Policing the Midwest has its charms. In the Donut, we get to experience the changes of the seasons that bring about some wild temperature swings. It may be 100 degrees in September, and two months later we may be dipping below zero on a regular basis.
In that same period, daylight savings hits and suddenly we lose even more sunlight as the sun begins to set around 5 PM. The day shift officers literally work from sun up to sun down while the night shift folks never actually see sunlight at all.
When it’s actually able to cut through the gray of the wintertime day, the sunlight reflects off the ice and snow serving as a blinding rays of squint-inducing whitewash. Battling the blinding sunlight with sunglasses is great until they immediately fog up as soon as you exit the car.
The first snowfall brings us a bevy of drivers who somehow totally forgot how to drive with snow on the ground. These humans with the attention span of a goldfish act with surprise that they suddenly need to gently apply brakes well in advance of an intended stopping location.
Adding a few minutes to get from point A and point B to adjust for slower travel seems like a simple concept, but it may as well be quantum physics to the motoring public during the first week of snow.
The cold weather sucks for everyone, but it brings about some unique challenges to those of us who are in law enforcement. Our administration sits in warm offices, so no snow pants are approved for wear by patrol officers. Instead, we have to decide if the cold is bad enough to layer up underneath the uniform.
Toss on thermal pants and a thermal shirt under the uniform to battle the weather and you have pretty much guaranteed that you will get stuck inside a building like the police department, a hospital, or elsewhere until you sweat through the under-layers.
Wearing the extra layers is nice if you don’t get held hostage inside to overheat, but during a long shift it can start to induce claustrophobic feelings as they bunch up and squeeze all of the wrong places. Policing can be tough enough on a typical shift, but it becomes infinitely more difficult when the beans are being squeezed above the frank.
Heavy layers leave you looking and feeling like the Stay-Puft marshmallow man with the mobility of Randy from “A Christmas Story” after mom bundled him up. And somehow these layers seem to conspire to create an unreachable itch while inducing sweat and constriction in a suck-fest triumvirate.
If the patrol officer decides to pass on the layers, it pretty much guarantees that he or she will be forced to direct traffic in the elements for over an hour because some non-driving numb skull took out an electric pole and killed the power to a stoplight at a major intersection.
Selecting a warm hat, coat, and gloves for work becomes an exercise in choosing between practicality and comfort. A bulky hat or coat can be pulled over the eyes ala hockey-fight by suspects who decide to resist arrest. Warm but bulky gloves make it nearly impossible to handcuff or manipulate important things like a Taser or pistol. Damned if you do, freeze your ass off if you don’t.
If it’s actually working, the heater inside the patrol car becomes too hot far too fast, but shutting it down invites the cold to creep into the car. A lot of us balance it out by rolling down a window just enough to regulate the temperature. Having the window down a bit helps…until snow starts to blow inside the car or your ear freezes solid.
Every surface seems to leave some sort of road salt grime on your uniform, and the floor board of the patrol car morphs into a catch all of slush and nasty. Windshield wipers just spread grime and streak nastiness everywhere.
Keeping a patrol car clean is an impossible waste of effort. A normally super-organized vehicle interior becomes chaos pretty quickly when it’s too damn cold to return things to their actual home inside the car.
Juxtapose the hassles of cold-weather policing with the “festive” holiday season which typically brings joy to the public but throws cops into all to commonly occurring calls that are inherent to this time. The holidays can be a cheerful experience when you aren’t working crashes, chasing down shoplifters, dealing with suicides, and domestic disputes that are far too common holiday experiences for cops.
I’m a fair-weather creature at best, and my current climate doesn’t suit me well at all. I’ve lived nearly my entire life in this environment and I always question my life’s decisions this time of year around the Donut.
In the end I am where I am, so I set out with the knowledge that eventually things will thaw and return to the way they should be. Until then, I’ll spend my off duty time bundled up and burning through aerosol cans trying to expedite the whole global warming thing.
Time to go patrol the Donut…