A ride in a police car isn’t always this much fun.
Last Thursday, one of our Manteca police officers rolled out the red carpet and allowed me to join her on her daytime patrol, offering me unique insight into both the inner workings of the city and the lives of its police officers. For Officer Eva Steele and many of the other officers, the hardest part about the job is learning to balance work with family life. Sitting next to her in the passenger seat, trying to hear her explain to me above the constant buzz of the radio that the shotgun between us unlocks at the flick of a switch in case we need to use it, it’s hard to believe anyone in this profession can easily maintain an alternate peaceful family life after hours.
Within a year of becoming a police officer with the Manteca Police Department, Eva Steele married her husband of 11 years and they began a family. It wasn’t easy being a police officer and having a belly the size of a watermelon. Thrice shifting to temporary desk jobs while pregnant, Officer Steele found it increasingly difficult to leave her young children after maternity leaves. She says “it was harder each time” to come back to work at the police department.
Steele may have had the hardest time leaving her daughter, Bella, who has had hearing problems since birth. Having had to undergo two operations as a young child for cochlear implants to help her hear, Bella can now hear loud yelling and nearby cars, putting her mother more at ease about her safety. Despite these obstacles Bella has lived a very happy childhood, even persevering to become a junior cheerleader today, and Officer Steele is a very proud mother.
With three kids and a husband who works as a cargo and charter flight pilot, Steele has had to rely heavily on family members for help with the kids when she and her husband are working. Fortunately family is never very far away, and day cares are very accessible in Manteca. Still, Officer Steele would prefer to be able to be with the kids herself. Though not necessarily regretful of her career decision to become a police officer, Eva Steele says that now that she has a family she wouldn’t choose her job a second time. The dangers and the time involved in police work are a large risk to take when you have kids.
Steele didn’t always want to be a police officer. When she started college she had plans of becoming a math teacher. However, her involvement in a volunteer program somehow ended in her joining the police. Having been a policewoman in Manteca for twelve years, Steele seems to know most of the people on the street. Snagging waves from various pedestrians as she cruises around town, she clearly cares a lot about the people she’s sworn to protect.
Though protecting in Manteca has grown increasingly difficult over the years, Steele nevertheless does the job aptly and cheerfully. With the numbers of police officers dwindling in cities across the nation, Manteca has been no exception. Most of the time, there are only four officers on call at a time. That leaves them each a quarter of Manteca to cover, and the responsibility to act as back-up for other officers is increasingly difficult when multiple calls come in at once. When asked if four officers at any one time are enough to handle the job, Officer Steele quickly answered with a blunt “No”. It is not enough. We need more officers like Eva Steele.