When I was told that I would be riding along in a patrol car of the Danville Police Department, I expected to watch traffic stops and cell phone violations, which would have been satisfying enough. Instead, I was lucky to experience what Danville officers consider a busy day.
As soon as I arrived at the Police Department late Wednesday, Sgt. Jack Seidman informed me that I would be riding with Officer of the Quarter, Tony Maldonado, to take someone who was in custody to the County Jail in Martinez. The last time I took a trip to the jail was for a third-grade field trip and luckily I hadn't been back since.
In the patrol car, a crackle of a radio sounded and Maldonado explained that Danville is on the same channel as San Ramon, the Valley Station, and part of Martinez. He said that it's good to hear what is going on in the area.
The young man in custody sat in the back seat sporting a T-shirt with the word "Hustler" written across the chest. The young man was arrested in Danville for possession of narcotics, specifically oxycontin, a form of heroin. He seemed to be familiar with the drive to the jail and later Maldonado told me that he had been arrested before.
"We familiarize ourselves with people and know who the troublemakers are," Maldonado said.
Before entering the jail, Maldonado told me that he is required to remove his weapons for safety reasons.
While the individual sat glumly on a bench waiting, Maldonado motioned for me to come over. He pointed to an officer scraping white powder into a bag. I was informed that the white power was methamphetamine that an individual had in his possession. Apparently the suspect had stored it in a place where the sun doesn't shine, hoping to not get caught with it.
Inside the jail, I was able to see the booking process for the individual, including his mug shots, and I witnessed the individual's attitude change from tough guy to guilty suspect.
"Danville kids think they're gangsters and then they come [to jail and meet real ones," Maldonado said.
On the way back to Danville, I was curious about the laptop that sat in the middle of the car. Maldonado said that every patrol vehicle has one and it is used for communication. It also has the capability to scan license plate numbers; Maldonado even let me run a plate!
"You never know if that car right there may be stolen," he said.
The car was a gold Mercedes that belonged to an older woman and, not surprisingly, the record was clean.
Back in Danville, I was expecting to witness Maldonado pull over speeders and cell phone abusers. Instead, the night became even more suspenseful.
We drove past a house that Maldonado said he needed to keep an eye on. He was expecting a car to be in the driveway but unfortunately it wasn't there when we drove by.
After patrolling the area once, we passed the house again and the car was there.
"That's the car," Maldonado said matter-of-factly. It was a normal-looking white Toyota Yaris, with two females in it.
My heart raced and I experienced the rush that Maldonado had said he got from being a police officer. Maldonado called his partner, Officer Mike Ireland, who was driving the K-9 vehicle. The exchanges between the two officers were strategic and straight to the point.
"Find a reason to pull her over," Ireland said.
Maldonado backed up strategically into a side street where he could see the vehicle if it happened to drive by. Ireland was on the other side of the house, with a direct view of the car. While we waited for something to happen, we watched the drivers use their cell phones and saw the vehicles speed past us.
"I'd rather make an arrest than give a $35 ticket," Maldonado explained.
We waited for Ireland to update us about movement. The officers were determined to pull the driver over and find a reason to search her. She was suspected to have drugs; someone from the community had given the department the tip.
Maldonado explained that it's very helpful when residents give information because the police learn things they wouldn't normally come across.
"I'd like to say police work is skill but a lot of it is luck," Maldonado said.
Officer Ireland called and informed us that the two suspects were approaching the vehicle. It turned out to be a false alarm but it kept Maldonado (and me) alert. Maldonado said that every day brings something different.
"My goal for the day is to go home in one piece," he said.
Ireland called again and this time it was the real deal. One of the females was only re-parking the car but Ireland was able to pull her over because he knew she had a revoked license. It gave Ireland and Maldonado a reason to further investigate the situation.
Both officers got out of their vehicles and I was left alone with my thoughts. My heart raced and I had a good feeling something exciting would happen.
Outside, the two women were questioned by the officers. Both females seemed to force confused and innocent looks. They were patted down and one of the females covered her eyes. At first, I thought she was upset. Instead, I observed that she was blocking out sunlight so Ireland could inspect her pupils to determine whether she was under the influence.
I couldn't tell what the verdict was but Maldonado came back to the car and re-parked it behind the K-9 vehicle. He informed me that both the females were under the influence. Ireland opened the door to his car and the canine named Donna was let out to further explore with her sharp nose.
Meanwhile, I observed that cars passing by slowed and heads were turned away from the road in hopes of getting a glance at what was going on. I relished the fact that I had front row seats to the state of affairs.
Ireland led one of the females in handcuffs to the vehicle I was sitting in. She was put in the backseat and the door was shut. It was just me and the suspect.
In the meantime, the other woman was further questioned and I noticed her body language was aggressive. She was also handcuffed and led to the vehicle I sat in. I was told to get out of the vehicle and I stood on the sidewalk where the females had once been. On the hood of the K-9 vehicle, there were pill boxes, bags and cans that Donna must have found. The women were arrested for possession of narcotics.
"It's not like this all the time," Maldonado said.
Sgt. Seidman had showed up and informed me that my night of entertainment was over. The females were taken to the County Jail.
The next day, Maldonado provided me with follow-up information. He informed me that the aggressive female had been strip searched and a half-ounce of methamphetamine was found in her "private area."
Maldonado said he was just glad to get more dope off the streets.
"It's been very productive for us, which is a good thing," he said.
Officer Maldonado has been in the force for a total of 11 years. He's worked in Richmond, Martinez and Danville.
"I bounce around a lot," he said.
Since the beginning of the quarter, Maldonado has worked the swing shift from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Thursday. He feels proud to be part of the department and is delighted when people acknowledge him.
"It's rewarding to be noticed," he said.
Residents of the San Ramon Valley must remember that shenanigans occur even in the "Valley bubble" just as they do everywhere else. The police work to prevent mischief.
"We get in the car and it's game time," Maldonado said.
Sgt. Seidman said that police officers are just normal guys with no big egos -- but they take their job seriously.