A Dierks Bentley country western song includes the lyrics, “What was I thinking?” As I reviewed the police reports from the weekend, I came across one in which a woman drove down Northeast Seventh Street. The only problem was that the street no longer exists.  You see, when the City reconstructed the streets in that part of town, after checking with the residents, the street was vacated. There is a creek that runs under this street and no driveways or alleys are accessed from it. The woman told the officer that she saw tracks in the snow and believed the street went through. I am sure when she realized what she had done she asked herself, “What was I thinking?”

Many times, I have asked myself that very question. I was a new rookie patrol officer out on patrol for all of twenty-four minutes before I buried my squad car in the snow. It is probably some kind of statewide record, one I would just as soon forget. The senior officer, who had been on the department eighteen months longer than me, was riding shotgun. We were patrolling a neighborhood where new homes were being constructed.  As I continued down the street, I can still remember my partner telling me, “Stop. The street ends.”  I had no idea what he was talking about as the street certainly continued straight ahead. After all, I could see the tire tracks. I continued driving on and within seconds realized, the tracks were actually snowmobile tracks. It was too late as the patrol car became hopelessly buried in the snow. The worst part about it was that I had to use the police radio to call for a tow truck and every officer and deputy in the county now knew what I had done.  Afterwards, I asked myself, “What was I thinking?”

That would not be the last time I got a squad car stuck and most of the time there was nobody to tell me not to do something. I had to learn these lessons the hard way. An interstate ran through the community where I worked as a patrol officer. One afternoon I was patrolling north on the interstate when I heard over the police radio that there was a motor vehicle pursuit coming south toward me.  All I had to do was find a place in the median to turn my squad car around and join in the chase.  It was March or April and the snow had just melted. I knew that at every bridge abutment there is a flat area in the median where it is possible to turn a squad car around. I had done this dozens of times. As I steered my squad car onto the flat area in the median it sunk up to its frame in the moisture-saturated ground.  All I could do was wave as the pursuit went by me. “What was I thinking?”

There was another day when I was on patrol and spotted a vehicle with expired license plate tabs. I turned on the red lights and the motorist pulled over to the shoulder of the roadway coming to a stop. I walked up to the driver’s window, asked the man for his driver’s license, explaining that I had stopped him because his license plate tabs were expired.  He got a bewildered look on his face. I invited him to step out of his car and see for himself.  We walked to the rear of his car. As I bent down, pointing to the license plate it was then that I realized that the license tabs were not expired. “What was I thinking?”

I have had only myself to blame. One afternoon I parked and locked my squad car in front of the police station. I walked inside the building, removed my gun belt and sat down at the desk to catch up on paperwork. I was working alone so I was pretty much my own boss. About a half hour later, there was a knock on the station house door. I got up from the desk and opened the door. The person standing there explained that he had received a “fix it ticket” from another officer. This meant that I had to inspect the vehicle to make sure the burned out headlight had been replaced and sign off on the ticket.  I walked with him out to the parking lot and performed the inspection. As the man drove away I turned to go back into the building. It was then that I realized that I closed the door, locking myself out of the police station. Cell phones were a thing of the future. As I hoofed it to a nearby filling station to use the telephone, I kept asking myself, “What was I thinking?”

We have all made decisions that we look back upon now and wonder what we were thinking. One that really stands out in my mind though is one that someone else made.  I was a volunteer firefighter at the time.  One warm early spring day we received a call of a house on fire. The house was located some distance out in the country and by the time we arrived, there wasn’t much left to save.  The homeowner was pretty upset. I remember standing next to the fire chief when he asked the man how his home started on fire. The man replied, “I have had it with these June bugs all over the side of my house. I took a blow torch and was trying to burn them off the siding when it caught fire.”  I could only smile.  “What was he thinking?”

 

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