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Last week, Chrisman Chief of Police Tom Dolan took us on a ride along to give some insight on police protocol and insight on different things that officers deal with on the job.
“Tomorrow, I will work in Ridge Farm,” Dolan said. “I listen to their traffic because Vermilion County dispatches us as well as Danville.” The Chrisman Police Department works close with other area departments.
Before Chief Dolan can begin his nightly patrol, a series of steps has to be performed first.
“The first thing we have to do is get the car out. That sounds like an easy task, but we have to check all of the equipment,” Dolan told us. The radar has to be calibrated, working and connected to the computer. “That way I can figure out what’s going on with vehicles or run a driver’s license.”
At the beginning of the shift, the officers’ body cam has to be synced up and in working order. Recently, body cams were required for all police officers while on duty.
Currently, the Chrisman Police Department has just one body cam for use on duty. This presents a problem, especially if two officers are on duty. In the last year, the department has faced this problem around ten times. Due to Chrisman being a small town, they have been given extra time to get the necessary body cams for the officers. “We have time to get our stuff together before it becomes law,” Dolan said.
The body cam that the officers wear are synced up with the lights. Once the red and blue lights are turned on, the body cam automatically starts recording. If the lights aren’t on, another light can be turned on, which will start the cam.
In the event that that doesn’t happen, the officer can manually turn on the body cam. “The only problem with that particular plan is that you have to remember to push it,” Dolan said. “Sometimes there’s a lot going on in your head and you don’t press it.”
Cameras inside of the police vehicle have to be synced by Bluetooth. The cameras give the officer the ability to record from the dash, both inside and out, and the rear of the vehicle as well as the back seat. This becomes important when someone has been arrested.
“I’ve been a fan of video cameras for a very long time,” Dolan said. “As an officer, it protects you against somebody who says you did something that you didn’t do. Or maybe other people misinterpret what you do and it brings clarity to the discussion. We always have video evidence.”
Dolan also stated that he feels it keeps officers from losing their composure knowing they are being recorded. “I think it’s good for public safety as well.” Dolan admits that he may have let loose a word that his Pastor may not have agreed with, but has never cared if anything he’s done has been recorded. “I’m happy to have it recorded,” he says.
After all of the cameras are synced up and the computer is up and running, Dolan can now begin his shift. The first thing Chief Dolan does is read the logs of the officers that have been on duty since the last time he was.
“Usually they call me if something is going on. This happens daily. They’ll do something and feel like as Chief, I should know. I appreciate that greatly.”
Even when Dolan works in Ridge Farm, he reads the officer logs. “I also have intel sheets that I prepare for the officers if there’s stuff going on. That’s an officer safety issue. Any intel they need, I make it available.”
Intel can include anything from suspect sightings and any new information on previous events.
Dolan wanted to be a police officer, but had yet to take the steps to make it happen. “I met Ray Sollars. He gave me a ticket in front of the hospital in Paris. I was speeding,” Dolan said. The two got to talking and had a common interest in martial arts. Dolan has a martial arts school in Paris. “He joined the school and ended up black belt,” Dlan said. “A second degree black belt and became an instructor.”
Their friendship was the stepping stone for Dolan to get into law enforcement. He became the intensive probation officer for a time. “They didn’t have a field training officer program, so he (Sollars) did it for me, so I rode with him.”
After completing the FTO (field training officer) program, Dolan worked with Sollars when he was chief. “I continued to learn from him and still learn from him today. I like to run things by him because he’s got forty-one years of experience.”
Knowledge and experience from training helps the officer in many ways. Some officers struggle when they begin their first patrol. “There’s so much that seems to be going on. You come to terms with it pretty quickly. You learn to multi-task. One of the biggest challenges to multi-tasking as an officer is when you have a hot call.”
The most important thing for the officer is to get to the location safely. “You’ve got to know where you’re going and sometimes it’s not all that clear,” said Dolan.
In a hypothetical situation of a 10-55 (intoxicated driver), coming northbound from Paris, Dolan would be alerted.
If for some reason they didn’t call, Dolan would still be listening and prepare himself. “My radar would be up.” He would position himself in a way to be able to spot the vehicle. “This is something that I want people to know. So many of those calls we get are too late. They saw it, they get home, and that vehicle is gone,” Dolan said.
The best call you can make is when you are behind the vehicle, seeing the driver in front of you and you witness it. “You get on the phone now and not only say what you saw, what direction you are going and describe the vehicle. And if you can, give me the license plate number or give dispatch the license plate,” Dolan advises.
Chief Dolan actually received a call similar to this from Newman. “It was an individual that was in a strange medical situation,” he said. The medics were called, but the person ran off and got in their car, then headed eastbound. The caller wanted to do a welfare check on the person who drove off. “I was thinking, well can we or can’t we? There’s a certain amount of right to privacy there, but there had been a legitimate call, so I said ok.” Dolan was given an approximate time frame of two minutes since departure and the direction of travel. Dolan was two miles out of town when a vehicle matching the description drove past. “I knew the plate, I got behind it. Plate matched and I knew it was my vehicle,” said Dolan.
He began observing the driver after it was reported they had been all over the road. “I wanted to see that for myself. If I see it, I have a legitimate purpose for stopping them other than the call.” The driver hit the white line, then the yellow line. This was enough of a reason to be pulled over.
For the safety of the driver, himself and oncoming drivers, Dolan waited to make the stop in Chrisman at the intersection, where it was well lit and a wider area. “You make decisions like that on the fly, you pull them over. In the end, I was able to ascertain to my satisfaction that she was ok. She wasn’t impared,” Dolan said. He then called Edgar County Dispatch to have them contact Douglas County to let them know everything was fine. “They had a legit call. I told them everything was good for her.”
Dolan told us this story to let the public know about what they do. The police get a call and find the suspect. In this particular case, he had enough information that included the vehicle description, direction of travel, last known location and the license plate. “I follow normal police procedures and add some experience to it,” Dolan said. “I tried to protect her rights and ended up with a legitimate stop in itself in addition to a welfare check. I was a little uncomfortable stopping someone for no reason other than someone saying they needed to be stopped.”
The police are constantly balancing the right to privacy with public safety. Dolan logged the information and had a conversation with another officer who told him that he had previously interacted with this individual.
“We’re pretty fortunate that it’s extremely rare we will have more than one thing happening at once,” Dolan said. If something is happening in more than one place, the Chrisman department is able to rely on other local departments and jurisdictions for any help they need.
When Dolan works up north, his main focus is Chrisman at all times. “If there’s a call down here and I’m working up there, I would just come down here. My chief was always ok with it. I’ll hear a call and I’m five minutes away. If they don’t need me, that’s ok.”
Back up also involves the Edgar County Police and mutual aid with Ridge Farm and Newman. “They will come up here in a second if they’re not on a call. I’m well acquainted with them. I’ve known them for years. We work really well together and I’ll go help them too,” said Dolan.
Dolan’s last 10-80 case (a pursuit in progress) that resulted in a chase, ended in Tuscola with the Newman police officer as Chief Dolan’s back up.
“I was approaching the intersection and the guy blew through going fifty miles per hour. He about hit a car that pulled out in front of him,” Dolan said.
When Dolan swung behind him, the driver sped up to one hundred miles per hour. “No one usually runs, so when they do, you ask yourself why?” The driver was stopped in Tuscola after the police laid down a spike strip.
A spike strip is a device or incident weapon used to impede or stop the movement of wheeled vehicles by puncturing their tires. Generally, the strip is composed of a collection of 35-to-75-millimetre-long (1+1⁄2 to 3 in) metal barbs, teeth or spikes pointing upward.
“He (the suspect) said the only reason you stopped me was because you flattened my tires,” Dolan told us. “He put so many people at risk through Hume. When he was coming into Tuscola, it was like ‘what does this guy got?’. Is it a ton of drugs, a body, what does he have?”
Things get dangerous when a driver takes the officers on a high speed chase. That particular chase was a felony/high risk with weapons. The Newman officer heard the call over the radio and was waiting. Together, they stayed behind him. “The Tuscola Police blocked off both lanes and did a fantastic job. They did a felony stop and took the guy to jail,” said Dolan.
Even though an officer may be by themselves, they’re really not. Officers from different jurisdictions are close by. “They may be fifteen minutes away, but knowing someone is on the way can change things for you. Mentally, you feel safer.”
One problem that Edgar County is facing in the amount of drugs coming in and out of the county. Drugs are also coming in from Danville. The intersection in Chrisman, Rt. 1 and 36 is the main roadway used to traffic the drugs.
“Chrisman is not immune to the problems we’re facing everywhere. We’re aware of a lot, we’re trying to get to the bottom of things, trying to make cases. It’s why we do what we do. It will happen sooner or later,” Dolan said.
Chief Dolan wants to encourage people who see suspicious activity to call. “People sometimes have told me that I don’t want to be a bother. This is what we do. If I go and it turns out to be nothing, it’s ok.”
If it’s a tip, call the Edgar County Non-Emergency Line and tell dispatch. Dispatch would then tell the officer on duty and they can call the person back. If it’s important, dispatch will go ahead and send a deputy out. “They’ll save the information knowing we’re coming on, then I’ll follow up,” said Dolan. “I do believe if you see something, say something.”
Since becoming Chrisman Police Chief, almost a year ago, Tom Dolan has made it his number one priority to make sure that his officers are safe, but more importantly, the residents of Chrisman are safe. “What I want people to know is that we’re working hard to protect them. If they see us sitting, we’re watching and working. I appreciate everything that the officers do,” Dolan said.
After our interview, Chief Dolan and I were at the city building ready to take a photo for the article when he received a call from dispatch. Within moments, Dolan was at the scene. In an instant, Dolan gained what information he needed to track down the suspect outside of Chrisman, detain him and take him to the jail.
I want to thank Chief Dolan for letting me ride along and for keeping our town safe.