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Friday, May 20, 2022

Patrol Division turns citizen interactions into memories

Two men lounging at the Patrol Division front desk said I was in for some good stories that night.

"He's going to tell you stories about the war," the man wearing a baseball cap joked.

"What war?" his friend asked.

"The Civil War." The baseball-cap wearer grinned.

As if on cue, an older gentleman in uniform strolled out of the back room and introduced himself as Officer Ray Metrick. He had a gray mustache, and his gentle face was etched with laugh lines.

As he ushered me out of the chipped and weathered brick building on UF's campus, 40-degree wind hit our cheeks, reddening them instantly. I was accompanying Metrick on a five-hour patrol for the University Police Department, where we would scour campus for law breakers and mischief mongers. The streets were already bustling due to Friday night festivities.

As soon as I slid into the passenger's seat of the patrol car and attempted to warm my hands, we were winding down Museum Road, and he began to share his 17 years in law enforcement with me. During casual conversation, he carefully monitored the positions of the other officers on duty on his computer screen, making sure his patrol car wasn't far from them in case they ran into an emergency situation.

"I always was with a good team," he said. "I knew that someone had my back."

The recent career switch from covering narcotics and violent crimes with different law enforcement teams in South Florida to patrolling a college campus hasn't fazed him at all.

"I'm new, and they've been very good to me," he said, grasping the steering wheel.

Metrick, 57, has been with UPD for about 10 months, but his almost 20 years of adrenaline rushes and team training put him on par with seasoned UPD officers. He was on the road Friday night with officers who have put in the same amount of time into UPD that he has with various agencies across Florida.

He holds a certain respect for officers who have stayed with UPD for almost two decades.

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Officers who have been in law enforcement for many years have formed a trust that mentally assures everyone they are going to go home safely after the shift ends.

That connection with his fellow officers kept Metrick alert late Friday night as he intently listened to the outdoor festivities through his open car window, even though the temperatures were in the 30s.

After about 15 minutes of waiting in his patrol car near Fraternity Drive, a yellow Ford Escape zoomed past a stop sign, oblivious to Metrick's presence in the shadows.

He shifted into drive and sped after the guilty driver, who kept hitting the brake lights out of nervousness. The patrol car's red and blue lights flickered and reflected off "It is Unlawful to Feed the Alligators" signs posted by Lake Alice.

After both cars were parked in the right-hand lane on Museum Road, Metrick exited the car with calm and collected professionalism, and he strolled over to the driver's side window.

After issuing a ticket for an expired registration instead of running the stop sign, Metrick scooted back into his vehicle and added a copy of the ticket to a collection shoved in the sun visor.

"Both students stuck out their hands and thanked me for bringing it to their attention," he said. "I felt like I was getting through to them and that something was accomplished."

Patrolling with compassion

Other UPD veterans who have been a part of the Patrol Division have also turned these types of positive interactions with students and Gainesville residents into important career memories.

UPD Lt. Stacy Ettel sat in his chair back at the UPD Administration Office, surrounded by routine paperwork and manuals. He had a sharp chin, broad shoulders and a voice that commanded attention and discipline.

Ettel, who has served 16 years at UPD, remarked that he considers law enforcement to be an opportunity to help students.

"You get a few minutes to show compassion," he said.

He recalled a moment when he helped a man who skidded on his bicycle and smacked his face on the pavement. Ettel ran into the same man years later at graduation, and the man remembered how he had washed his face and held his hand.

"Those are the things you remember," Ettel recalled. "They see you later on, and they remember."

Just like the student who got his wallet stolen at UF's Southwest Recreation Center will probably remember the empathy Metrick showed Friday night when he spent part of the evening looking through bushes with a flash light near a Hull Road bus stop, hoping to find the wallet discarded in the leaves.

The lanky student, with disheveled blond hair and a UF pre-med T-shirt, paced as he made multiple phone calls, distress lacing his voice. Metrick gave him advice about leaving personal belongings on the basketball court.

After taking his information, Metrick was back in his patrol car, and he parked in the lot next to Keene-Flint Hall. It was nearing 1 a.m., and people were starting to filter out of the bars. A woman in a short clubbing outfit stumbled past Metrick. As she clung to her friend, she shouted and waved with a smile, "Heyyyy! Heyyyy!"

Metrick didn't even flinch. He seemed used to the unexpected, drunken greetings, and focused more on spotting potential drunken drivers than humoring the extroverted bar-hopper.

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