Stories from the Force – Part 1: Officer Hickel

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On any given night, you can turn on your television and see chase scenes in the show Cops, homicide investigations in Law and Order, dark storylines in Dexter, or real-life stories unfolding on your local news channel. But how often do we get to hear real stories from police officers about what they see on a day to day basis? If you personally know an officer or you are one, then you are probably privy to these captivating tales, but many folks don’t often get to hear true stories from the force.

We work with police departments across the U.S. to get a good understanding of their needs so we can design and manufacture smart products that help them do their jobs. Our interactions give us the opportunity to hear their stories first hand. We thought the rest of the world may be interested in hearing them too, so we’re kicking off a series of interviews with individual officers to help the public, including our own team, take a walk in their shoes and see the world as they do.

Our first interviewee is Officer Jonathan Hickel of Alpharetta, a northern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. He will be celebrating his 10-year anniversary of being on the force this coming September. 

The Good

Officer Hickel was interested in emergency services for as long as he can remember. Wanting to be a firefighter at first, TV shows, like Cops and Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, diverted his interest to the police force. As a freshman in high school, he joined the Police Explorers, which he’s still involved with today, and pursued volunteer police work until he was old enough to get a job with the 911 Dispatch. His job put him through the police academy, subsequently allowing him to join the force. Officer Hickel attributes his work as a police officer to the mentors and influences he had early in life through the Police Explorer Program. They “helped me become the officer I am today,” says Hickel.

When asked what his favorite part of the job was, Officer Hickel joked that it was the flashing blue lights and sirens, of course, but in a serious tone, he explained that it’s the rewarding feeling he gets from serving his community. Truly the best part of the job, according to Hickel is, “putting on the uniform, pinning on the badge, and stepping out into your city, county, or town, knowing you are the protector of the rights and freedoms of your fellow citizens. Knowing that others look to you for guidance, compassion, and strength.  Being able to make a small, positive difference in one person’s life is incredibly rewarding. You bring honor to yourself and your profession. You are the example by which others follow.” He says that making a positive difference in his community makes it all worth it.

The Bad

A day in the life for officer Hickel consists of roughly 95% boredom and 5% flying by the seat of his pants. Alpharetta is a smaller community lucky to have minimal person-on-person crime. Sometimes they get calls for ridiculous things that are definitely not worthy of police involvement, like kids playing basketball in the street and a neighbor’s dog poop on someone’s lawn. 

When asked about the recent scrutiny law enforcement has been under, Officer Hickel replied that he thinks it’s generally a good thing; it helps remind officers to treat every person with decency and respect. Newsworthy police malpractice incidents are now covered in Alpharetta PD’s roll call, but it mostly just reinforces what’s already expected of them and has had little effect on the day-to-day, or even the morale of his department. Hickel says that living in the communities they serve makes police always want to do right by the people and represent their city well and reminds us that we all make mistakes. It’s the 1% of officers that make the rest look bad, just as it’s only the 1% of citizens who are the real problem. He stressed the importance of keeping the media out of your head and not allowing it to make you think everyone is against you. 

As you can imagine, being a regular eyewitness to horrific scenes can be hard on a person’s psyche. For Officer Hickel, the most difficult part of the job is finding ways to decompress and relax. He spends much of his time away with friends and family. “Even then it is tough to have fun and relax with those people without having “the job” pop up. We shoulder incredible burdens at times, viewing horrific scenes and dealing with the utter dregs of humanity. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, sometimes the demons we fight on the inside are worse than the outside. Cops never take their own advice… get help and talk to someone if you feel that you can’t handle the burden. There are others just like you that are out there and they can help you see it through.”

The Could’ve Been Disasters

On one rare occasion in April of last year, Officer Hickel was compelled to take to Facebook after a night on the job to write his own account of what happened in order to decompress. We are lucky he did because his writing is full of detail and emotion, and he was kind enough to share it with our audience:

Occasionally I get out from behind my desk and do some “real police work.” Usually that means throwing on the traffic vest to make some extra money. Tonight was one of those nights. On the way back from our meal break, a fight call goes out just down the street. Feeling the twitch and the longing for the good ole days, I saddle up and head over to the call.

Excited Delirium is the hot new phrase that describes a person when they are under the influence of a drug combination that gives them the strength of Superman with the mind of the Joker. Luckily, Batman is here.

With multiple witnesses watching and recording, waiting and hoping to make us the next police brutality YouTube stars, I approach our combatant. He is taller and in much better shape than I. “Sit down,” I said firmly, “what’s your name?” Incoherent words escape him, then defiantly, he exclaims “I am a Marine!”

“Semper Fi, Marine,” I said to him. “Semper Fi? F*** YOU,” he retorted. “I’m here to help” and “I want you to go home safely” seemed lost on him. “Sit down on the ground,” I tell him again. 

He begins to strip off layers of clothes, continues to curse and taunt me, yelling gibberish, and a few times, begs me to kill him. With his muscles flexing, nostrils flaring, veins bulging, he stands abruptly. He clenches his fists, stares me dead in the eyes, and lets loose with a thunderous roar. It was impressive and ferocious. A battle cry that would send enemies fleeing. But I was no enemy. And I would not waver.

“Two ninety eight, additional units, step it up,” I said into my shoulder mic. I unholstered my taser, making a familiar noise as it detached and prepared for duty. “You BETTER bring that ‘clickety-clack’,” said the Marine. It was apparently not this gentlemen’s first rodeo.

I keep my distance. My taser is at a low ready. I can hear the familiar sound of dual tone sirens getting closer. The Marine is compliant for the moment, but extremely agitated. He stands, he sits, he kneels, he roars. He flexes his muscles and spouts gibberish. “Sit on the ground man, it’s going to be okay,” I tell him.

Several units arrive on the scene. Young guys like me, old timers, rookies, and seasoned vets. I’ve worked with all of them, and I know each of them personally. They are a second family, an eclectic bunch, but truly professionals in every sense of the word.

“Whaddya got?” said Nick, my buddy from high school, who joined the force a few years ago. I fill him in on the past few minutes, which, seemed like a lifetime when you are waiting for backup. More backup arrives, the upper hand is in our favor.

I can feel the stare of the cell phone cameras as they focus in and their operators move to cover all the angles. This was the moment they had been waiting for. The dog pile, the asswhoopin’, the beat down, the 24 hour news cycle video clip on repeat. They were ready to capture it all.

Nick, also a Marine, takes over the commands. “Marine, lay on your stomach and put your hands behind you back he barked.” Our tasers at the ready, the Marine complies, albeit still visibly agitated. Nick covers me as I swoop in for the prone handcuffing. Confident I was in my skills, as our in-service training in March covered this very topic. With the “click-click” of the handcuffs, the crisis was over.

You could hear the collective disappointment of our paparazzi whose semi circle of videography captured not the senseless beating of a disturbed individual, but rather the compassionate, level headed, and force-appropriate response that only a group Professionals could provide. A situation specifically trained for in a course called Crisis Intervention Techniques, or CIT. A course that ALL North Fulton Police Officers attend.

And with that, this story comes to an end. The other combatant in the fight call turned out to be a 21 year old drug dealer. Who happened to be carrying a rather large stash of drugs with him and in his car. He is being dealt with accordingly. As for our Marine, he is under a mandatory psychiatric evaluation at a local hospital. 

After finishing up my extra job, I go home to my family. It’s late, the lights are off, and everyone is in bed. I take a hot shower in an attempt to decompress thoughts from my “off day.” I have a few to share:

  1. There is nothing quite as satisfying as the handshake, fist bump, or pat on the back you get from your peers when you finish a call, especially like the one above.
  2. Well-rounded and continual training is key to dealing with the ever evolving scenarios we are faced with everyday.
  3. Despite what the media reports, Policemen are not jackbooted gestapo thugs bent on killing or beating every troublemaker they run into. If only this situation would go viral on YouTube, to show that Law Enforcement does treat people and situations with the compassion they deserve, while realizing that getting someone to the proper care is more important than locking them up.
  4. Drugs are bad. They will not solve your problems or help you escape from them. They are a temporary false hope that things will get better. Instead, they bring your world crashing down around you, alienating the people who care about you until you are alone and broken. If you need help, start talking to someone about it. It can and will get better, but it takes time and lots of effort.
  5. Engage with Veterans. Talk to them. Include them. You don’t have to constantly shower them with praise or pity. Treat them as you would your peers. Treat them as equals.
  6. I like doing tech work, but I miss the road. The calls, the camaraderie, the action, and sometimes, the horror. While my current position supports the radios, the cameras, and the blue lights our Professionals use, some days, it just doesn’t compare to working a beat.

In about three hours from now, tonight’s shift will be over. The Warriors from this evening will pass the torch to the next shift coming on. In 12 hours, they will return to do it all over again.

Good night. We’ll take it from here.

–Hickel 298

Edited on 7/15/16.