GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Every day, hundreds of men and women put on their uniforms and gear up, ready to protect and serve the coast. They are beat cops, doing a thankless job. They certainly aren't in it for the money. They do it simply because they want to make a difference.
Doug Walker recently spent a 12 hour overnight shift with patrolman Stephen Carlson of the Gulfport Police Department to see what life is really like behind the badge and on the streets.
The shift begins with a pre-patrol briefing. Special attention is paid to possible trouble spots that may come up. Then, it's time to hit the streets.
"I don't think you get butterflies. You always worry in the back of your mind," Carlson explained. "You always hug your wife, kiss your child goodbye before you leave, because you never know."
The first order of business is to fuel up the patrol car. Also time to fuel up the body with a steaming cup of hot coffee. Steve calls that critical.
The first call, a potential break-in of a home. It turns out to be nothing.
Next up, a traffic stop of a car with a headlight out. That turns out to be something. Steve explained the charge.
"Well, found out the driver of the vehicle does not have a valid driver's license. Found out he does have a bench warrant."
Before it gets too late, a quick call to home. "I love you, have a good night. Let me talk to mommy," Steve said.
Another traffic stop, but this one worries Steve more than most. Why such caution?
"They already know what their actions are," Steve explained. "You don't and they're not going to tell you ahead of time, so you're always trying to catch up."
Then a stop of a suspicious person carrying a box of wine glasses down the street at one in the morning. He was also carrying something else, an ice pick. Not against the law, so no arrest.
Then the first DUI stop of the night. A field sobriety test is given, and the cuffs go on the suspect. The truck will be towed.
Then comes the first domestic call of the night. No one is hurt, but a vehicle ends up a victim of the violence, with a window smashed out.
Another domestic is dispatched, this one more urgent. A woman possibly run over and we rush to the scene, running code. A woman is injured after being jumped, her face bloody and swollen. She is taken to the hospital.
Back to office to file a report about the attack, something that happens a lot, according to Steve.
"There's quite a bit of paperwork involved. Is it getting better? Certainly. Over the years we've got the records management system, RMS."
Some of the basic tenets of good old fashioned police work have remained the same over the years: Pounding the pavement, talking to people, getting to know your neighborhood. Other things have changed and that's the incredible technology found in today's police cars and how it helps these officers do their jobs. Steve noted how the on board computer works.
"On the top of the screen, it will show us all the calls that officers are assigned this time," he explained. "Below, right here where it says pending calls, the bottom part of the screen, it will show us all calls that are pending."
Another domestic call comes in that is diffused safely. There is always the potential for danger and officers are extremely careful.
"One of the most dangerous calls officers respond to are domestics and traffic stops," Steve said. "You have to be very careful You have to park a distance away. You have to approach the scene paying attention to anything on the street, anything in yards because you never know where the suspect may or may not be."
An accident on Highway 90 blocks both east bound lanes. The car hit the curb, and blew out both passenger tires. Steve has a theory about what happened.
"It appears that alcohol may possibly be involved. At this point, we don't know. We're doing preliminary tests at this time to determine that."
Also tonight, a lift is given for a young woman walking home after a hospital stay. Steve talked about the act of kindness.
"So if somebody needs help, legitimately needs help, there's nothing wrong with stopping and helping them as long as you have the time."
The most frustrating part of the job is the lack of total honesty.
"A lot of times they do tell you the truth, but they only tell you a portion of the truth, and the rest of it you have to rely on your experience to determine what happened," Steve said.
What's the most rewarding part for him?
"The satisfaction of solving a crime. Whether it be a homicide or whether it be larceny."
With dawn breaking, it's time to call it a night and take time for reflection for Steve.
"Just be thankful that me and all my partners came home through the night. Very thankful for that."
Gulfport is Mississippi's second largest city, employing 183 men and women as sworn police officers serving a population of 70,000 residents. The city spans an area of 64 square miles.