In honor of National Night Out, reporter Imari Scarbrough accompanied Anson County Deputy Sgt. Tracy Wilhoit for a portion of a patrol last Wednesday to capture a fraction of the duties law enforcement officers complete daily. NNO began in 1984 to promote citizen interest and involvement in crime prevention and to warn criminals that their neighborhoods are taking a stand against crime. It is celebrated annually on the first Tuesday of August.
Sgt. Tracy Wilhoit and his fellow officers on his 12-hour shift clocked in at 7 p.m. and checked messages before heading out on patrol. The evening was fairly quiet; the first calls of the evening were about a stolen power meter and an irate citizen complaining of someone cutting hay on their property. As they walked out, the patrol officers briefly discussed a BOLO (be on the lookout) for an individual before beginning the patrol.
The evening continued to be quiet as Wilhoit patrolled potential problem areas with a higher incident volume. He also checked in on a small cemetery that has suffered from vandalism recently. As he drove, he discussed his career.
Wilhoit has been with the department for the entirety of his 18-year career, including 14.5 weeks of training at Stanly Community College. “I’ve always been interested in it,” he said. “It found me.”
The sergeant gets a sense of personal fulfillment from the job. “Every day when I get up, I know I’m part of something so much bigger than me,” he reflected. “It feels good to be a part of something so much bigger than me. It opens doors for me to help people. In these days, when people are afraid to stop and help someone along the road, I can stop and help.”
Although the job can be rewarding, it has its downsides. “I’ve seen a lot of officers come and go in different departments over the years, and some don’t make it six months,” Wilhoit said. “Some can’t handle the stress or second-hand drama. It can be stressful, but it can be really rewarding. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
Some of the bad comes in the form of disturbing calls. When asked about the calls that impacted him the most, Wilhoit recalled responding to three different SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) cases on his shifts. “Everybody’s different, but that seemed to really hit me hard,” he said. “There’s been a lot of laughs in the car, and a lot of tears, too.”
While hard news often sells the newspapers, the best nights for law enforcement are the quiet ones. “On a quiet night, we get a minimum of four to five calls,” Wilhoit said. “We seldom ever go a shift without something coming up.” He stressed that it’s not always the number of calls but the nature of them that make a shift good or bad. “You can have 20 non-serious calls a day, but then have three awful calls.”
Recalling some of the things he has seen throughout the course of his career, he said he’s rarely surprised by any calls he gets now. “I’m honestly to the point where if a jet liner crashed on the road right in front of us it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said. “It might excite me a bit, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe I’ve seen too much.”
And then there’s what he hasn’t seen. “We’ve shooed out people who aren’t there,” he said, remembering cases where citizens, especially the elderly, have complained about non-existent visitors who are easily dispatched by officers who shoo them from the residence.
Wilhoit also recalled career highlights. “One of the proudest moments in my career was when I was being made sergeant [in 2005],” he said. “I’d always wanted to make sergeant. That was probably the proudest moment in my life as far as my career goes.” While his parents are also proud, he confessed that his mother “worries a lot about me.”
Wilhoit has received awards from the Domestic Violence Coalition and was also one of three Officers of the Year in 2013. When asked about any other awards, he said the job isn’t about the recognition. “I’m pretty much an everyday kind of guy,” he said. “I don’t expect to be glorified in any way. I get paid to do what I do. I don’t consider myself to be a hero, and I never have.” Although he works 12-hour shifts and can be called in to respond to emergencies, he is “normal,” he said. “I’m just like anybody else. You just get up to do your day. I just happen to have a gun on my side.”
Although this shift was quiet and he only responded to a handful of minor calls, Wilhoit stressed that it can change in an instant. “You can go from complete boredom to extreme adrenaline rush,” he said. As if to gently emphasize that point, the patrol car was nearly hit when a driver ran a red light while Wilhoit was making a protected left turn to return to the office of The Anson Record. Wilhoit let the driver go, after it was explained that the out-of-town driver was distracted by police lights from a traffic call across the street, and uneventfully returned to the office to drop off the reporter to continue his shift.
Throughout the patrol, Wilhoit had remembered not only the bad calls, but the opportunities to meet special people, or to offer his help in seemingly small ways that he hopes make a big impact. He summed up the nature of the job: “I can feel comfortable saying that I speak for other officers when I say that there’s a lot of tears when you get back to your car, but also a lot of laughs.”