AYER — The night before Thanksgiving is seen as one of the biggest bar nights of the year; it even ranks at the top with that holiday where everyone suddenly becomes Irish — St. Patrick’s Day.
For my first experience with the “Ayer Pub Crawl” I decided to spend my night in town, mostly on Main Street, but not in any of the bars, pubs or restaurants; I was in a police cruiser with Officer Kellie Barhight.
I had the opportunity to get to know one of the three female officers in town, as well as gain a little insight into how the Police Department conducts business.
“Our” first call was to Nashoba Valley Medical Center. Barhight, Officer Andrew Kularkski and Sgt. Austin Cote all responded to the call to deal with an “unruly” drunk patient.
Because the call came in just as Barhight and I were walking to her cruiser, she playfully asked me if I brought any Dramamine with me. The drive to NVMC showed me why it was needed.
I stood in the hallway of the emergency room and observed the three officers assist the hospital staff in strapping the patient’s arms and legs to the bed. It was rather interesting; especially the language coming out of the patient’s mouth. I wonder if the patient remembered anything that happened or just woke up not feeling too well.
Barhight explained how important it was to check the cruiser before you actually get on the road, something she didn’t have time to do because the call to Nashoba Valley Medical Center came in right at the shift change at the station.
Driving through Ayer with lights and sirens blazing, Barhight said she knew those two things were working properly, and said she would check the rest of her cruiser as soon as we left the hospital.
“It’s important to check the back seat,” she explained. “Sometimes when you transport prisoners in your cruisers, they leave things in the back seat.”
Once the cruiser was inspected and ready to go, Barhight drove around town to ensure nothing was going on. We were driving up East Main Street toward the traffic circle when a car went speeding past us. Without hesitation, Barhight snapped a U-turn in the middle of the road and raced after the car. Despite the spiraling blue lights, the vehicle did not immediately slow down.
The car was doing 43 in a 30 mph speed limit, but Barhight decided to give the young driver a warning instead of a ticket.
“You don’t have to give a ticket to everybody,” she said. “There are so many laws with cars, too. Like a car just drove by us without a license plate light and I could have pulled them over. You don’t have to stop everybody. It’s really up to the discretion of the officer.”
The next car Barhight pulled over wasn’t so lucky.
Noticing a car with a headlight out, Barhight decided to pull the car over and talk to the driver. As she called in the plate to the dispatcher, I noticed the car had an expired tag on the plate.
Barhight came back to the cruiser with the driver’s license and registration, only to find out the registration was not renewable due to unpaid taxes or tickets in other towns.
“I hate to do this the night before Thanksgiving,” Barhight said to me. “I have to have the car towed because the registration is not renewable.”
Barhight said she had to issue a ticket, inventory everything in the car then have it towed.
“I’ll give (the driver) a ride anywhere they need to go,” she said. “But I can’t not have the car towed.”
The driver did catch a break, though. The tow truck driver agreed to tow the car to the home of the driver instead of the impound lot, saving the driver from having to pay four days worth of storage fees.
“Sometimes we’re able to have the driver call someone at home and pay the registration fees over the Internet and then we don’t have to have the car towed,” Barhight explained. “But nonrenewable registrations have to be taken care of in person. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Barhight said the driver was extremely pleasant and understood there was nothing Barhight could do to change the situation.
“It’s always easier when the driver is cooperative,” she said. “Let’s face it, police officers are not really well liked.”
Barhight has been a police officer for the past 10 years, but she has only been in Ayer for just over two years; she started her career in Vermont.
“I was a police officer in a very small town that really had a lot of area to cover,” she said. “Things were different up there, too. We didn’t have sergeants or anything, so we had to do everything.”
Each and every officer on the force would “own” their own cases, from start to finish, she added.
After Barhight left Vermont and moved to Massachusetts, she served as a police officer at Salem State College for two years before joining the Ayer Police Department.
I asked her what it was like to be a female in a male-dominated profession.
“It’s hard,” she said. “I mean, you have to prove yourself to (the men) that you can do this job. I had this one (state) trooper in Vermont that would never acknowledge me on a scene. Then one day he got called in for back-up and saw that I had all the suspects in handcuffs. That was when he introduced himself to me. I earned his respect.”
The night ended up being pretty slow, other than a few area checks for suspicious activity and a couple if traffic violations.
“I was hoping I could get you to see at least one OUI,” Barhight said to me as she dropped me back off at the station.
I had to agree with her — I was hoping to see some OUI arrests too, but either people decided to stay home or they were finally smart and found themselves a designated driver. Either way, my ride-along with Officer Barhight did not disappoint.