April 28, 2013

Police work can be unpredictable

PLATTSBURGH — For Plattsburgh City Police on the night shift, anything can happen.

Some nights are quiet, while others result in seemingly non-stop calls that range from burglaries to fights to drunken drivers.

The job has established routine patrols, but calls radioed by a dispatcher will immediately reroute officers.

“It can go from zero to 100 in a split second,” said Officer Bob Cordick.

Staff Photographer Kelli Catana and I went on “ride-alongs” with City Police on two consecutive Friday nights.

Before we got into the GMC Tahoe patrol car for our first ride-along, we talked to Officer Joel Vassar about his experiences working in law enforcement.

The public sometimes has misconceptions about police officers, Vassar said.

“Maybe people look at us in a negative light because of the perception of authority, (but) we’re inherently problem-solvers,” he said.

He described the job as being 90 percent verbal and 10 percent physical.

“Sometimes, people just need to be talked to.”


A recent incident immediately stood out to him as one of the strangest and most memorable of his more than three years with the department.

Vassar was one of the first officers to make it to 3 Charles Way, where Daniel W. Burke allegedly set himself on fire around 10 p.m. on March 7.

The original call for a domestic incident was placed by Burke’s neighbor, who lived in the other apartment of the mobile home where Burke resided.

“We were trying to make contact with the individuals inside,” Vassar said. “A male walks up to the door, pulls open the curtain and looks at me, closes the curtain and shuts the lights off. Within seconds, you could see a flame starting to come up through the bedroom window.”

Officer Richard Tucker, who was with Vassar on the porch, kicked the door down.

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