It's Thursday, Aug. 5, and I am being driven in a police car. But I haven't been arrested. Instead, I am spending an 11-hour shift with Officer Gerard Rites of the Scotch Plains Police Department.
This is the first installment. As you read Patch, stay tuned for updates from my day with the department.
Part 1: 8:00 a.m.: Serve a Temporary Restraining Order
It's a sunny Thursday morning in Scotch Plains. Officers Rites and Rob Lewis stand outside a house on Myrtle Avenue, waiting for the homeowner to answer the door. They are there to serve a temporary restraining order. But the house is quiet, the windows are dark and no one seems to be home.
Rites steps from the front-stoop and walks through ankle-high grass to the side of the house. He peers through the windows on a side door, faded white paint peeling from the siding around the doorframe. Lewis walks up the driveway and takes a glance at the backyard. Then he laughs.
"Take a look at this guy's pool," he says, turning to Rites. "It's a bathtub buried in the backyard."
It is barely 8 a.m., Officers Rites and Lewis have been on-duty for only an hour, but it's the start of another day in the Scotch Plains Police Department. "This job's bizarre, man," Lewis will say later. "But I love it."
Rites and Lewis have worked the same shifts for four years, Rites says. They patrol different districts in separate cars, but they regularly back each other up, from unusual traffic stops to serving restraining orders to making arrests.
"Serving these," Rites says of the restraining orders, "it's not too much of an issue, because we didn't do something against them. Serving warrants is a different story."
Rites joined the department in December 2005, and he remains one of the department's most junior members. He is stocky and wears his black hair short, but not buzzed. The other officers call him "A.J.," for his resemblance to A.J. Soprano, of the HBO television show.
"I'm a smaller guy," he says. "In college, public speaking was one of my biggest fears. But this job, everything is public speaking. And you've got to pretend you're seven feet tall."
His very first call, he says, was to perform CPR on an 80-year-old woman. "Right off the bat, I thought, 'Wow.'"
Rites decided to become an officer after trying different degree programs at several universities. The job appealed to him on several levels. "I couldn't see myself sitting in a cubicle all day," he says. "It's fun, just the unexpectedness of everything. I might be fighting some guy one day. And I've been sent to help an elderly female open her pill bottle."
Rites grew-up in Scotch Plains and now lives here with his wife and two children, only a few blocks from the police station.
"I want to make sure the town is safe for my kids," he says. "My parents moved from Brooklyn for the same reasons I stay here: to live in a safe town and give my kids something I didn't have."
Rites and Lewis meet at the foot of the driveway. A young girl, one of the next-door neighbors, watches the officers talk. If one black-and-white police car attracts attention, two of them parked bumper-to-bumper on a quiet side-street definitely do.
The two walk away from the house and confer at the foot of the driveway. They are watched by a young woman, who has emerged from next-door. If one black-and-white police car attracts attention, two of them parked bumper-to-bumper on a quiet side-street definitely do.
Check back for regular updates from my day with Officer Rites. It includes two arrests, three prisoners and a firsthand look at the life of a Scotch Plains police officer. I will also spend another 11-hour shift with a Scotch Plains officer, this time during a nighttime shift. If you have questions you would like me to ask, send them in an email: AlanN@patch.com.