Late Friday night, the cold air wafts the cacophony of three different air fresheners around the cramped interior of the 2011 Chevrolet Impala.
The open window allows Jasper Officer Dakota Foote to hear activity outside of his car while he patrols the streets.
The car’s futile fan’s attempt to beat back the cold air by penetrating the enemy’s territory along the floorboards — 12 hours of hot knees and feet. The air fresheners help a bit.
Foote’s 185-lb frame is a tight fit in the driver’s seat of his Jasper police car. The utility belt holding a Glock .40 caliber pistol with 16 rounds, two additional 15-round magazines, two sets of handcuffs, an expandable baton, a radio, a Taser, and a container of pepper spray weighs him down into the seat. The equipment and the ballistic vest he wears under his uniform add about 30 pounds.
Everything from the waist up is chafing hard corners and edges.
He constantly shifts around and tugs at the vest that gives him a slightly barrel-shaped chest. His undershirt rides up under the stiff plates of the vest, he explains. “It pinches my fat roll and gets pretty uncomfortable sitting here,” the slim runner adds.
He pulls out a plastic case. It holds a nylon tourniquet to wrap around an appendage, a windlass to tighten the tourniquet to stop uncontrollable bleeding and a marker to write the time the tourniquet was applied. All in a succinct package with a belt clip. “I can’t find a place on my belt for this yet,” Foote says before putting it back behind his seat.
The driver’s seat is surrounded by the controls for lights and sirens, a car-radio, a mounted plate that holds an encased laptop with a backlit keyboard so he can type in the dark. A cellular hotspot allows his car to serve as a roving WiFi bubble keeping him connected to the databases he needs for his job — the state’s license database, state and national crimes databases, a ticket/infraction database, and Google.
With the radar speed detector and a few other electronic items, the passenger seat hosts numerous wires and connections in a somewhat tangled mess. With practiced precision, he can find the right wire he needs quickly in the dark as he connects the various equipment.
In the trunk, Foote has crime scene and incident gear as well as extra armor and a helmet for his duty on the county’s emergency response team. A 12-gauge shotgun and an AR-15 are also stored there, with extra rounds of ammunition for every gun he carries.
The list of items goes on and is as varied as the incidents Foote has found himself responding to over his two years on the Jasper Police Department.
Foote, 25, is from New Haven, Ind., a suburb of Fort Wayne. He graduated from New Haven High School in 2009 and then pursued a degree in telecommunications at Ball State. He had wanted to be a military pilot, but those dreams were smashed when his bad eyesight kept him out of the program.
He joined the Indiana Army National Guard anyway and ended up being accepted to Officer Candidates School while he was enrolled at Ball State University.
At some point, he decided telecommunications wasn’t the right thing for him and switched to criminal justice.
He can’t explain why he made that decision.
“I was never one of those kids dressing up and playing cops and robbers,” he said.
But, it did allow him to meet his future wife, Kristie.
He graduated at the end of 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and began to look for police officer positions. In January, he saw that Jasper was hiring but at the time, he hadn’t even known that Jasper existed. “Before I had applied here, I had never even heard of this city,” he said.
Foote made it through to the final interviews that August, and he felt good about the potential of moving to Jasper and joining the police department. Unfortunately, about a month later, he got a letter saying he had been passed over for the position.
However, Foote had made his mark during the first hiring process and the chief called him back in November; around the same time, the City of Muncie called. In the end, Foote was impressed with what Jasper had to offer and decided to make the city the future home for his family.
Sure he would be hired; he quit the $ 11-an-hour factory job he had and headed down for the final interview.
“I was waiting for the interview,” Foote said. “And me and the other guy, Grant Goffinet, were there together. I was thinking that I was going to do whatever I could to get the job. I was going to make sure I was better than him.”
Fortunately, the competition didn’t have to turn into a cage match. The city hired both men.
“Afterwards, Grant, who lives here, showed me all around town,” Foote said. “He spent about three hours giving me a tour.”
Foote headed off to the 16-week law enforcement academy and returned to Jasper for his time with a field training officer. Field training officers work with new officers as they apply the classroom education and practicum they receive at the academy to the reality of a job that demands constant vigilance and a great amount of discretion.
Twelve weeks later, Foote was on patrol by himself with his night shift crew.
For a kid that never played cops and robbers, police work has become his life.
“It’s my passion,” he said.
The suicides are the worst.
He has responded to at least four in the two years he has been with the department.
“It’s too late for me to maybe do something,” Foote said. “I don’t like going to domestics either. You hate seeing couples fight, but it’s manageable. Someone killing themselves, you can’t solve that, you can’t help that.”
The work has made its mark on him. Driving through a town of 16,000 is a constant reminder of the incidents he has responded to.
There is the first death he went to; there is the first suicide; there is where that baby was so badly injured that he never woke up. A medical emergency, a fire, a fight, a drunk, drugs, and so on. Incidents become real-life stories attached to the geography of the city he patrols.
Stories that will make up his career.
Foote is part of a team, a family. On a given night, the officers, deputies and state police can be found meeting over a meal at some point during the 12-hour shift.
It is a support network founded in the circumstances of a job that can strike deep into the heart.
Most are driving around by themselves and, as Foote has experienced, may be the sole responder to the worst situations.
It can be dangerous, so the units from the different departments work together to support each other — the reason many times citizens see several cars at a single seemingly minor incident.
And that carries over into life as well, especially when there is only a thin blue line separating them from someone they may have had to arrest.
They are a tight group that shares time together. They celebrate each other as they did recently when Jasper Officer Jeff Young finished the final patrol of his career on the department.
Being an officer gives Foote the opportunity to fix things for people.
Even when he has to arrest someone, Foote usually takes the time to talk to them; to let them know that it isn’t the end of the world. “They’re sitting there, and the world has crashed down,” he said. “I want them to know that it isn’t the end.”
He and his family are a part of the community he patrols. “This is a great place to raise a family,” Foote said. “That’s why we came here instead of going to a larger department and city.”
He and Kristie are attempting to expand their family before he goes on a 12-month deployment with the National Guard next year. So the roots grow deeper in the city he patrols and for Foote, it’s in the best interest of the city, his expanding family and for these broken people to heal; to become part of the community as well.
Foote is sometimes surprised by how people respond to police officers. He is taken aback that on any given day, someone will let him into their home because of the trust implied by his uniform and badge.
Then there are those times he worries about someone spitting in his food when he goes out to eat. “I used to work in fast food, so why am I such a bad person just because I have these clothes, this title, and I drive this car,” he said. “It is insane to me that there is so much emotion about this profession, this job.”
“If you think about it barebones, I am just a normal person. I am no different than anyone else. The only thing that is separating me is that I wear a uniform to work, and I have a badge and a gun,” he said. “But people will love you for that; they’ll hate you for that; they’ll trust you for that, or they will distrust you for that.”