“Well, this will be interesting,” I thought, as I speed-walked my way to Gilchrist. I had no idea what to expect, having never ridden in a police car, much less spoken more than a few words to an officer in my life. I approached the Public Safety window, and told them I was there for my scheduled ride along. I was then told to wait in a small room adjacent to the public safety office. I sat waiting, nervously tapping my foot, scrolling through my notes on my phone.
“Yeah, I’m here to get her now,” I overheard. I quickly locked my phone and looked to my left at the large brown door that soon opened to reveal Lieutenant James Dally.
We shook hands and introduced ourselves. Initially, I was very nervous, and slightly intimidated because he was quite tall. But my nervousness slowly turned into curiosity as he showed me around the public safety office area, starting with the dispatch office. To my left, the chief of police sat leaning on a filing cabinet, and Sue Lang, one of the dispatchers was at a chair in front of the multitude of computers lining the back wall. Lang explained what all of the screens were for, and what their duties entail.
Dally also showed me the holding cell, and the room where they process papers for people who have been arrested. After the tour, we got into one of the cars parked outside and drove for a while.
Right away, I could tell that Lieutenant Dally enjoys his job. He has been working with the UNI Police for twenty years, so he has quite a bit of experience. He is from the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area, but has not always been working in the police force. He served in the military for eight years, but when he started having a family he did not want to keep moving around so much. So, he put his name in with the workforce development and the first job that opened up was at UNI; he has been here ever since.
We only drove around campus for about forty minutes, but in that short amount of time I learned a lot about Lieutenant Dally’s character. One point that he made very clear is that the officers who work at UNI really care about the students. He explained that they operate under an unwritten philosophy that they are part of the education system here.
One of his goals for his career is to get students through college safely, and he often takes the opportunity to turn an incident into a learning experience for the student. But most importantly, he is always respectful.
“I would want an officer to treat me with dignity and respect, and that’s how most of our officers treat people,” he stated.
Lieutenant Dally’s responsibilities are typically service-oriented, as he works the first shift from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. He drives around campus, making sure everyone is doing what they should be, and has occasional traffic stops. His least favorite part about his job is arresting people. But, he explained that sometimes he is able to turn a negative situation into a positive. He often takes time to simply talk to people.
“Sometimes,” he stated, “somebody just needs an ear…I would much rather prevent something from happening than deal with it later.”
I have always had the idea that police officers are strict, and that they only care about making sure people obey the law. I know now that there is much more to the job than simply pulling people over and writing tickets. Police officers are human, just like everyone else, and people so often forget that; students, especially.
But Lieutenant Dally surprised me when he said, “I wish students realized that we have people here on campus who are willing to lay down their lives for the students.”
I was extremely humbled by this, because I had never thought of it that way. Police officers put themselves in danger every day in order to keep others safe. It is truly a job of service.
Now, more than ever, I am very thankful for police officers, and I wish that more people had that view. The media tends to put the police in a negative light, and not every officer is as kind as the ones I’ve met. But my ride along experience with Lieutenant Dally opened my eyes and I feel lucky to have had the chance to interview him and learn more about the lives of people who work in law enforcement.