For the first time, my Saturday night ended in a police car. No, I didn’t commit a crime and I wasn’t arrested, either. I voluntarily agreed to ride alongside a Bradley Police officer during the third shift from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. to observe.
This was my first experience in a law enforcement vehicle and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hopped into the sport utility vehicle with Officer Matthew Gama, who was friendly and helpful by explaining his actions and other procedures.
We started off the night riding through the patrolling boundaries, creating a circle around Bradley, going as far as the St. James Complex, behind Main Street Commons and to streets of off-campus houses on the south side of campus.
During that time, Gama explained that he starts each shift looking out for parties and as he patrols through the night he is looking for open alcohol on public grounds (sidewalks, streets, etc.), and people who are staggering and/or under the influence of alcohol. He also said he looks for people who look like they don’t belong in the Bradley community, which after four-and-a-half years at Bradley, isn’t hard for him to tell.
Our first stop of the night was on Bradley Ave. Two male students were walking eastward when Gama spotted that one student was carrying open alcohol, something I didn’t even notice. As we pulled over, the student tossed a beer can into the grass. Gama did not give out drinking tickets, but rather asked the male to empty out the can he threw in the grass and two other beer cans that were in his backpack.
With a new policy instated this year, the BUPD is no longer enforcing zero tolerance of underage drinking on campus. Gama said in past years students used to run from the police at parties, lie to officers and were scared. He said he has even seen students trying to escape houses from second and third floor windows in fear of getting a drinking ticket. But with a relaxed policy about drinking on campus, students have become more up front and honest to officers.
Since August, he has only given about 10 drinking tickets. He said 10 tickets is a high number in comparison to other officers, but lower than the number of tickets he gave in previous years when he gave out too many to count.
“When you’re trained you can tell when someone says they have had three or five drinks that they really have had seven to 10,” he said. “All we ask is to be honest, cooperative and tell us the truth. Then nothing will happen.”
Close to 1 a.m., Gama and I were driving on the south side of campus when a call came in reporting an armed robbery at Papa John’s. Within seconds, Gama slammed on the acceleration and turned on the lights and sirens. I clenched on to the door handle as we swerved through the streets making our way over to St. James.
Let me tell you, riding in a squad car with the sirens on and traffic yielding to you is awesome. In my mind, we were about to speed into a life-threatening chase where shots would be fired.
We slowed down as we came into the the St. James Complex and an officer radioed in that the suspect had fled southbound through St. James.
Seconds after that call was made, a male matching the description of the suspect crossed the street in front of the vehicle.
Gama stepped out of the car and ordered the man down on the ground. The suspect was hesitant for a moment and almost looked confused. But just as Gama walked closer the suspect took off running and Gama did too.
I watched Gama chase the suspect until they were out of sight, curving around the apartment complexes. I, on the other hand, was too nervous to step out of the car.
It had only been a minute before assistance came to the scene. I watched as four to five law enforcement vehicles swerved into St. James traveling in the direction Gama and the suspect were running. Along with BUPD, officers from Peoria County, the City of Peoria and the K-9 unit were present.
Although I wasn’t able to see the chase, I was able to listen to the conversations of officers on the radio. Within 10 minutes, Gama said he “spearheaded” the suspect to the ground and with help he was put into custody.
As it turned out, it wasn’t an armed robbery, but it still puts into perspective how dangerous campus can be.
If the suspect was bold enough to rob Papa John’s, one would think nothing would stop him from trying to rob any student, especially if they are walking alone. Although campus may seem unsafe, I take comfort in the fact that, in under five minutes, multiple officers from different stations were at the scene.