The Sandpiper rides along with Carmel PD

Dogs on the loose, lost wallets and an occasional burgalry—most people believe the Carmel Police Department doesn’t face much when it comes to crime.

I was curious as to what they really do, so I decided to go directly to the source, and on Oct. 19, from 10 p.m. to midnight, I rode along with Officer Chris Johnson to see what criminal activity happens in downtown on a weekend night.

As I approach the police station on Junipero, I have an expectation that this will be similar to an episode of Cops, and even though this is a high expectation, I still learn to appreciate what the police department does to keep Carmel safe and peaceful.

I first get a quick tour of the station. Besides the usual cubicles, prisoner holding cell and break room, the station is also equipped with an Emergency Command Center and shooting range.

Once finished exploring the station, Johnson and I hit the streets in a Carmel Police SUV. Johnson, a CHS alumnus, has worked as a police officer in Carmel for 14 years. He specializes in night shifts, by choice, and has family ties to the department, as his stepfather and younger brother also have worked here.

“You know the phrase ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life?’” Johnson asks. “That is how I feel about working with the Carmel police department.”

Slowly patrolling the small streets, Johnson adjusts the spotlight attached to the mirror, scrutinizing bushes and side streets for criminal activity.

“That person is driving a little fast for downtown,” Johnson comments as we cruise past Carmel Plaza headed toward CHS.

As we follow a gray Honda Pilot up the hill, the speedometer reaches nearly 50 mph. After the vehicle turns left onto Highway 1, Johnson flashes the red and blue lights, and the driver pulls over immediately.  Johnson calls for backup and collects the driver’s license and registration.

Through the police radio, I realize the person driving the car is an acquaintance of mine that attends a local high school.

“So you make the call,” Johnson says to me. “Should we give him a ticket or let him off with a warning?”

Even though I believe people should not get away with breaking the law, I have sympathy for this teen.

“If it were me,” I respond, “I would only want a warning.”

One common misconception about police officers, notes Johnson, is that they love giving traffic tickets and busting teenagers for their bad driving practices. While it is true that police officers do give traffic tickets, Johnson explains that they do it in order to keep the streets safe and to avoid accidents.

“Our bigger goal,” Johnson says, “is looking for…the impaired drivers.”

At around 11:30 p.m., we drive along Scenic Drive, and at one house we notice a woman standing outside near the curb and a man by the garage door. Johnson greets them and asks what they are up to. It turns out the man is a contractor for the house and is preparing it, as the owners are coming to town the next day.

“That looked really suspicious,” Johnson says. “When people rob a house, it is usually a man-woman duo, and the woman watches guard as the man breaks in.”

Johnson acknowledges that robbery is another common crime in downtown. He says he has thick skin as an officer, but when it comes to robberies, it is a different case.

“We take it personally when people are robbed under our watch,” Johnson confesses. “We take pride in catching burglars.”

Other happenings include an ongoing barking dog complaint and two raccoon sightings, and I am shown all four Carmel bars open past midnight.

Although Carmel may not have a high crime rate, the police are to thank for protecting our community.

“Having a presence in Carmel is important,” Johnson explains. “When people see us patrolling the streets, it reminds them there is law enforcement here.”

-Edie Ellison