as the long shifts give officers the chance to finish paperwork and handle majors calls. It also gives them the opportunity to have every other weekend off, a privilege in public safety.
Jacob Chabowski is a photographer based in Cleveland, Ohio covering news, sports, and community events. Follow him on twitter @JCPhotos17 or email him at ChabowskiPhotography@gmail.com
You can view his portfolio by clicking HERE