Maintaining the law
By Grace Ramey, Watertown Public Opinion
“911, what’s your emergency?”
A call is made and minutes later the police are en route to the scene.
The dispatchers at the call center housed in the Watertown Police Department accept calls from Codington, Hamlin, Clark, Deuel, Grant and Roberts counties. Between the six counties, the average number of calls to the center per day range from 120 to 275, though not all fall under the jurisdiction of the Watertown Police Department.
“We calculated that we respond to about 22,300 calls per year, which equates to about 60 per day, and that varies with the day,” said WPD Assistant Chief Tim Toomey.
The WPD gets called on incidents that are inside city limits, like disputes, mental health issues, bar fights, shoplifting, drug busts, theft, assaults, shoplifting and more. When not on call, the officers are out patrolling for DUIs, traffic violations, burglaries and anything out of the ordinary. Corporal Scott Price said he spends on average about half of each 12-hour shift out patrolling and the other half responding to calls from dispatchers.
“Part of the role of police officers is being visible in the community. It’s proven to deter crime,” Price said.
The Watertown Police Department consists of 36 sworn police officers — a police chief, an assistant police chief, three captains, five sergeants, two school resource officers and 24 patrol officers — and 19 non-sworn employees. The WPD employs two day-shift and two night-shift squads, with schedules rotated every three months. Six officers — four patrol officers, one corporal and one sergeant — serve on each squad.
Though the number of police shootings and violence against police officers has increased nationwide in recent years, Price said he doesn’t ever feel his safety is in danger.
“I don’t go to work fearing for my life and worrying, but I try to stay up to date with my training so I’m prepared,” he said.
The officers go through regular training exercises at the department, while also completing school to earn their law enforcement degrees before getting hired.
According to Price, there are two ways to become a WPD officer — attend a two-year accredited vocational technical school and pass the reciprocity exam, or attend the state academy in Pierre for 13 weeks plus additional evaluation weeks on location with a supervisor. After evaluation, the officers then run patrol individually.
“It’s not scary but pretty overwhelming being out on your own after riding with someone for several weeks who can fix any mistakes you might make,” said Price.
The WPD officers are also given the opportunity through the department to serve in additional assignments such as corporal, detective, training officer and school resource officer. Price, who became an officer five years ago because his uncle was killed by a drunk driver before he was born, has become a DARE officer, a drug recognition expert, a member of the WPD SWAT team, an instructor in the Explorer program and more.
“It makes it more than just a job, getting to be involved in so much,” Price said. “The opportunities are just there for the taking.”
Corporal Jeremy Bjerke, too, has earned roles as a police training officer, DUI officer, SWAT team sniper and accident team member.
“It’s like 100 jobs in one,” he said.
Bjerke became a police officer with the WPD seven years ago after working in both sales and banking and deciding he couldn’t take desk work or the monotony anymore. When he found an opening at the department listed in the newspaper, he decided to give it a try.
Price and Bjerke agreed their favorite part of the job is that there’s something different every day.
“Some days are bad days and some are good, but there’s something good you can always take out of it,” Price said. “It’s a rewarding job, getting to help people, and I get to play a role in helping raise my family in a safer place.”
This photo story is a part of a Day in the Life photo stories produced for the Watertown Public Opinion.