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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Gainesville Police Department ride–along opens eyes

Editor's note: Katie Emmets spent Friday night patrolling with Gainesville Police officers to write this story.

As we drove by the small houses of southeast Gainesville, with bars on the windows and "No Trespassing" signs on porches, I realized I was going into an area of the city I didn't know existed.

In the police car of Lt. Keith Kameg, I rode along Friday to get a firsthand account of a night on patrol with officers from the Gainesville Police Department.

When we pulled up to a boarding house on Southeast Sixth Avenue, some people ran away, and others stood firm, mumbling curse words at us as we approached.

Often drug dealers hide their drugs in their socks and in the exhaust pipes of nearby cars, said Gainesville Police Sgt. Mike Douglas, head of GPD's Tactical Impact Unit.

The unit was created in 2006 to combat violent crime and drug dealing and specializes in patrolling Gainesville's high-crime areas, Kameg said.

As we drove past houses with busted windows and torn-down fences, I realized how separated the student community is from southeast Gainesville.

Kameg said although the area we scouted was only 1.5 miles away from downtown, students are usually unaware of it.

As we pulled up at "the horseshoe," a name given to Southeast Sixth Street because its curved design lets drug dealers see police approaching from both directions, men walked away as they yelled at the officers to leave.

We walked around a house past a bathroom shed and saw three people fending off the night's cold next to an outdoor fire and listening to Earth Wind & Fire's "Dancing in September."

"You need to go to the White House and get Dick Cheney and the real criminals," one of the men said after telling us to go home. "There are no criminals here."

Kameg jokingly replied that Cheney is no longer in the White House.

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We then walked around the side of the house, passing rusty kitchen appliances and stray cats. The officers shined their flashlights on two men in lawn chairs and searched them for drugs. On one of the men, they found a small bag of marijuana.

Quietly and calmly, the officers took the man's fingerprints, gave him a notice to appear in court and let him go.

The officers were compassionate and friendly, knowing people by name and joking with residents.

Gary, a man carrying a 32-ounce bottle of King Cobra beer and wearing a blue jail-like jumpsuit, cursed at the officers.

He got so close to Douglas, I worried Gary would punch him.

Then, suddenly, the two laughed, and Gary hugged Douglas and kissed him on the cheek.

Gary carried on with the officers like they were old friends, laughing, joking and catching up on Gary's life.

The officers were filming Police Beat, GPD's local version of 'Cops,' and police coaxed Gary to go on camera.

After police spent about five minutes talking to Gary, he looked at the camera and yelled, "I hate Police Beat!"

Everyone laughed and Gary agreed to a take two, this time saying, "I love Police Beat," and kissing Douglas on the cheek.

Gary didn't want me to feel left out, so he hugged me and kissed me on the neck - a perfect ending to my night.

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