Understanding the uniqueness of policing in a small town: Police ride along gives perspective on day-to-day duties of law enforcement

Isabella Gentile, Features Editor

Rhode Island is a small state, and Warren is a relatively small town. Police officers in big cities get to deal with a lot of action, whether that involves killings, drug busts, or other serious crimes. In smaller areas, the job is not always as demanding. Perhaps that is why Patrolman Mason Hinken has only fired his gun once during three years on the force. His target: a rabid coyote.

He told me this story around half an hour into my three hour ride along, when I began to ask him about his use of weapons while on patrol. Prior to this, we had been driving around since 3:30 p.m. essentially waiting to see a driver commit an offense. Although Hinken has pulled out his gun multiple times, this was the first time he ever shot on the job.

“For six months, we were trying to get [the coyote]. Everyone was calling it in because it was so mangy looking. We used to get so many calls about that,” he said. “I was told [by Animal Control] that it was going to die a slow, painful death anyway, but I didn’t even hit it.”

But some of this could be due to Hinken’s early start on the force. He is only 25 years old, which he notes is on the younger side for police officers. After earning his Associate’s Degree in criminal justice from Bristol Community College, he went to school for a year for corrections. He then went to the police academy, before accepting a job with the Warren Police Department when he was 22.

Born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, Hinken had family in nearby Bristol and so he was already familiar with Warren before taking the job. He comments that this type of police work, being out on patrol, is designed for younger people.

“This is a young person’s job. I’m wearing 50 pounds on my waist. I’m working weird hours. It’s not meant for an older person to do this job,” he said.

We moved past most of this introductory information as he continued to drive down Warren’s side streets, before pulling out onto a main road and stopping in a random parking lot. Finally, a call came on the radio, and Hinken informed me that he is the back-up officer for a vehicle stop at the intersection of Market Street and Lambert Lane.

Reaching the scene about 4:12 p.m., Hinken got out of the car and approached the other officer’s passenger-side window. He did not seem nervous, smiling and conversing with his colleague in the patrol car. A few minutes later, he returned to our car and climbed back in. Hinken told me that the vehicle was stopped because it’s registered owner came up as a deceased male, and the man driving the car looked exactly like this person. The driver did not receive consequences, as this was a fixable occurrence.

I find it interesting that the officers are able to determine different pieces of information so quickly, which led me to ask Hinken about what exactly he can do with the computer that he constantly glances at.

“You could literally do the whole job from this computer. You can run registration, someone’s license, or check to see if someone’s wanted,” he said.

I then asked Hinken if he gets anxious stopping vehicles, especially if he runs the license plate and finds out that the individual has a prior offense. The thought of having absolutely no idea about what you might encounter is scary to me, and so I wanted to know his thoughts on this.

“Almost every person you stop, you have no idea. That person could be trying to kill you today or it could be Joe Schmo who doesn’t care,” he said. “I just try to treat every stop the same, as if I have no clue who I’m dealing with.”

We are stopped again in another parking lot, waiting and watching cars on a busy main road to see who will be first to make a mistake. I ask him about the craziest call that he’s ever had on the job, and he explains a rather dramatic scenario as far as Warren is concerned — a car chase.

Hinken said that the chase was drug related, and that the driver was tipped off at the last second, so he turned around before police went after him. Hinken and another cop were in pursuit, and the chase ended up spanning through Warren, Barrington and Seekonk so multiple officers towed behind him as they set out to catch this driver. He told me that the driver was arrested after he was finally stopped.

“I always watched Cops so [car chases] are probably the coolest thing. I was in the front car so I was in the thick of it,” he said.

I never thought that there would be a drug-related car chase in Warren, but Hinken’s experience proved to me that sometimes more goes on than I think in the small town.

We were deep in conversation again when Hinken suddenly said, “We’ll go get her.” He saw a car moving down the opposite side of the street, in which he says the driver was using her phone. I am extremely impressed I am that he noticed such a detail, being all the way across the street and in the midst of answering all my questions. He turns the lights and sirens on, zooming out into the road and speeding up to 60 mph, as this vehicle was about six cars ahead of us. We were only doing a vehicle stop, but I still felt the adrenaline rush in the front seat of that patrol car, as all the cars in front of us quickly jolted to the side to let us by.

When we stopped her, Hinken got out of the car and approached her driver’s side window. He got her license and registration and then came back to the car. He punched in all of her information into the computer, and told me that he was going to let her off with a warning this time, because he could tell that although the phone was in her hand, she was trying to put it into a mount that she had attached to the dashboard.

We begin driving again after this, and I wondered if we are going to get to deal with any type of larger, more dramatic event today. Just as this thought entered my mind, it is 5:53 p.m., and another call came over the radio.

A male was requesting an escort at a local residence — it is a father taking his 16-year-old son to retrieve clothes from his mother’s house, but there is a restraining order involved, and the situation requires assistance. The dispatcher requested the help of Hinken and another officer, advising one to head over to the residence and the other to meet the father and son at the nearby Jack’s Family Restaurant.

We headed over to the restaurant to meet this man, and pulled up next to his vehicle with his driver’s window on the same side as ours. He discussed more details with Hinken, explaining that he has sole custody of both of his sons, and that the restraining order is between his son and the mom. Hinken told him that because of the restraining order, if the mother does not want to let him in there isn’t anything he can do, but he will try to help manage the situation so that the boy can get some clothes.

The father was in tow behind us as we traveled to the mother’s house, where the other police officer waited with the stepdad. Again, I had to remain within the vehicle, but I rolled my window down in an attempt to hear the conversation going on.

The stepdad was outside of the house, telling police that he was tired of having to deal with this and that the father should just purchase his son some clothes. The mother never came outside during this interaction. The two officers, stepdad and the son finally entered the house, and remained inside for approximately 20 minutes. When they exited, it appeared as though the son successfully managed to retrieve a backpack with clothes in it and a pair of shoes. I asked Hinken if the mom tried to cause any issues within the house, but he said that she remained distant as the officers stood by the boy getting his clothes.

It was a day that originally started with excitement, but also fear. I was concerned that nothing newsworthy would happen throughout the course of our trip, and that we might not even have the opportunity to pull one vehicle over. Fortunately, I got to witness two vehicle stops and a situation involving a restraining order that police had to slightly deescalate, reaffirming Hinken’s belief that Warren is small, but nonetheless a mixed area where events can surprise you.

“That’s the thing with this town. We get stupid calls and then we get a drug chase. We get a little bit of both, which is why I like it,” he said.

We entered the station parking lot at 6:29 p.m., with one minute to spare before my adventure came to a close. I exited the patrol car, thanking Hinken for his time and cooperation today. What I internally thanked him for, was teaching me to see the beauty of policing in a quaint, residential town.