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Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD


The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at

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Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Professionals on the front line

Deputies fight crime, fight to feed families

By Gideon Oakes

April 30, 2009 | LOGAN -- It is 6:23 on a Wednesday evening. Deputy Brian Groves has been in service for a little more than 15 minutes. He is quietly writing a citation in the area of 200 South when three piercing beeps followed by the voice of a dispatcher crackle over the radio, breaking the silence.

"All units, vehicle pursuit in progress heading southbound on Main," the dispatcher advises.

The fifth-year deputy's ears perk up and he spins his Crown Victoria cruiser around and gets ready to either join the chase or deploy spike strips, should the cars come that far south.

"You might get to see some action after all," he says, as I brace myself and wonder what I really signed on that waiver.

But the action never comes ­ at least not this time. The drunken evader pulls his car into his own driveway and surrenders to Logan police.

As quickly as it began, it is over, and Groves goes back to the less dramatic, but nevertheless important, work at hand. He drives a few blocks north to assist Sgt. Wyatt Goring in dealing with a child custody issue.

In the time most civilian workers spend pouring their first cup of coffee and reading their morning e-mail, Groves has already run the gamut of emotion and adrenaline. Who needs coffee?

With his shift scheduled to end at 2 a.m., Groves might actually need that coffee, especially with a second job as a security officer that requires him to show up a few hours after clocking out of the sheriff's office.

With the state of the economy, working two jobs is becoming less of a rarity and more the norm. Unlike their civilian counterparts, law enforcement officers don't always have the luxury of dropping everything and going home just because their shift is over.

On his way home early Saturday morning, Groves pulled over a vehicle resulting in an arrest of a person driving under the influence of alcohol. The incident began at 1:58, two minutes before he was scheduled to get off. Four hours later, he finally climbed into bed.

Even on his days off, he's often called in to work in one aspect or another.

"It seems like every one of my Mondays that I'm supposed to have off is spent in court," he said.

But Groves is far from alone in having to hold down a second job. Many of his colleagues at the Cache County Sheriff's Office do the same, some taking on two and even three part-time jobs on the side.

Groves said it would be nice to be able to hold down only one job to pay the bills and feed his family, but that it's just not possible. He said the problem of low wages begins with misconceptions about police officers themselves.

"In some parts of the country, law enforcement has come a long way, because it's considered to be a profession, which we are. It takes a lot of training and a lot of time to be good at this job," Groves said. "Unfortunately, there are some parts of the country, Utah being one of them, where the mindset of city councils and county government is, ‘You became cops because you couldn't do anything else.'"

That perception is wrong, Groves said, and does a great disservice to the morale of law enforcement officers.

"There are really two professions people expect perfection out of ­ one is doctors and one is cops," he said.

One thing is certain: there is always something to occupy the deputy's attention. When not actively engaged in a call, Groves is on patrol, keeping an eye out for incidents needing attention. One way of seeking out problems is by constantly entering license plates into his cruiser's on-board computer, which alerts him to any registration, insurance or other issues.

Another play in Groves' book is familiarity with both the area and its residents. Having been assigned to Hyrum for most of his tenure with the sheriff's office helps that greatly.

"It's a pretty powerful tool to use," Groves said. "I'll be driving down the road and see someone I just stopped two days ago for driving on a suspended license. That gives me reasonable cause to pull them over."

However, Groves admits there is a downside to such close acquaintance with the residents of Hyrum.

"Familiarity can breed complacency, so you still have to treat each call as if you've never met the person before," he said.

This skill was put to the test Wednesday when he noticed a man whom he had arrested before walking down a street. He struggled to remember the man's name at the moment, and hence was not able to search the database. About half an hour later, the name popped into Groves' head and he searched the database finding, to his dismay, that the man had an active warrant for his arrest.

Later that night, though, his instincts were spot on when he noticed a red pickup truck and started to follow it. Upon running the registration, he learned the owner had not insured it properly and pulled the driver over.

It wasn't long before Groves noticed both the driver and passenger were flying the colors of the Sureño street gang, and each had tattoos indicating such an affiliation. When the driver failed to produce a valid driver's license, the passenger offered an identification card.

When Groves ran the passenger's information, he learned the man had an outstanding warrant. The deputy talked to the men for several minutes until backup was able to arrive from Mendon and the man could be taken into custody.

"Out here, on most of our calls, we'll only have one or two guys, maybe three [for backup]," Groves said. "You have to know how to talk to people. Just because you're wearing a badge and uniform doesn't preclude someone from trying to take you out."

Groves firmly believes most people who have committed crimes can change, but that there is an element that never will.

"I'd say 95 percent of the people we deal with are good people that have just made a mistake, made a bad decision," he said. "Then you've got that 5 percent who are genuine criminals. They're not going to reform. They're going to be doing that their whole life."

But not all of the deputy's time spent on patrol is doom and gloom. Even police work has its funny moments, such as Saturday night when he pulled over a car on suspicion of DUI. Groves asked the driver, who had not been drinking, about a beer can under the seat. As she raised it up to show it was still sealed, it hit a sharp spot on the console and exploded, showering both the driver and Groves with beer.

After the deputy jumped backwards a few feet, and after a moment or two of disgust, the tension broke and turned to laughter.

"Great," he said with a chuckle. "Now I smell like beer."

That was one of the rare times Groves has laughed about alcohol. He has a special fondness and a seemingly strong talent for making DUI arrests and believes very little, if any, good has ever come from the consumption of alcohol. He said this sentiment stems at least in part to a drunk driver who nearly crashed into the car carrying his wife and children.

Even with five years, thousands of traffic stops and hundreds of arrests under his belt, Groves admits that he and his colleagues in law enforcement barely make a dent in drug use and drunk driving.

"But we stem the tide. I do know that we do that," he said. "Think about what this country would be if we didn't have law enforcement. It definitely keeps some in check."

In a field where the money is bad, the risks are sky high and the work barely makes a scratch, why do the men and women of law enforcement continue to show up to work every day?

Groves said his willingness to do the job day after day is best summarized by a line from the latest Die Hard movie wherein Bruce Willis' character is asked why he puts up with the problems and risks that go with being a cop.

He replies, "Who else is going to do it?"

Groves believes every occupation needs people who are willing to do it, and police work is no different.

"You've got to have people willing to be journalists, you've got to have people willing to be cops," Groves said. "It takes people from all walks, from all kinds to make the world go around. I guess that includes our crooks."

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