Monday, December 26, 2011

Policing the rural

The Rapid City Journal recently interviewed several police officers from rural South Dakota to discuss the unique challenges and aspects of police work in a rural town. While a simple newspaper story can’t give a complete picture of what it is like to work as an officer in a small town, the interviews provided some valuable insight into the type of person that it takes to be successful in a position that is of vital importance for rural communities.

The officers interviewed for the story work in small towns across Pennington County, South Dakota. The officers have a wide variety of tasks and patrol a large amount of space. One officer said he will drive over 400 miles on any given night. The officers seemed to agree that the biggest challenge of the job however, is the frequent loneliness- particularly during the night shifts. While some nights are really busy, there are often long nights without any calls. This can make it difficult to stay alert on any given night and the amount of time spent without human interaction tends to wear on the officers.

One challenge that the officers seem to enjoy, however, is the trust-building aspect of the job. Police officers in these small South Dakota towns are around frequently and know most of the people in the areas they patrol. Rather than simply be seen as powerful authority figures, the officers need to maintain positive and amicable relationships with residents while still doing their jobs.

Another positive for the officers is that they typically get more time to handle and investigate assignments. The extra time, combined with their familiarity with the residents and the area often leads to smooth, successful results when trying to solve crimes. This makes the officers feel like they are actually making a big substantive difference in the community and brings a sense of satisfaction that other officers in bigger cities might not have.

While it would not be proper to make sweeping generalizations from the article, it definitely seems like it takes a specific type of person to be successful as a rural police officers. Successful rural officers need to possess nearly all of the virtues that human beings universally tend to agree are positive. They need to be patient, trustworthy, and kind to people while still maintaining vigor and passion for enforcing the law. They also need to be able to deal with the more than occasional day or night with nothing to do and no one to talk to. Being a rural police officer demands a lot of a person, but if the small sample of officers that were interviewed in the article is any indication, some of the officers seem to genuinely enjoy their work.

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