September 17, 2007

Behind the badge and the gun

Riding along with Wright County Deputy Jessica Hanson on the night shift

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

During the rush and crush of evening traffic through Delano, drivers may find themselves crossing paths with one of the deputies on duty during the night shift – Deputy Jessica Hanson.

Hanson has been working in law enforcement for eight years, five of which were spent in Sherman County.

As a child, she had a soft spot for animals and deeply wanted to become a veterinary technician, but as she grew into her high school years, she became fascinated with the law, and helping those in need of her care.

It was during those last few years in Elk River High School that she made her final career decision. After stumbling upon a meth lab, she reported it to the police. Recalling the memory, Hanson said, “It was just the most fascinating day of my life. At that moment, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.”

Not wanting to take out school loans, Hanson worked hard during school and paid for classes as she went. She attended the school that had the classes to fit with her schedule. She applied for scholarships and grants, as well. She was more than happy that she didn’t take out student loans.

Hanson comes to work every day in her brown polyester uniform. The uniform certainly is not her most favorite thing to wear. She took awhile to grow accustomed to the 20-pound belt around her waist. On the belt, she always carries a gun, portable radio, hand cuffs, keys, phone, and extra magazines.

Above all, what Hanson loves most about her job is the diversity.

Hanson commented, “It’s a job with a lot of variety. You never know what you’re going to get or what’s going to happen. You could do anything from chasing cows back in to their pens, to handling assaults, thefts, and burglaries. You never know what your call is going to be.”

The most common reasons Hanson will pull a car over are speeding and moving violations (such as not signaling correctly, and wide turns.)

A common misconception that people have while driving is believing that officers will not bother stopping cars who speed up to 10 miles over the speed limit. However, Hanson firmly believes that speeding is against the law and that officers will not hesitate to pull over any car that exceeds the speed limit. In most cases, it depends on the officer and the road on which the driver was speeding.

Hanson generally gives each car a two-mile leeway because the radar can be off by a mile or so, but she always gives the driver the benefit of the doubt.

“If I have the slightest doubt in my mind, I will not write that ticket,” said Hanson.

Also, people sometimes attribute the sex of an officer as the reason why they would or would not receive a ticket. Not so, Hanson says.

It all depends on the situation and the person. When stopping a car, Hanson is always looking for something more. She will check each person’s record to see if there are any warrants.

Also, Hanson pays particular attention to a driver’s attitude. She often asks herself the question: Are they lying to me? For officers, in general, honesty goes a long way.

“If I get someone who is completely honest with me, who has a good attitude and is polite, that makes the world of a difference. People lie to you all the time, so it’s refreshing when you get someone who’s honest. It’s frustrating sometimes because it’s usually over something so simple. You’re going to get the ticket whether you lie to me or not,” said Hanson.

After patrolling the town of Delano for a few years, Hanson has grown familiar with people and license plates.

“I can pretty much recognize half the cars while driving,” said Hanson.

At times, she will stop a car for speeding, let them off with a warning, and end up pulling the same car over the next week. She does not even hesitate to write that ticket.

When asked what has been the most interesting part of her job, Hanson mentioned working with homicides and she also has found pursuits to be highly riveting.

Hanson prefers working late into the evenings because there are typically more drunk drivers. She likes to stay busy.

Even though Hanson lives in Monticello, she has grown to know the town of Delano pretty well. She knows all the hiding spots and all the places to watch with an extra close eye.

Sometimes, officers drive in pairs, but this is not so in Wright County.

“Any other person who works with me is considered my partner, but we don’t ride in pairs,” said Hanson.

If in need of back-up, the officers can always call for help.

As an officer, Hanson is not required to stop a certain number of people in a year. There are no special awards for the one who sends the most people to jail.

Laughing to herself, Hanson said, “It really makes no difference whether you stop two people or 200 people each year.”

As far as the paper work goes, Hanson is required to write a report for every car she pulls over.

“Most of the time, it’s pretty cut and dried simple,” said Hanson. “It’s only difficult when there are a lot of people involved. I generally don’t mind it though.”

Especially in the summer, Hanson catches a lot of underage teenagers drinking. Although she knows it’s wrong, she believes that there is no way to fully prevent it from happening.

“It’s been happening since the dawn of time. They’re going to do it. You hate to see it happen, but there’s nothing you can do to stop it,” Hanson.

Death settles a little bit differently. Thinking back to a few suicides, Hanson said, “I don’t want to say that it gets easier over time. It’s not one of my favorite things to do, but you just got to look at it as it’s my job and I have to do what I can to get my work done. Try not to make it personal. You’re supposed to be the one that takes care of everything. It’s hard thing to do, especially with younger people.”

Often people will be rude and inconsiderate towards officers. Hanson has grown used to this, but it is difficult.

“It’s hard sometimes, but I have to understand that these people don’t know me. It’s not me that they’re being rude to, it’s the uniform. It’s just part of the job, but you learn to get used to not taking anything personal. Nobody likes to see us, especially in the rear view mirror,” said Hanson.

If there is one thing that an officer does not want to run short on, it’s gas. One evening, Hanson was down to a quarter of a tank and she went to fill up. Literally minutes later, she found herself in a pursuit going 120 miles on the freeway all the way to Hutchinson.

After working around a jail for years in Sherman County, Hanson has seen the lows and highs of people.

Hanson said, “They have to want to change and do it for themselves. It’s their decision. It’s frustrating because you see these people come in and you wonder why they are doing this to themselves. They could do so much better.”

As far as future goals for herself, Hanson has considered getting involved with the FBI, but right now, she’s content with her job and all the opportunities to help others.

“You have unique opportunities to help people. It can be very rewarding. It feels good to know that you can actually do something to make a difference. If it prevents one person from dying in a car crash, then it’s completely worth it,” said Hanson.

Hanson was also very complimentary towards the fire departments, especially when she finds herself delivering CPR to a victim. It’s nice to get the back-up help.

“They are always so great, and they are always there to help. When they come, it’s great because they know what they are doing and they can help. I’m just so glad we have them. They are always willing to help,” said Hanson.

Sometimes, Hanson will receive thank you notes from the people she arrests. For her, that makes all the difference.

If you are interested in getting involved with the law, Hanson recommends that you try riding along with an officer. She is a full believer in trying something before making a final career decision.

Hanson said, “I don’t think that just anybody can do this sort of job, but if you’re interested, get involved early. The earlier you get involved, the better.”

Through Wright County, there is a program called Explorer where students ages 13 to 21 can volunteer to work with the officers. In the program, they will learn exactly what it is like to be an officer. From everything to learning what to do in a pursuit to handling a gun properly, the students learn exactly what it is like to wear the badge and gun.

For more information, call the Wright County Sheriff’s office.

The law is always looking for dedicated officers like Hanson who truly care about helping others. There is more to an officer than handing out speeding tickets and hauling people off to jail. The uniform is only a uniform. Take the time to thank them for doing their job. It’s not always easy.

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