Paris police officer Matthew Bright cruises down FM 195, a well-worn road he drives daily. While relaxed behind the wheel, he’s watching for a certain pickup truck he often sees while on patrol — a pickup with a driver who doesn’t want to be found.
But the truck isn’t on the road today.
“Let’s stretch our legs,” Bright said, accelerating slightly. “I like to drive my section boundaries.”
Bright, an officer of five years, is working section 2 of the city on his Friday shift. The department divvys up the map into five sections for each of its units. Each patrol is a one-man unit, except when they have officers in training.
It’s a lot of ground for one officer to cover. Still, Bright said, backup is never far away.
“There’s always someone not too far away if you need it. Dispatch can see all of us, so they always send the closest unit,” he said, gesturing at the map on his car computer. Blue arrows inch slowly across the GPS screen, each in their own small area.
Bright reaches the invisible boundary of his section, pulls a U-turn and heads back towards the city.
“Let’s go run some traffic,” he said, heading for “a good spot” on 25th Street NE.
Officers work 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and vice versa on patrol shifts, rotating sections throughout the week. Friday’s shift included traffic stops, a civil standby call, prisoner transfers and supplemental investigation: followup on a parking lot car accident from several days ago. A calm day, Bright notes, especially after a Thursday bank robbery in downtown Paris.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” he said, waving back to a driver who nods and smiles from a nearby vehicle. “No two traffic stops are even the same.”
Around 2 p.m., Bright stops for lunch at Burgerland. Diners take note of his uniform in the crowded restaurant. An eldery couple down the counter starts discussing the bank robbery. Several people greet Bright as they pass by; others look less than trusting.
“The attitude towards police has changed because of how society is now,” Bright said. “People tell their kids, ‘Behave or else this police officer is going to take you away.’ That just makes them not want to trust us when they get older. But I like helping people, talking to people, explaining what we do.”
Bright unclips his body camera for lunch, which brings up the topic of police transparency.
The officer said just as heightened skepticism towards police has revealed “the bad ones,” it has also shown the opposite.
“I think I’m subconsciously aware that everything I say and do is being recorded, but it doesn’t change anything,” he said. “I think it backfired on the people who wanted to push (the body cameras) on us, because they show we don’t just go around beating people up and arresting people whenever we want.”
Bright said just as laws change, police work adapts over time. In some ways, it’s more complex; there’s more to consider now, he said.
“We can’t police like we did back in the ’70s, in the ’80s,” he said. “It changes over time. Just like the laws change, police work changes too.”