Thank a trooper if you had a safe ride today

When the Minnesota State Patrol car rolled into our company parking lot, heads turned toward the office windows. When Trooper Jon Olsen walked into the building asking for me, the staff was guessing that my "luck" may have finally run out.

Fortunately for me, Trooper Olsen is married to my trainer, and she helped me arrange for a ride-along. To say I respect the incredibly important and often-dangerous work these men and women perform is a gross understatement.

The four hours I spent with Trooper Olsen gave me a perspective I never thought I'd have. I went from hoping I wouldn't encounter a State Patrol car on the road to being grateful every time I see one in my mirrors. I've spent the last two years researching jobs for my latest book, and this experience absolutely blew me away.

According to Olsen's captain, I was in the company of one of the best. She told me she wishes she had 100 just like him. His pride, dedication and continuous learning keep him at the front of the pack.

He was the first to get his patrol car equipped with a $25,000 camera that can read license plates at a speed of 70 miles per hour going either direction. It beeps when it spots a suspended or revoked license or a stolen car. He caught three offenders in four hours with this equipment.

The equipment isn't just in his car. Getting dressed for work takes an extra 10 to 15 minutes, putting on equipment that includes two guns with 55 rounds, bulletproof vest, Taser, audio microphone, flashlight, radio, pepper spray, gloves and handcuffs. He weighs an extra 30 pounds after he puts on all his gear.

Then there's the car, decked out with a digital video camera, equipment for preliminary breath test, window tint meter, radar, laser gun, computer and printer, big flashlight, two radios, emergency lights, siren control box, two guns (M-16 and 12-gauge shotgun) and push bumpers. All of this is accessible from the driver's seat.

Open the trunk and you will find a medical bag, defibrillator, road flares, traffic cones, jumper cables, tire iron (for assisting people with flat tires), crowbar, riot stick, riot helmet, gas masks, rubberized hazardous materials suit, spray paint cans, digital camera, stop sticks (iron spikes to disable tires), fire extinguisher and shovel. There is no such thing as packing light when he has to be prepared for just about any emergency that might arise. In all my business dealings, I'm a preparation freak, and the patrol carries that out to the nth degree.

Trooper Olsen shared plenty of stories about the different situations he has faced in his six years on the State Patrol, but many of us are probably most familiar with traffic stops of all kinds. Removing offenders from the road for speeding or driving under the influence is a real service to the rest of us on the road. These offenders are a threat; the troopers save lives every day by making our roads safer.

I wish that we could find a way to make their jobs safer, too. These men and women are true heroes, never knowing what awaits them in the cars they pull over or the situations they face daily. I can't imagine talking myself into facing the challenges Trooper Olsen faces day after day.

Let me share a piece of advice: State troopers have heard just about every excuse known to mankind. Among Olsen's favorites: "I'm late for court!" (How about another ticket so you can use that excuse again?) "I have to go so bad and I'm trying to get to a bathroom." (But didn't you just pass several gas stations?) Better just to have your license, registration and proof of insurance ready.

As you can see, this was no ordinary day at the office for me. But for the state troopers who climb into their well-equipped cars every day and hit the road to keep us safer, there is no such thing as a routine shift.

I take for granted that I will get home each evening in time for dinner with my family, even if I've made some mistakes.

Troopers can't let down their guard for a minute. Mistakes can be fatal, not only for them but for innocent drivers on the road. The service they provide is nothing short of heroic.

Mackay's Moral: Thank a trooper if you had a safe ride today. And watch your speed.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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