Full column below:
I had the privilege of doing a ride-along with Manheim Township Police Department Officer Alyse Gallagher last month, on the final day of National Police Week.
It was eye-opening and inspiring. Our local police officers have many duties during a shift, with the extra challenge being the unknown of what they might face.
Five hours of observation in a police car — watching Gallagher stay connected to all the different tools and protocols, while also paying close attention to the road — was exhausting. But Gallagher, who started with the Manheim Township Police Department in January 2020, says she loves it.
“I listen and pick up radio dispatches in or near my precinct,” she explained. “I also help out when something is going on close by or if backup is needed.”
All calls are assigned through the Lancaster County-Wide Communications dispatch, and officers listen for assignments through radios inside their cruisers or through the mobile radio hooked to their uniform. It’s loud and confusing. You have to listen carefully and follow to stay up to date with unfolding calls. Each municipal police force also has its own radio channel for communications.
Gallagher, one of Manheim Township’s three women police officers on patrol, glances at her laptop computer, which is mounted between the two front seats and is high enough for her to type and read the screen.
She has access to the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and Vehicle Law Handbook, as well as the Manheim Township ordinances. She also has an app that reads license plates of vehicles near her. She hears the pings and then an alarm when the plate is expired. She puts on her lights and takes off after a car.
When the driver of the vehicle pulls to the side, she pulls up behind, lights flashing. She parks and double-checks her information on the computer to get ready to talk to the driver.
Each time before she exits the car, Gallagher checks in with dispatch. She makes sure her dashboard camera and her audio recorder, attached to her shoulder, are both on.
She approaches the driver of a vehicle on the shoulder of Route 30. She walks to the passenger side, being careful to observe traffic near her.
The speed of the passing cars rattles the police cruiser, a Ford Explorer. Gallagher tells me about the state’s new Move Over Law, which requires motorists to pull into a different lane or slow down when they see a police or emergency vehicle on the side of the road. She hopes motorists pay more attention and said it’s very dangerous to stand on the shoulder of the road.
I ask if she is concerned about what she might find when she approaches a vehicle.
“No, I’m not thinking that I’ll see anything bad,” she says. “But I’m prepared if they do.”
Gallagher wears a belt with all her tools, which weighs about 25 pounds. It includes her pistol, a spare magazine, handcuff case with two pairs, flashlight, pepper spray, retractable baton, disposable gloves and a tourniquet.
“You need to be in good physical condition to spend 12 hours wearing this belt,” said Gallagher, who works out regularly and lifts weights. She has to return to the station for bathroom breaks, because it’s not safe to take off the belt in a public place. Police officers often develop back problems after spending years wearing heavy equipment.
Gallagher’s route to becoming a police officer was anything but traditional. She graduated with a fine arts degree from West Chester University and lived in Ireland for three years before returning to West Chester, where she worked for the county courts.
She decided to become a police officer and put herself through the Delaware County Police Academy. She went to school each weeknight after her full-time job, from 6-10 p.m., and then spent 10 weekends in vehicle and firearm training.
Like all police officers on duty, she’s careful about driving alone in a marked police car. Gallagher is aware of her surroundings at all times and backs into all parking spaces, makes sure she can see behind her, keeps doors locked and is ready to evacuate if needed.
“Be prepared. That’s why training is so important,” Gallagher. said
Another stop on the shoulder of Route 30 was to check on two young men who appeared stranded with a trailer and a large mower.
Gallagher greeted them with a smile and asked why they were on the side of the road. They explained that their truck had a flat tire, and the driver left to repair it and would pick them back up. She waved to leave, and said she’d check back later to be sure they’re OK.
“I want people to know we’re friendly and want to help. I don’t want people to only see us on calls,” she said. “We treat people like people.”
Another rewarding part of the job, said Gallagher, is the chance to see dogs. “I love dogs,” she said, as she showed me photos of her new dog. “When I’m not busy, I’ll stop and ask if I can pet dogs out for a walk.”
Her least favorite part of the job is emotional or psychiatric calls. She supports adding social workers to the force, if they could come along with an officer to help out with situations involving mental health issues.
“I went on a recent call to see a woman who wouldn’t stop screaming in her mother's house,” Gallagher said. “We talked for a bit and then I explained how important it was for her to take her meds. She said she was feeling better, took her meds, and seemed to calm down by the time I left. She said she was finished screaming.”
A day earlier, she had started her shift with a call about a person who was defiant and refused to leave a location despite several requests. He became increasingly agitated and later resisted arrest. Gallagher spent most of that day taking him into the station, transporting him and writing up reports.
Calls like these leave long-term impressions.
“Every time I pass this one house, I remember that it was my first DOA (dead on arrival),” she said.
Some days are tough, others are easier. Before her shift ends, Gallagher needs to gas up her vehicle so it’s ready for the next officer. It’s time for her to go home, rest up and get ready to do it all again the next day.