Thursday, July 9, 2009

Riding Along With One Of Socorro's Finest

By Mike Sievers

This is an excerpt from a full article that will appear in an upcoming special section.

It was a relatively sleepy Thursday night in Socorro, so Wes Mauldin decided to pull into the town’s south-end Chevron station at about 6:45 p.m. for some “dinner”: a handful of cashews and a Red Bull.
Mauldin, who has been an officer with the Socorro Police Department for six years, spent his eight-hour mid shift with this reporter riding shotgun on Thursday, June 18, which was Mauldin’s first complete day riding in his brand-new V-6 Chevrolet Impala.
Late in the shift, he was getting hungry again and wondered aloud if his wife had cooked a real dinner, since his daughter’s swim practice was cancelled. Most days, his biggest meal is before the shift, and he often doesn’t eat anything until after it’s over.
Mauldin grew up in Lemitar and graduated from Socorro High School.
“I’m an officer here because I care about my community, and most of our officers do,” Mauldin said. “It’s a great place to live.”
He said police officers in general are often misunderstood and disrespected, and people should know the officers really are there to serve and protect – not to make life hard on people.
“This job can be very frustrating,” he said. “There are days when you go home and take off your uniform and think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ … But I love this job. It really is a lifestyle.”
Mauldin currently works two mid shifts – 2 to 10 p.m. – and three day shifts – 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. – every week, in addition to overtime. It also is common for officers to arrive at work 30 minutes early and leave 30 minutes late. Mauldin said once the department boosts its staff numbers soon, the officers might switch to 4-10s – 10-hour days and four-day weeks.
Mauldin’s workday June 18 started at about 7:45 a.m., when he did some traffic patrol for several hours. Normally he would take a nap after that, but was committed to work overtime in court around noon. His actual shift began at 2 p.m. and he finally pulled into the police station to end the shift a little before 10 p.m. – before 10 and not after, because it was a slow night.
“A lot of nights are like this, really slow and quiet, and we just make our presence known,” Mauldin said. “One of the biggest deterrents to crime is our presence and visibility.”
After an informal briefing at the station, Mauldin made his first traffic stop of the shift at 2:45 p.m., when he clocked a Jeep traveling 44 mph in a 33 mph zone on Highway 60. At 2:54, he stopped a pickup that was going 47 in the same zone. He said officers usually relay license plate numbers to central dispatch as soon as they are visible in case the driver decides to take off. In this case he didn’t call out the numbers right away, because he was multitasking – talking business on his cell phone with Assistant Chief Mike Winders.
At 3:47, Mauldin cited a driver whose Ford Explorer was stopped in the middle of the road. Another officer pulled up behind Mauldin for support, which Mauldin said the officers do whenever possible.
“We like to roll by and check on each other, if nothing else,” he said.
The first time Mauldin used his siren was when a Chrysler 300 sedan ran a stop sign at Meek and Cuba streets, and the driver did not have a driver’s license with her, or current proof of insurance. Mauldin cut her a break on the insurance since the sticker on her license plate was current.
“Contrary to popular belief, most officers aren’t out here to beat people up. We’re really out here to help people out,” he said.
At 4:25 p.m., Mauldin initially planned to stop a truck for speeding, but instead pulled over a car that was traveling even faster, behind the truck. The driver pulled over immediately upon seeing Mauldin’s unit. He set out to give the driver a citation, but learned the driver, who was in tears, had just received news about a devastating life-threatening illness in her family. He let her go with a warning, but told her that being upset was all the more reason to drive safely.
At 5:21 p.m., a driver in a Honda Accord ran a stop sign at Meek and Cuba – she stopped after seeing Mauldin’s unit, but it was too late. She got a written warning.
At 5:36 p.m., Mauldin went to assist officer Kenneth Greenwood on a call about possible child abuse. Since the alleged incident took place in the county, the officers called State Police, who in turn called out the state Children, Youth and Families Department for an interview with the child.
At 6 p.m., Mauldin was called to a mobile home park where a resident had complained of loud music coming from a truck parked in front of a neighbor’s home. The man playing his music had already turned it down upon the arrival of Mauldin, who simply told him to keep it down.
Mauldin said if he ever won $200 million in the lottery, he would finance and build truly affordable housing where people would have enough space to live their lives in peace, and would have the freedom to play their music loudly if they chose to do so. He believes a common cause of crime and conflict in general is the fact that many people live too close together.
Mauldin gives a friendly wave to most of the people he sees when patrolling, and for the most part, people wave back. Of course, having grown up in Socorro County, he knows lots of people by name. He said knowing everyone actually can be a disadvantage at times, because people expect to get breaks.
Mauldin said the reason for enforcing traffic rules is to make people realize that bad driving is dangerous, and issuing a citation may end up saving the life of the driver him/herself, or another driver or pedestrian, in the future.
“I write tickets so you think about your poor driving habits,” Mauldin said.


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