Ride along with a trooper from Troop E
By Katy England
edge staff writer
HIGHWAYS/BYWAYS – Whether you’re driving up I95 or cruising down the back roads of Maine, it can seem like state troopers are everywhere.
Trooper Scott Hamilton was kind enough to put up with me and my questions for two shifts, one evening and one day shift. The first shift was on the interstate, running radar and answering calls for service. Hamilton, who is also the lead defensive tactics instructor for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, explained that the calls can come fast and furious or be few and far between. He became a trooper in 1997; prior to that he worked for the Ellsworth and Bar Harbor Police Departments.
Hamilton explained that he would be patrolling the interstate the first shift. This includes running radar, responding to calls for service, and calls about erratic drivers.
During the patrol he responded to a vehicle that had struck something in the interstate. It turned out that a truck travelling north on I95 lost its tire, crossed the median and struck a minivan travelling south, causing considerable damage.
Hamilton also stopped a car that was cruising along at 84 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. That’s one mile per hour away from criminal speeding. Even without the criminal speeding, tickets aren’t cheap. The goal for traffic enforcement is voluntary compliance – the idea that if the public see or know about the enforcement, they will slow down on their own.
In the week that passed between the two shifts, Hamilton and other members of the State Police Tactical Response or TAC team had been called to the triple homicide in Amity, the home invasion in Fairfield and the homicide in Brooks. The TAC team is on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week, responding to all of Maine’s high-risk calls.
It’s hard to reconcile going from handing out a speeding ticket one day to assisting at a high-risk call the next – sometimes as quickly as the next call.
“Every night is different,” Hamilton said. “Some nights are quiet with a minimal number of calls and others you go from one call to another the entire shift.”
Hamilton said that it was important for police to be respectful toward the public no matter what kind of call they get. Often times, it’s that person’s only dealing with law enforcement and how that trooper or police officer acts has an effect on the person’s feelings towards law enforcement officers on the whole.
The first call on the day shift involved responding to investigate marijuana plants growing on someone’s property. The caller told Hamilton that his 50-year-old stepson, who lived on a camp on the property, was growing the marijuana. When we arrived, Hamilton spoke to the caller and his stepson and located the plants as well as some more marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the camp.
State troopers have a plethora of responsibilities, including checking on cars that have broken down on the interstate, accident scenes, domestic violence and property disputes. Basically, they can respond to anything and any call can turn into something else at a moment’s notice. Hamilton said he once found $11,000 worth of cocaine following a so-called routine traffic stop.
One of the reasons troopers may seem intimidating or abrupt is because they are approaching every car as though there may be a threat. It’s all well and good if you’re not a threat, but you (or I) may do something that can make troopers, and other officers, nervous.
“When we conduct enforcement stops there are certain things we do for our safety because we don’t know who the person is [inside the stopped vehicle],” said Hamilton. “We don’t know what they’ve done or what they’re going to do.”
When he stopped another car for speeding, the young driver admitted being nervous because he had never been stopped before (which was true – they check). Hamilton let the young man off with a warning, but not before he had to call his parents.
Some tips if you find police behind you:
- Pull over to the right and stop. Most troopers and police officers will try to stop in a safe location.
- Stay in your vehicle.
- Don’t reach around for items. It’s OK to wait for the trooper to ask for your documents.
- If you are concerned that the person stopping you isn’t an officer of the law, use your cell phone to call 911 to confirm you’re being stopped legitimately. Put your hazards on and stop in a public area. Don’t speed up.
Safety is key when it comes to stops and arrests.
“The most important thing is to search for weapons – anything that can hurt a trooper or an officer at the jail,” said Hamilton. “Then you look for illegal contraband. Drugs, anything illegal.”
Hamilton has taught defensive tactics and use of force at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy since the municipal and state schools combined, training over 18 classes in use of force. But Hamilton hasn’t been in many altercations and he attributes this partially to how he treats people.
“We try to treat people the way we want to be treated,” he said.