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Riding with police offers new outlook

SHARE Riding with police offers new outlook

Sherry Jacobia's behind-the-scenes look into police work started with a simple question: Who are the good guys?

During a short internship with the Bannock County prosecutor's office, she heard story after story from defendants about how police officers were on power trips.People told Jacobia they'd been arrested on the smallest matter. They were picked on and treated unfairly by the legal system from beginning to end, she was told.

But as compelling as these stories were, they didn't jibe with her image of officers she knew who were sympathetic and cared about the people on their beats.

An Idaho State University criminal-justice and social-work major, Jacobia decided to find out for herself.

"If you're in the field, you learn a lot more about people and how they behave," 45-year-old Jacobia said. "You can learn a lot in class, but when you get out and participate, it's a whole new ballgame."

Jacobia hopes to pursue a master's degree and wants to work with victims of crime, their families and the families of inmates.

For this project, Jacobia started locally, going out on rounds with officers and observing everything from domestic violence calls to drunken-driving arrests.

She decided to expand her horizons. In the past year, Jacobia has ridden with police departments in Detroit, Boston, Albany, N.Y., and Salt Lake City.

She has visited prisons to see the experience of people who went all the way through the system.

Not only has her experience made her more empathetic to what police officers endure, but also she has started writing a book on what she's seen.

"I've heard so many negative things, and this has really humanized cops for me," Jacobia said. "They have a lot of responsibility, and they take a lot of crap. Officers have to have so much restraint."

Many of the stereotypes about police officers and their jobs, especially in big city departments, don't hold true, Jacobia said.

One of the best examples is how they reacted to Jacobia herself.

At 5-feet-2-inches tall and 105 pounds, she's far from imposing. Whenever she visits a department, she requests to go "where there's the most crime, the busiest shift and the most aggressive officers."

Most of the departments haven't had any problem with that, and Jacobia said she's never felt intimidated by officers or criminals.

"I don't take any guff from anyone," she said. "If I'm insulted, I just don't take it."

As a result, she has seen things even other officers haven't.

In Albany, she was one of the first people on the scene of what supposedly was a gas leak and turned out to be a homemade bomb powerful enough to explode the house it was in and several neighboring homes.

One man had several things stolen from his home, but was most concerned about his pornographic magazines, which he wanted to describe in detail.

She's ducked behind patrol car doors during a shootout at a convenience store.

On the more human side, she's comforted women who have been severely beaten by their husbands and talked to children about what it's like to grow up with drug-addicted parents.

"There's a lot more left to do," said Jacobia, who hasn't set any deadlines for her book, tentatively titled "A Glimpse Beyond the Badge."

"I wish everyone could have this experience," she said. "If people could just do this for a week, they wouldn't be so critical, and they wouldn't be so destructive to their families and to themselves."