Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It’s funny how a conversation suddenly brings up memories you haven’t thought about in years. A remark brings up an image buried under all the files and folders cluttering minds as we get older.
I was engaging in an evening ritual called police checks. This means getting out a worn list of police department and 911 numbers covered with scribbled phone numbers and notes. I go down the list one-by-one and ask dispatchers and officers if they have had any crashes, fires, crimes or anything else noteworthy to share. Ninety percent of the time, the evening is quiet and there is nothing to report. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a tip for a story. For instance, one night I was making one last call when I found out about a meth lab bust in McDowell County. Other times, I’ll chat for a minute about the weather and other topics.
Last week a particular memory came back when I spoke with Trooper C.A. Dunn at the Welch detachment of the West Virginia State Police. He had recently paid a visit to a McDowell County organization providing programs for local children.
Most of the time, kids encountered law enforcement officers only when bad things are happening, but this was an opportunity to let them see a state trooper in a better occasion. Trooper Dunn told them about his work, let them see his cruiser and some of his equipment, and even allowed a couple of kids to turn on the lights and siren. I’ll bet those children talked about that for days.
I suddenly remembered a similar visit many years ago up in Kanawha County. I was attending Montrose Elementary School in South Charleston. One day, our teacher invited an officer to stop by and talk to us. I can’t remember if he was a deputy or a local police officer, but he came by in his cruiser and talked to us about fighting crime. Being a first grader, I was still getting a handle on how the world worked. For instance, I think I had just learned the United States was run by somebody called a “president.” His name was Richard Nixon.
Anyway, this officer showed up some of his equipment. I had seen handcuffs on televisions shows like “Adam 12” and “Dragnet,” so I asked how those worked. Sitting next to my desk, he put the cuff on himself and let me put the other on my wrist. Then we had a little problem. He wasn’t sure where to find his keys! Fortunately, I was a pretty skinny kid, so I slipped out of the cuff. Later, my fellow students drew pictures of the adventure.
I’m sure those kids who got to turn on the lights in Trooper Dunn’s cruiser are going to remember their adventure for a long time. Troopers, deputies and police across our region visit schools for lessons about safety, careers, and even let them see highly-trained K-9 unit dogs in action. I think I remember a K-9 visit at my grade school years ago. I was amazed by the dog’s intelligence. In contrast, my family had a beagle. She was a nice dog, but not the sharpest member of the canine community. For example, she would want out through the front door, but refused to step out if it was raining. She would promptly go to the back door. The dog never grasped the fact the rain was falling all around the house.
It’s always good when police and other professionals visit local schools and give the students lessons you just can’t pick up in regular class work. There was this one instance when the Bluefield Fire Department rushed to the former Wade Elementary School and checked a fire alarm. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm.
The alarm still had consequences. The children were really excited. One teacher sighed and said to me, “They’re going to be wound up all day.” I knew the kids would remember the day the fire engines came to school.
Talking to Trooper Dunn also made me remember the times when dispatchers and police couldn’t resist pulling my leg. One officer down in Tazewell County had some fun during my first year at the Daily Telegraph.
It was a late night. I was working one of my first night shifts, so I was calling 911 centers and agencies one at a time. I was still fresh out of college, and I had only a vague idea what I should do if I found a story.
Dispatchers kept telling me all was quiet. Finally, I reached somebody down in Tazewell County. I asked if anything was going on. The answer was silence. “You mean you don’t know?” he asked incredulously.
My blood pressure went up. “What’s happening?” I managed to ask.
“My God, there’s Russian tanks running around down here and paratroopers and...”
He got to the paratroopers part when I realized that a joke was in progress. I was slightly disappointed. I’d always wanted to see a Russian tank.
Police checks will continue to generate stories and memories to share many years from now. Every morning and evening, we go down the list of numbers and wonder what will turn up. It may be a trooper letting some children see his cruiser or maybe it will really be a Russian tank this time.
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at email@example.com