Unpredictability Guaranteed for Every Active Duty Police Officer
By: Diane M. Ross
“This is everyone on the shift right now in Fairfax County,” said Officer Stephen Foley as he pointed to the numerous icons on the screen. Foley, a 16-year veteran, zoomed out the screen on the patrol car laptop. “You know where everyone is all the time,” he said.
Unpredictability is a constant for police officers in Fairfax County, Virginia. Whether your shift starts with a Big Gulp at the local Seven Eleven, a random traffic violation, or burglary call to a known gang member’s residence, police officers are constantly under the gun when they are on duty.
“Everyone thinks we are renegades just out doing whatever we want,” Foley said on a recent ride-along on a Saturday night in Burke, Virginia.
Inside the police cruiser, Foley outlined the protocol for every call, indicating that you need to check in before, sometimes during, and after the call. “Every movement I make is tracked,” he said.
“We don’t always tell people this. I don’t know why. Maybe we should,” Foley said.
Less than an hour later, a message scrolled across his computer.
“(PWC) Three officers shot. Under investigation. Do not respond.”
Foley’s eyes locked onto the screen. He changed the channel on the scanner to follow the incident.
“The command center is being moved to the McCoart Building. The media staging area will be at Ruby Tuesday’s,” a voice from the scanner said.
Shortly after this, the scanner voice said the name of the street where the incident occurred. Foley, aware of the location, recognized the closeness of the event. He shook his head repeatedly and took out his cell phone. Foley took a picture of the computer screen with the police shooting announcement, and then he sent a text.
“It could be anything,” he said when asked what possible scenario could take down three police officers.
“You just never know,” he said. “We respond to calls all the time. You just never know,” he said again.
Minutes later Foley rolled his window down and pointed to the helicopter in the sky above. “That’s our helicopter,” he said. “They are going west. Probably to Fairfax Hospital.”
Just as Foley pointed out the helicopter, the scanner announced the police officers were being transported to Fairfax Hospital. A second helicopter flew over.
“That’s probably the media,” Foley said.
Foley’s radio, along with the scanner, continued in the background as Officer Foley scrolled through news channels.
Suddenly another voice came over the radio. He identified himself as the chaplain and reported a stranded vehicle. When asked his location, the chaplain responded, “I’m going to the hospital to see some officers.”
Foley talked for some time about chaplains, and he explained how they were volunteers for the Fairfax County Police Department.
Several minutes later, Foley was called to respond to a head-on collision with injuries. Upon arrival, Foley got out of the vehicle to investigate the scene. An hour later, WTOP announced the shooting and Foley checked his phone.
But the night continued. At the collision scene, Foley’s temper, which had stayed steady throughout the evening, began to give way when a car approached and the driver asked if he could make a u-turn to avoid the accident scene.
For the first time of the night, Foley was annoyed. He ignored the driver’s request. The driver honked and yelled the same question to Officer Foley, who continued to ignore him. The driver yelled a third time and motioned to go in front of the police cruiser for the u-turn.
Foley finally denied his request and the driver yelled something unintelligible and sped off.
Foley gets back into the car. He looks at his computer screen.
And he checks the location of his fellow officers.
Author’s note: Shortly after my ride along with Officer Stephen Foley ended (about 10:00 P.M), news reports confirmed the death of Ashley Guindon, Prince William County Police Officer. Guindon, along with two other police officers, were shot as they responded to a domestic violence call. Crystal Hamilton, the suspect’s wife, was also found dead at the scene. It’s hard to describe how this scene unfolded in the eyes of other officers in surrounding communities. Officer Foley continued his shift- business as usual- knowing his fellow officers were fighting for their lives. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and one that I will never forget. I think there is value in having people see things from behind the badge. A special thanks to Officer Stephen Foley and the Fairfax County Police Department for continuing to reach out to the community through their Ride Along programs.