9:02 pm Marquette Police Department headquarters It’s time for the shift lineup. Five officers gather in a small conference room and schedule who’s covering Zone One (north of Ridge Street) tonight, and who’s covering Zone Two (south of Ridge), and who’s covering both. Four officers, the minimum, are patrolling tonight, a Thursday.
9:21 pm Officer Nate Dawson, a 17 year veteran on the force, checks in with Central Dispatch (the State Police in Negaunee), and shoves off from police parking lot. He’s a native of the Copper Country, a graduate of NMU. He loves his job.
“It’s the variety,” he tells you. “I never know what I’ll run into every day. It’s always interesting. And I love dealing with people.”
He turns onto West Washington Street. On weekends, this is where it’s busiest–the bars and the restaurants–but tonight, it seems quiet. Only a few people are lingering outside Digs. Officer Dawson waves to the bouncer. The bouncer smiles and waves back.
Needless to the say, this isn’t Detroit or Chicago. No mean streets here.
“I’ve never had to shoot anyone,” Officer Dawson says. “And the only time I got shot, it was with a pellet gun.”
Deaths? Yeah, he’s had to deal with that several times in traffic accidents and fires. “At first it really bothered me,” he explains. “But the more you do it, the more you get used to it.”
9:31 pm Lakeshore Boulevard Officer Dawson notices a car parked on the lake side of the road. No lights on and it’s pitch black. He gets out of the patrol car just as a young man emerges from the parked vehicle.
The car’s stuck in deep sand.
“I tried to get it out, myself,” the young man says. He’s an NMU student. “But it just got deeper and deeper.” He smiles sheepishly. He’d tried to make a U-turn on Lakeshore in the dark.
Officer Dawson leans over and inspects the wheels. It looks hopeless. “I can call a towing company for you,” he tells the young man. “It shouldn’t cost you much.”
Dawson makes the call and together they wait for the truck.
9:56 pm The tow truck arrives, Dawson wishes the young man well, and leaves.
He cruises the north side of town at 20-25 mph, his eyes scanning both sides of the road. The most common problems at night? Drunk drivers, car and property break-ins, bicycle thefts.
10:05 pm The Village He turns into the Village in north Marquette and tells you this subsidized housing complex used to be a major trouble spot for the police–drug dealers, assaults, petty crime, domestic disputes. No longer. The drug dealers and troublemakers have been kicked out. It’s quiet now. Much safer for kids.
10:23 pm Garfield Street Officer Dawson spots a truck parked on the wrong side of the street. “If someone comes running out to move it, I won’t give them a ticket,” he says as he gets out of his vehicle. No one comes running. He writes up a ticket.
10:36 pm Bluff Street He spots a car driving with one headlight out. He makes a quick U-turn, turns on his flashing light, and speeds after the car (the “Oh sh*t!” moment for a driver). The car pulls over to the curb and Officer Dawson ambles up to the motorist. They talk, then Dawson returns to his vehicle, reports the name of the motorist to Central Dispatch. No problems–the license is valid, no warrants for the driver. Dawson issues the driver–another NMU student–a warning and tells him to get his headlight fixed.
“The guy was polite. He wasn’t drunk,” Dawson explains. “I’m not giving him a ticket. We just want him to get his headlight fixed.”
11:19 pm CR 553 Officer Dawson turns into the campground under construction next to Marquette Mountain. All is dark and quiet. All except for a deer peering through the trees over at the intruding police car.
12:01 am West Washington Street He passes the Warming Center. “I’m not a fan of the Room at the Inn or the Warming Center,” he tells you. “They’re a thorn in our side. We didn’t used to have a problem with the homeless. Now they’re coming from all over. And that means drug problems, drinking, mental problems. We have to spend a lot of our time with them.”
12:07 am West Washington Street Another car with one headlight out. Officer Dawson turns on the flashing light. The motorist pulls over next to the Ramada Inn. Turns out it’s another NMU student, polite and sober. No warrants, no problems. Dawson sends him off with a written warning to get the light fixed.
12:41 am West Washington Street Officer Dawson parks next to Masonic Square and checks a few doors at the storefronts to make sure they’re locked.
He arrives at Digs. “What’s goin’ on?” Dawson asks the bouncer at the door.
“Nothin’, man,” the bouncer replies. “It’s quiet.” They shake hands and Dawson nods to a few of the patrons outside. They know him and they’re friendly.
He walks inside to a crowded bar and ear-splitting recorded music. A few of the revelers eye him with curiosity but most give him hardly a look. He’s here regularly looking for underage drinkers and problem-drinkers, but Dawson tells you he doesn’t have many such problems in town. The bar owners do their best to keep things legal and under control.
He chats briefly with the bartender, takes one last look around and departs. Outside again, he has another brief, friendly conversation with the bouncer and the patrons.
These guys know Officer Nate Dawson. Many have known him for years.
And this is where it hits you: This is what big cities call “community policing.” They establish programs to have the cops live and recreate on the streets they patrol. They raise their families there. They become a trusted part of the community.
In Marquette it happens organically. Although Dawson lives on the West End, he’s a part of the greater Marquette community. He coaches football, basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey here. His children know the other children in town. He plays basketball with the adults. He and his wife, a school teacher, eat downtown frequently. They patronize the merchants.
Yes, he’s a cop with a badge and a gun, but his relationship with the community is anything but adversarial, as it frequently is in a big city. “I could never live there,” he tells you. “I could never work there.”
He plans to work in Marquette until he retires.
12:52 am Flannigan’s Officer Dawson parks in the back parking lot and greets a few, well-lubricated patrons at the door. He wanders inside and the bartender comes over to greet him while a young man, bottle in hand, sings karaoke on the stage for about 15 revelers. Dawson talks to the bartender for five minutes, then leaves. He explains that he and the other officers generally check two bars a night. No big deal, it’s just their routine.
1:05 am Sandy Knoll Elementary School Officer Dawson slows as he cruises by the school and shines his spotlight on it, looking for any hint of activity. Nothing. It’s 44 degrees outside, likely too cold for any mischief.
1:13 am Marquette Senior High School Dawson tours the back lot at the school and the construction zone. Absolutely quiet.
1:42 am Front Street Three young men emerge from the “umbrella walk,” cast a wary eye toward the police car, and keep on walking up the street. “My guess is they were taking a leak in the bushes,” Officer Dawson says. “That’s better than doing it in the street.” He drives on.
2:15 am Front Street Another car spotted with a headlight and a taillight out. Seems to be a theme tonight. Officer Dawson executes a quick U-turn. The car pulls over. Another NMU student, only this one’s a female. Not drunk fortunately, but she doesn’t have her license with her. Dawson checks with Central Dispatch–she has a valid license and no warrants. He issues her a “waivable ticket” which means if she shows up at City Hall and presents her license in person in the next ten business days, she won’t have to pay a fine. And she’s told to take care of the lights.
2:38 am Third Street Dawson pulls to a quick stop in front of the Third Base Bar. A young man with his back to the street was clearly urinating against the building. The young man, bleary-eyed, turns to confront the officer.
“Why are you peeing on the building?” Officer Dawson asks.
“‘Cuz I got kicked out of the bar,” the guy explains. To be clear, he was kicked out because the bar closed.
Dawson checks with Central Dispatch and finds no warrants but also learns that the young man has had his driver’s license revoked. No problem because he’s walking, but urinating in public? That’s a civil infraction. The young man, an out-of-towner, is issued the citation, and wanders on down the street.
The bars are closed all over town–just about every business is, except for McDonalds–and there are no pedestrians anywhere. Hardly a vehicle on the streets either.
Officer Nate Dawson will cruise them for another four hours until sunrise, likely without incident, and then he’ll head home. Go to bed immediately, wake up, take care of errands, coach his football team, and grab a meal at home with his family.
And then get ready for another shift on the not-so-mean streets of Marquette.
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