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September 8, 2022

The Rural Beat

Let me lead by saying that Mayberry has never existed before and does not exist now. However, that does not mean that aspects of that fictional world do not manifest themselves. We have talked about rural policing before. It gets brought up occasionally, but it’s never given much afterthought. I know it’s called “Street Cop Training,” so the programs are geared towards urban policing. However, rural cops are still a thing that exists. As a rural cop, I wanted to take a moment and wax poetic about what it’s like to “walk” the rural beat in 2022. 

This has been a hectic weekend for everyone. Holiday weekends based around BBQing, drinking, and semi-legal explosive/incendiary devices tend to keep us on our toes. Most of the communities in our area allow fireworks within the city limits. It is hot and dry, and mistakes are made anytime you mix booze with booms. So as the day turned into night, I had a plan in my head of how the evening would go. How silly of me. 

That evening my plans changed, as they often do in this line of work. A line of severe thunderstorms rolled through our area. Lighting, high winds close to 60-80 miles per hour. Threats of tornadoes, flooding, wind, and hail damage. Part of my duties as a rural cop in the midwest is to “storm chase.” While everyone else is running for cover, we must be out and watch/follow the weather. If you ever wondered who is responsible for sounding the tornado alarm in movies like “Twister,” it’s most likely a deputy. 

That night, like most nights, I work alone. I cover an area of close to 1500 square miles and serve a population of around 2,000. Our calls for service cover a wide range of events, from cattle being out on the highway to aggravated assault. We deal with domestics, drunk drivers, a hammer and knife fight at the Dollar General, and everything in between. Backup can sometimes be over an hour away. We rely on neighboring counties to assist us when we need help. 

Just the other night, a friend of mine was on a stop and was alone with eight people. He was on the side of the highway and had a probable cause search. I drove over 40 miles to back him up, and I was not alone. Another deputy drove close to 30 miles and showed up shortly before I arrived. Six drug paraphernalia citations later, everyone went back to their beats. 

We are the county coroners, the emergency managers, the detectives, and the SWAT team, and we are always on call. We are overworked, understaffed, and woefully underpaid, yet we lace up our boots and serve our communities on holidays, weekends, and overnights. Some of us do not get overtime, we are expected to respond off-duty, and when I say we are always on call, it’s because we choose to be. 

Since we have such a small agency and often only one of us covers the entire county, we keep our work phones handy. We keep them handy, so we respond when a call for help comes out. That also means we take work calls, respond to calls for service, and are always on duty. 

The community supports us. Our leadership is expanding and changing their minds about modernization. We are evolving but are still expected to be Andy Taylor and Barney Fife. We take on that burden because no one else will. We love what we do, train hard, learn every day, and are focused. We get sent to training. Our equipment is relatively new and constantly being updated. Since we deal with everything that cities do, plus everything the county has to offer, we must be prepared. Out here, complacency will be what gets you. 

I love my job. Even when the wind triggers an alarm at the bank at 0300 on my day off, I may cuss it, but I show up. I show up hoping for the best but expecting the worst. We chase storms, check on memaw, and arrest pedophiles and violent felons. We seize drug loads. We deal with barking dogs and disputes over property lines. We deal with missing children and adults. We deal with traffic complaints, mental health crises, drunks, and drug addiction. We also get to be proactive. 

So to all my brothers and sisters walking that rural beat. Thank you for backing me up when I need you. Thank you for taking that call on your day off so I can rest after working 14 hours the night before. Thank you for moving your schedule around so I can take a vacation. Thank you for waking up in the middle of the night to bring your dog over 100 miles for a sniff.

We may be the butt of many jokes, but the job is not dead for us. We still get to protect and serve. We still get to be cops.