On a Saturday night in Arcata, I walked in front of the bars on the Plaza with Officer Heidi Groszmann. Thankfully, I was not under arrest - just going with her on her rounds as a part of my four-hour ride-along.
Whether it was a traffic stop or making rounds on the Plaza, Groszmann was able to present herself however she wanted. On the Plaza, she greeted everyone with a smile and "How's it going?" She introduced me, her ride-along, to everyone she knew. Yet she was able to balance her friendliness with stern authority. While approaching people in an almost intimidating way, she was often compassionate with the people she met. Through several traffic stops and talking to people parking where they should not be (such as Redwood Park, late at night) she did not write one ticket - possibly because she was acting as backup that night.
Groszmann typically works during the day. She told me, "The difference between night and day is ... well, night and day." So this shift was obviously a little different for her. "I can change my approach as needed," she said. "I can be a little pussycat if I need to be, or I can be tough on people."
This balance and change of approach is by no means an accident. Groszmann, who resembles a less hard-edged version of Sarah Silverman, knows how to utilize her femininity and size to her advantage. "I'm 5 feet and 135 pounds, so I need to be tough sometimes," she said. "But at the same time, I can wait for backup if I need to. I don't get as much crap from guys that we deal with ... I feel like the men get more crap than I do."
Toward the end of the eerily boring night, things picked up and got a whole lot scarier. While it was a G-rated version of what police officers experience all the time, the last event of the night shook me.
Groszmann and Ortega responded to a noise complaint at a party. A 20-something man walked unstably up the road, holding a beer. As Groszmann talked with him, other officers walked by, hoping to talk to whoever was having the party. They soon found him and a hundred of his closest friends, piling out into the front yard.
Unfortunately, I did not see what exactly happened next, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw some people hitting the ground, some running away, and many people screaming "What the fuck?" A few moments later, there was a man in handcuffs walking up the driveway, who quickly fell to his knees screaming. A few people ran to him to see if he was okay.
One of them, obviously intoxicated, made a big mistake. By lunging toward an officer with his arms out, in a seemingly threatening way, another partygoer soon found himself on the ground, resisting the two officers on top of him. When he got up, his hair was a mess and his lip was bleeding. A friend wisely yelled, "Submit" to his friends, hoping to make things easier. After a few minutes of watching them fight to get out of the car, I decided to leave.