The beat goes on

Danger, surprise just part of the job for Henrico police officers
False alarms, fist fights, paperwork, gunshots, belligerent drunkenness, more gunshots, another fight, and more paperwork are among the elements that can constitute the Saturday night schedule of a Henrico County Police officer like Justin Coullier on “the beat.”

Coullier’s patrol area is the North district, the place most know as Glen Allen. On this night, he and his partner; Officer Andrew Campo, will respond to approximately 10 calls. Each of these calls requires a thorough assessment, and nowhere in the department handbook does it stipulate that each is to take the same amount of time.

With Bon Jovi whispering in the background to relieve the stress, Coullier patrols a dark winding back road looking for suspicious activity. This time, it is the activity that finds him, in the form of a pair of headlights approaching head on without slowing down.

Narrowly avoiding a collision and without missing a beat, or his siren activator, Coullier throws the cruiser into a U-turn, getting the driver’s attention seconds before she hits another car. Thinking it may be a drunk driver, Coullier must restrain his own emotions in order to ascertain whether or not the situation will call for an arrest. It doesn’t. The driver is an emotional elderly woman who must collect her thoughts before getting back on the road. Running his rugged hands over his buzzed head to clear the sweat, Coullier clears the scene.

After writing the ticket and clearing his head, Coullier has moved on to another call, a domestic conflict. The subjects are given lined sheets of paper and told to make a report, while Coullier and Campo return to their cars to finish their own. With a thin, long grin on his face, Campo begins discussing the night’s events as Coullier mirrors the same grin in a pal-ish affirmation. A fellow officer announces that he is in a foot pursuit on the radio. The two officers listen to the radio with one ear and to each other with the other.

“Shots fired! Shots fired!” the radio sounds. The look on Campo’s face is now one of fear and tension, Coullier shows the same. Their eyes are wide, and the grins are gone.

Coullier’s “office” is now hastily advancing towards the scene in order to assist a fellow officer. Coullier must watch traffic, listen to the radio, look at the computer and monitor his speed all at the same time. It’s after midnight, and traffic is thin. On the scene, an abnormally high number of officers sit, watching and waiting for any sightings of the armed suspect. Coullier must return to his domestic call. As a brother would be disturbed to leave his sibling in a dangerous environment, so too is Coullier. But orders are orders.

The domestic dispute is cleared, the night rolls on, and Coullier and Campo have a few moments to discuss some of the night’s events. They will not be able to converse long before they receive their next call, which will be to break up a fight.

Afterwards, they’ll have to make an arrest of a suspect in a completely different neighborhood. A warrant must be sworn and an accident investigation must be completed.

Coullier and Campo, along with the other officers on the night shift, have now worked 11 of the 12 hours on their schedules.

While their sleep regimen may be reversed, their attitudes about their jobs force them to move forward with their tour of duty until it is time to clock out. Their jobs seem stressful because they are, but both men deal with that pressure for a reason. To Coullier, the job is constantly fulfilling, because it is always changing.

Henrico County officers such as Coullier and Campo have a reason they call their job “the beat.” It can be clean or it can be distorted, calm or aggressively loud, and the pace can change in a second.
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The Henrico Theatre Company will present “The 1940s Radio Hour” Dec. 2-18 at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. A different time is evoked in this holiday show, a live broadcast of The Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade from the Hotel Astor’s Algonquin Room on December 21, 1942. The spirit of this bygone era mixed with your favorite holiday tunes including “Strike Up the Band,” Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy,” “That Old Black Magic” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” All performances are at 8 p.m. except for Sunday matinees which are at 2:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students. For details, call 501-5859 or visit http://www.henrico.us/rec. Full text

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