Conversation with a police officer

Georgia Lodewyk- Staff Writer 

It’s a quiet Saturday night in the backroads of Woodbury County. A police cruiser drives along, only occasionally illuminated by passing headlights

The crackling of a radio finds its way through the speaker, “10-4. Have a good evening.”

Sergeant Chris Jansen acknowledges the message and glances briefly at the computer screen mounted on his left. A map of Woodbury county lights up on the GPS screen. The blue dots, Sioux City police, are all centered around the city. Three county officers patrol the sur-rounding roads and communities.

The computer shows Jansen where the other officers are headed. It also allows him to fill out paperwork digitally if he needs to pull someone over. Behind the computer and keyboard is a printer for issuing tickets or warnings.

“When I started it was just a radio, everything was by hand,” Jansen said. “Now so much has changed.”

As a patrol officer, Jansen spends about seven hours in this car each shift. He has worked for the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office for over 20 years, starting out working as an officer in the jail, and then working as patrol officer and investigator. Jansen grew up in Northwest Iowa, living in Sioux Center and graduating from Orange City’s Unity Christian High School. He remembers the relationships he built with Dordt students as a kid. It was in Sioux Center that he first became interested in being a police officer.

“One of the reasons I got into law enforcement is because of Sheriff Dan Altena,” Jansen said. “I saw him riding along in his car and I thought that was so cool…I love making a positive impact on kids like Dan did with me. I want kids to see me and want to be a cop.”

Tonight they are short-staffed. Usually there are four or five working on a Saturday night. Things are laid back—Jansen doesn’t want to issue a small ticket or violation and leave the other two officers on their own in case there is a call. These three officers have 980 square miles to cover tonight.

He remembers an incident from several years back when he arrested a man for possession of methamphetamine. On the way to the police station, Jansen started asking him questions about why he started, if he had ever thought about quitting, and how his family was doing.

Two years later, Jansen was on an off-duty assignment. A man approached him.

“Do you remember me?” the man asked.

“No, but you look familiar,” Jansen said.

The man explained that Jansen was the cop that arrested him years earlier.

“It’s because of you I’m clean. I stopped selling drugs, and I got my family back.” He said.

For Jansen, these moments outweigh the challenging parts of the job. “That is more re-warding than putting someone away for life,” Jansen said.

Unfortunately, a police officer’s job has its difficult points. This summer Jansen helped the Sioux City Police Department monitor protests against police brutality and racism. He re-membered times when people would yell and spit at him.

“You have a right to protest,” Jansen said, “and they are yelling at the uniform. Not the person. I can take that.”

“We have to evolve,” Jansen said in response to the protests this summer. He talks about techniques that are becoming more common among law enforcement officers, including body cameras to hold officers accountable and training four to five times a year. Most of this training involves active shooter training and de-escalation.

De-escalation training is something that Jansen considers very important. Police officers need to have the communication skills to coach people through a crisis situation. Officers often respond to calls about domestic abuse, assault, and people considering suicide. Jansen feels it is important for police officers to be at all these situations to help establish control.

“If they have access to a weapon and you send in an unarmed person…what if it esca-lates?” Jansen said.

It’s now 9:15 pm. A car is following a truck too close and missing a license plate light. 

“Both violations,” Jansen says. He speaks into his radio before turning on his lights. The car immediately pulls over to the side of the highway.

Jansen calmly walks out of the car and talks to the driver through the passenger window—the side of the car facing away from the road. He has developed this habit over the years. If an occupant of the car pulls out a weapon, he can get away without backing directly into traffic. The driver argues with him, but the interaction only results in a warning and small talk. Jan-sen said that he usually goes into every situation planning on a warning, but some people can talk their way into a ticket.

When Jansen returns to his cruiser he writes down everything in a log-book and enters information on his computer before heading on the road again for more patrolling. Each time he steps into the car is another opportunity to impact someone else. But even the good times do not eliminate the bad moments of brokenness Jansen sees. He finds that these moments are not easily forgotten.

“I wish people would have told me that it does change you. I don’t know how people who don’t have faith do this job,” Jansen said.

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