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On the Beat over the Holidays: In Conversation with Wayne Vincent

First responders don’t take the holidays off. We asked Wayne Vincent of the Arlington County Police Department and the current COPS office Senior Fellow what makes working through the holidays great, weird, and different.

What’s it like to be on call while everyone else is taking time off?

The emotional toll of working during the holidays can be substantial for an officer and his or her family. Our families are expected to understand that we will miss Sunday dinners, first soccer games, birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Christmas mornings, and yes, even the  Super Bowl. It never gets easy calling in a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year. The one comfort we have is the unwavering support of our police family. As a supervisor you never forget that unselfish officer who volunteers to work the holidays or when one of our Jewish or Muslim brothers or sisters volunteers to work Christmas morning just so another officer can spend the holidays with their family. Of course we all look forward to each division’s holiday parties. It a great time to celebrate our diversity in food, culture, and give thanks for each other.   

Do you think that people recognize the added burdens of being a cop over the holidays?

Although this time of year can be difficult on our families, it is also a time when we are reminded that we have the support of our community and they understand and appreciate the dedication and service we take each day on patrol. It is not uncommon for local businesses or even a resident to send holiday cookies to midnight roll call or for a local business to offer free coffee to all first responders on Thanksgiving. Our local Knights of Columbus traditionally offers any officers a hot meal on Thanksgiving and some officers choose to eat in one of our fire stations (who are known for cooking quite the Thanksgiving feast). Whether we are working a shift or fortunate to spend the holidays with family and friends, we are reminded what is important in life and to never forget those that are unable to be with us this holiday season.   

What makes policing at the holidays different than policing at other times of year?

Like so many other local police departments, Arlington County PD  is preparing for an influx of visitors to our jurisdiction to celebrate the holidays. While many Americans will visit with family and friends or spend countless hours shopping, local law enforcement is confronted with keeping our communities safe during the busiest of times; three days ago the FBI warned of another potential terror threat on Thanksgiving.

During the holidays, each shift may see an influx of calls that are unique to that shift. For example, Day and Evening Patrol will see an increase in calls around the malls for crimes such as shoplifting, larceny from autos, and street robberies. Midnight Patrol may see an increase in domestic assault, especially on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve. I believe we also notice an increase in attempted and successful suicides.

As with most major holidays, special events or national anniversary, this time of year brings heightened security concerns. Because we are located outside our nation’s capital, we have become accustomed   to heightened security measures which essentially mean increased police presence. During this time of the year, our residents and visitors to Arlington can expect to see officers in high visibility areas especially around malls, national monuments, metro stations and other potential target areas.  The holidays mean officers may be required to extend their shifts to account for staffing needs or work Holiday Traffic Campaigns such as “Click it or Ticket” or DUI check points.

Do you have a favorite story about working a major winter holiday? 

No one can forget the Snowmageddon of 2010. All three shifts stayed in a hotel because it was impossible to get home unless you resided in the county. I think most of us used it as a bonding session for different squads. It was unusual but somewhat fun to wake up and go to dinner and catch a movie with your squad.  The shift was slow since most businesses were closed until you got that call for that lone driver stuck in a drift.

Sarah Estill
Staff Writer

Wayne Vincent
Lieutenant, Arlington (VA) Police Department
Senior Fellow, COPS Office

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