Editor goes to class with Highway Patrol

For the past five Mondays, I have traveled to Macon, Missouri, to the headquarters of Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop B to participate in its annual Community Alliance Program.
Each Monday night from 6:30-9 p.m., about a dozen other community members and I listen to lectures, watch demonstrations and ask questions. Troop B covers 16 counties in the northeast part of the state from the Missouri River to the Iowa border. Sgt. Eric Brown, Troop B public information officer, said each of the nine MSHP troops do similar community outreach programs occasionally, but Troop B does one every year. Brown contacted The Index in early September and asked if a reporter would like to participate.
I have been gathering video and audio of the lectures and workshops, which so far have covered topics ranging from commercial vehicle regulations to undercover narcotics investigations.
So far, I’ve done things I never expected I would do. On the first night, I got to wear a heavy bulletproof vest — known among the troopers as “rifle plates” — used in tactical situations. To demonstrate the effect of residual alcohol on breath tests, one of the Zone Sergeants had me rinse my mouth with mouthwash and then blow into a breathalyzer. I blew .291, more than 3.5 times the legal limit, but 15 minutes later I blew .000 and learned all the alcohol from the mouthwash had dissipated.
Perhaps my most embarrassing moment was a mock traffic stop, where I played the role of a trooper while Corporal TJ Adams sat in plain clothes in a vehicle that, as part of the exercise, I pretended to pull over for having expired tags.
The first part of the traffic stop went fine. I clearly stated my name, told Adams why I had pulled him over, and asked for his driver’s license and proof of insurance. Adams handed me his license out the window, but then dropped it on the ground. I decided to help him out and pick it up for him.
When I came back up to the window, Adams was holding a handgun.
“Do you want to see this, too?” Adams said.
Adams later said the point of the exercise was to demonstrate how quickly a situation can turn dangerous. I was embarrassed, but Adams and Trooper Jessie Halley, who was guiding me through the mock traffic stop, said they made errors similar to mine and those of the other participants at some point. They said it takes time and experience to learn and get everything right.
Next week I will be firing a service weapon on a range, and in a few more weeks I will have the opportunity to ride with actual on-duty troopers as they patrol the roads. These aren’t things I ever envisioned myself doing, so they’re sure to make for exciting, if not intimidating, experiences.
I’ll be checking in again throughout the program until the end in late November. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more stories and perspectives to share before I’m done.