Way back seemingly forever ago, (but it was only the end of July), Penny bid on a Boise PD ride-along for me, part of a fundraiser for Special Olympics. She won, meaning I won. There were papers to fill, waivers and such. Bad things can happen, for which the police department is not responsible. After a couple of scheduling misfires, Officer Nathan Gifford and I arranged to meet on Tuesday at 1:50pm, Mountain Time. When I showed up, I was asked to take a seat. Shortly after that, a cop called out from behind the glass to tell me Officer Gifford had cancelled, and to go home. Funny man. The truth was, there’d be a slight delay, no big deal. In the meanwhile, someone came in with a pistol for another someone, a vet. They were discussing the pistol, and I was thinking, wow, we’re not in Cali any more. Before too long, Nate came out and took me in for a briefing and quick tour of the station, along with a civilian rider badge and lanyard. We made the rounds and tried to get definitive guidelines on photography. Mostly common sense stuff, like stay in the car till Nate gave me the thumbs up. Okay to photograph out in public, but not any suspects. Clearly, this was going to be a challenge. The way I work, I typically shoot first, ask questions later. Beg for forgiveness rather than seek permission. But okay, I’m on Boise PD turf, so of course I’ll play by their rules.

Once we got out on the street, I asked Nate a bunch of questions, like “do you prefer Nate or Nathan, or do they call you something else.” Only his wife and mom call him Nathan, others call him Nate, except down at the station they call him Gifford, or “Giff.” He’s not related to the Giffords of Vancouver BC, a family who put me up in their living room back in the early 80s. He’s a Navy vet. Lots of vets on the force, but also a lot of transfers from out of state. He apologizes for how there’s not much excitement. So far. Our first stop is a man in a white truck who pulled a rolling stop. He kept going for a while, claimed not to see us. Sure. He earned a ticket for that one and the expired registration. Next up, another traffic stop. A young woman with no license, expired plates, and no insurance. Uh oh. But then we got a call about a possible shooting. The young woman lucked out, and off we went to the possible shooting. That’s when my life started flashing before my eyes. Not the shooting, no, I’ll get to that in a minute. I’m talking about our trip to the scene of the crime. Officer Gifford is an amazing driver, no question about that. But me, I’m a lousy passenger, especially in situations where I’m being driven eighty miles an hour down city streets, running red lights at will, and did I mention we were up on the sidewalk? I closed my eyes at times, but that didn’t help, and I told myself I was being silly, because when’s the last time you heard of a police traffic fatality while driving eighty miles per hour down the sidewalk? It just doesn’t happen. Still, I was scared to death and prayed we’d get to the shooting real soon so I could take my chances with that, instead.

When we got to the scene of the possible shooting, it turned out there was no shooting, but there was a struggle among five juveniles, and what they were struggling over was a gun. Just not a shooting. There were maybe half a dozen cop cars, and interviews going on, and me and Giff cruising around the property, keeping an eye out for the suspect, who Nate thought might have a brother who lived there. We didn’t end up finding anyone, so we left to cruise the back lot of some local hotels, where we might find some drug addicts. We didn’t find any, so we pulled up to the Shell station for a bathroom break. Nate rolled down the window so I could talk to another cop, Ian, who asked, “want to go see a dead guy?” Sure, I said, as long as it’s not me. I was still recovering from that high speed cross town adventure.

The dead guy, who turned out to be a woman, was not a high speed pursuit on the sidewalk. Foul play was not suspected. I did not get to see the dead woman, and while I did get to exit the vehicle, my options were limited as far as photos were concerned. The scene was a low income apartment complex. The fire department was already there. Lots of kids running around, a few small dogs and cats, and a relative of the deceased, a woman I suspect is a lot younger than she looks, who I learned later is Marian’s daughter, Mary Jane. Mary Jane was crying. She was covered in tattoos, including her face. Her son Danny, maybe fourteen years old, was sitting still in a chair outside Marian’s apartment. He didn’t appear to move for a long, long time. Gradually, others began to appear. Relatives, like Mary Jane’s brother, also covered in tattoos. Family friends. Marian’s brother, Brian, who filled me in on all the details. Marian’s neck surgery, several months back, which left her in a lot of pain, and painkillers. So much pain in this family. Brian told me about Mary Jane’s husband, who died from cocaine laced with fentanyl at the age of twenty-six. Danny lived with his grandma, Marian. Now what would he do? I met a neighbor, Jill, who watched as this sad drama unfolded. She had drama of her own, raising a nine year old son alone, driving him to school to make sure he’d go. She had family the next town over from where we moved from all those days ago.

Before Brian came over to find out who the hell I was, I felt awkward but was making the best of it. Since I couldn’t photograph the family or friends, I photographed a black cat named Pearl, and one of the neighbor girls. I figured I’d cover the story by capturing the fringes. Danny had a one-eyed chihuahua named Sweet Pea. I eventually plucked up my courage and asked if I could photograph the dog. Danny shrugged “okay.” I talked with Brian a lot. He shared some of his family story, and his own, along with his views on the situation in America these days. Just a real nice down-to-earth guy. Marian was the first sibling he’d lost. She was sixty-five years old.

We were there for a long time, maybe two hours, maybe more. But I was glad for the opportunity to glimpse into Marian’s world. Godspeed, Marian, and godspeed all of your family.

Our next stop involved a domestic dispute that turned out not to be a domestic dispute. In the City of Boise, a domestic dispute has a clearly defined meaning. This wasn’t it. This was a dispute between soon to be ex-boyfriend and girlfriend over a laptop he refused to return. We eventually tracked him down at his parents’ house and retrieved the laptop, then bringing it back to its rightful owner.

Once that was out of the way, Nate asked if I wanted him to take me back to the station. I said no, let’s keep going, so we did. Now we were heading back to the hotels to patrol the parking lot. There was a car parked in a far off corner. Nate pulled up and shone his spotlight into the car. “Stay in the car,” he told me. Here’s a tip for all you lawbreakers out there. When the cops shine a light on you, don’t immediately try and get out of the car. By getting out of the car, it’s telling the officer you’re trying to separate yourself from whatever you’re trying to hide. Don’t do that. Better yet, don’t put yourself in that situation in the first place. Unfortunately for Anthony, he tried to get out of the car. Further investigation revealed a gun on the floor board. Not illegal, per se, but there was also marijuana paraphernalia. That’s what’s known as probable cause for a thorough search to take place. Which is what happened next, as Anthony was taken a safe distance back from the car.

The next part was like an after hours visit to the ER. A lot of waiting as the officers searched Anthony’s car. In addition to the gun and marijuana paraphernalia, they found meth. We eventually took Anthony into custody, and off to jail we went. Anthony was in tears, desperate for an open window, to which Giff politely obliged. I overheard conversation about a baby on the way, and at one point, Anthony even told Gifford he appreciated him. “For what?” Giff asked. I don’t recall the answer, but I felt sad for the guy. Who wants to be hooked on meth and heading back to jail again?

None of what I saw or experienced with Officer Gifford last Tuesday night was even remotely like anything I ever experience day to day. I live a humdrum life and am grateful to be a boring, everyday citizen. Like Anthony, I appreciate the hell out of Officer Gifford and others like him who keep us safe from guys like Anthony. Nate does this every day, and I got to ride shotgun with him. No words or images can do him and the department justice, so I’ll just have to present a little bit of what I saw. That way, you get to peek in, too. Does it make you want to drive eighty down the sidewalk, on your way to a possible shooting? Or are you glad to be a pedestrian, too?