Riding with Boardman police reveals a cross-section of crime
Story: Most people arrested for violent crimes are from outside the township
Story: Officers never know which Boardman they'll encounter
Looking out of a police cruiser window, officers never know which Boardman they’ll see.
Sometimes, it’s the calm nature of the township with a few reports of dogs barking or fireworks popping late at night.
Other times, it’s reports of burglary and drug trafficking.
“I love this job because you never really know what will happen,” said Officer John J. Gocala Jr. during a ride-along July 6 with a Vindicator reporter and photographer.
The six-hour ride-along began calmly enough. Gocala, whose father is the Youngstown State University police chief, stationed himself off Midlothian Boulevard, just east of South Avenue.
“I try to run as many [license] plates as possible and park at hot spots,” he said.
The computer database system LEADS will alert him if a driver has a suspended license or outstanding warrants, and he said he chooses areas where he’s likely to observe crime.
Gocala rattled off three intersections: where Glenwood Avenue, Market Street and South Avenue cross Midlothian Boulevard — a street that for the most part divides Youngstown and Boardman.
That evening, six patrolmen and one supervisor are on duty. Gocala points to his laptop, which lists of officers are available, and if they aren’t, what type of call they are taking.
After about 20 minutes, the first call came in: a fight at Get-Go gas station off South Avenue. Gocala heads to the scene and is told by the dispatcher to look for a Buick Park Avenue. He spots it and does a U-turn on South Avenue in front of The Georgetown.
A man gets out and said another man tried to sell him appliances and speakers at Get-Go.
“I told him I didn’t want to buy his stolen stuff, and he grabbed my throat, and I fought back,” the man said, pausing to sip a Dr Pepper. “Then his buddy tried to jump me, and I fought.”
Another officer was at Get-Go talking to the other party in the fight. With two conflicting stories and no one willing to press charges, the officers cleared the call.
From there, the calls were steady. A man in a South Avenue trailer park was threatening to harm himself. Another man at an apartment complex off Shields Road said a woman assaulted him. Vandalism was reported. Gocala did have time for one traffic stop, a car with a headlight out, and gave the driver a verbal warning.
Then it was 10 p.m. and time for shift change.
Officer Jamison Diglaw, one of the department’s two crime scene investigators, patrolled the streets with Vindicator staff in tow.
“I like working night turn. You get the more dangerous stuff,” he said.
But at first, the calls were more like those expected in a small town: barking dogs, fireworks and loud noise.
Around 1 a.m., a man reported seeing a shadow-like figure near his car and finding the car’s glove box open and lottery tickets on the ground.
Diglaw circled the block to look for anything suspicious and saw a driver swerve left of center on Southern Boulevard. The officer leaned in to talk to the man and after a few moments, placed handcuffs on him. The man had marijuana and an empty gun holster in the car. He was cited for drug possession and operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs.
As the calls crackled across the scanner, one stuck out. A 17-year-old boy told his mother that he had been kidnapped and thrown out of a van, sustaining a gash on his head.
In fact, he confessed to officers that he had snuck out of his house, fallen and then lied to his parents about the injury.
Police clear the scene at about 2:30 a.m. and await the next call.
“You never see the exact same thing twice,” Diglaw said.