Meeting new friends

tporter@lsjournal.comSeptember 4, 2013 

The Journal is pleased to introduce “On the Job,” a new feature series that follows individuals as they handle their day-to-day business on the job. Today’s feature is a piece on Lee’s Summit Police Officer Mike Perkins, a member of the department’s traffic-safety unit.

To the untrained eye, the infraction is barely noticeable.

But to Lee’s Summit Police Officer Mike Perkins, a 17-year law enforcement veteran, he zeroes in on the offender and properly pursues the BMW vehicle.

“No front plate,” Perkins says as he pulls off a parking lot on Second and Douglas streets in downtown Lee’s Summit, sirens blaring and emergency lights on.

The violation was minor in nature, a common theme among most drivers Perkins pulls over that day.

“I just heard the most common excuse from a person with no front plates,” Perkins says after he obtained the driver’s identification and proof of insurance. “She said, ‘my husband usually does that, not me.’ Well, lady, your husband better get on the job.”

Perkins shows patience during the brief stop. He displays a deft touch when dealing with what he calls ‘new friends.’ He issues the driver a written warning for the front plate violation after everything checks out with her driver’s license and insurance.

“Let’s go back and see if we can catch some more action,” Perkins says once back inside his department-issued patrol car.

Sure enough, within minutes, a hybrid SUV rolls east on Second street pass Perkins’ squad car without a front license plate. The Lee’s Summit officer is swift to react.

“There’s another one,” Perkins says as he again zooms from his perch with lights on and sirens activated. “No front plate.”

After the requisite record and background checks, Perkins again issue a written warning to the driver whose response to the violation is: “I’ve been driving like this for four or five years and no one has ever told me (about the law that requires mounted front and back license plates.)”

Meeting new friends

Riding in the front seat of a police car gives a different perspective of what really transpires throughout Perkins’ 11-hour shifts. His eye is keen, his instincts sharp and his patience with traffic violators is uncanny and remarkable.

Perkins spent 12 years on the force in Sedalia and is now in his fifth year on the force in Lee’s Summit. As one of eight patrolmen in the department’s traffic safety unit, Perkins has autonomy on his beat. He’s allowed to patrol the entire city and he rides solo without a partner.

The beat never gets boring for the officer whose patience - there’s that word again - and understanding stands out during a three-hour ride-a-long and five vehicle stops.

“I call it making new friends,” Perkins says of his approach to the job. “I try to meet at least five new friends per day.”

‘She wasn’t trying to flee’

Perkins’ lights flips on as soon as the driver in front of him on Third Street and S.W. McClendon, just south of U.S. 50 and Oldham Parkway. Oblivious to the emergency lights and siren, the driver continues east after she makes a right turn onto McClendon.

Blocks later, and after a call for assistance, the driver finally realizes an officer is in semi-hot pursuit. The driver, in a late model Pathfinder, never committed a moving violation, but she did have a brake light that was not working properly.

As he gets out of his patrol car, the driver, a woman, confronts Perkins with little understanding of the English language. Perkins orders the woman, rather nicely, back into the Pathfinder as he assesses the situation. He immediately knows he is going to need a Spanish-speaking officer to help translate the language barrier with the offending party.

First to the scene is the backup officer Perkins called for when the woman initially refuse to stop. The backup officer speaks what he calls a “little bit of Spanish” and tries to obtain the woman’s identification and insurance paper.

“She doesn’t have a copy of her insurance,” the back-up officer says as Perkins continues to check the woman’s driving record. Both officers wait on their Spanish-speaking comrade to further explain to the driver the reason she was pulled over.

“She’s probably going to get a ticket for not showing proof of insurance,” Perkins says between playful banter with the backup officer on the scene. “Based on her driving record, she probably doesn’t get stopped very often. I don’t think she was trying to flee.

“She’ll get a ticket for no proof of insurance, a warning for the brake light and a verbal warning for not pulling over sooner and to not do that again.”

Hot spot policing

Hot spot policing is a term department heads use to describe an area in town that has recurring problems. Perkins has his own hot spots in the city. One is on Pryor Road near John Knox Village, where he nabs with regularity drivers headed westbound well over the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour.

Because of a hill, Perkins uses discretion when making stops in the area. With the aid of a radar, he lets drivers doing 40 off the hook, but anything over that gets his attention.

He clocks a woman zooming 50 down Pryor in a Buick LeSabre. To him it is obvious that the woman, a passenger and a back seat rider are headed back to work from lunch break and may be running late. His assessment of the situation rings true, and after letting the non-drivers go to return to work, writes the driver a ticket for speeding.

“Obviously, they were late coming back from lunch,” Perkins says, adding he let the non-drivers leave the scene because there wasn’t a threat of a crime. “You have to use common sense.”

The next violator in a Dodge 4x4 pickup truck was speeding in excess of 55 miles per hour, and it doesn’t take Perkins long to come to the conclusion, the perpetrator will receive a ticket.

“He’s going to get a ticket,” Perkins says as flips the switches on emergency lights and sirens. “That’s just too fast.”

Perkins later admits handing out tickets causes him some trepidation, but it has nothing to do with the threat of violence. Instead, it’s passing cars that unsettles the traffic-safety officer.

“That’s my biggest fear when I’m out on the road,” Perkins says. “That’s more of a concern than a threat from a violator.”

On that note

The ride-along with Perkins ended in an inauspicious way.

A motorist stops his vehicle near Perkins’ spot on Pryor. The keen-eyed officer spots the gentleman as he approaches the squad car. Perkins rolls down the power window on the driver’s side.

“Excuse me, Sir,” the gentleman says to Perkins, who is on the ready. “Have you ever had someone apologize to you for driving too fast?”

“All the time,” Perkins says, with, what else, patience.

“No, I mean, someone that you didn’t have pulled over,” the man says as he leans in towards Perkins’ window to relay a story about why he was speeding. “I just wanted to apologize for driving too fast.”

“That’s never happened before,” Perkins says as he makes his way to the next destination. “Never.”

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