Remembering my three favorite cops

National Police Week rekindles some fond memories for Editor Nick Wakeman when he was a rookie reporter covering the police beat.

When I started in journalism, my first beat was cops and court and it was some of the most fun I ever had as a reporter.

I learned a lot about human nature and the police officers and deputies I met still rank high as some of the best and toughest sources I’ve had.

I like that the tech world and law enforcement are becoming so entwined. It’s a great market because the potential to save lives and improve communities is so great. Of course, money is being spent there so it can be lucrative as well.

But this is National Police Week and thousands of police officers are converging on Washington, D.C. to celebrate and to memorialize those officers who lost their lives in the line of duty last year.

I want to share three stories about police officers from my days as a cop reporter. They shaped me as much as any work experience could. 

I saw Capt. Martin Strobel every day for three years when I’d drop by the Harrisonburg, Va., Police Department to check on recent arrests and complaints. Getting information beyond what was in the log book was always a challenge. After a while I think he appreciated my persistence.

One day I was asking him about a break-in and vandalism incident at a local pizza shop.

As I was getting basic information on the break-in, the captain muttered under his breath to me, “Ask me what he was wearing.”

So I asked, what was he wearing? And thanks to that little tip from the toughest cop I knew, for the first and so far only time, I wrote a story that had the words “naked man” in the headline.

Sheriff Glenn Weatherholtz was the most popular politician in Rockingham County and I’d walk from the policy station to the sheriff’s department as part of my daily rounds. The shift in atmosphere was remarkable.

Weatherholtz was a tall, gregarious guy, who, the first time we met, got in my face and asked me, “Who’s your daddy?” Turns out he had grown up near a bunch of my relatives in the next county, so he knew the name Wakeman.

He turned out to be the best source I’ve ever had, bar none. He would tell me a lot of things or point me to sources that could talk, if he couldn’t.

When he was on vacation, it was a different story. I had to deal with his chief of detectives, Danny Comer. Danny was a great guy and we got a long well, but he didn’t like the role of the press.

I can’t remember the case but I was asking him questions and not getting anywhere beyond "No comment." I started giving him scenarios: “Would I be wrong if I wrote this? Or would it be accurate if I published this?" I got nowhere.
“I don’t care what you write, it doesn’t change anything,” he said.

Finally, in frustration, I told him, “I can hardly wait until the sheriff is back. He’s the biggest leak in this whole department.”

We laughed about that for months.

And finally, Harrisonburg was having a problem with teenagers cruising the streets. They were clogging a section of town with their slow back and forth driving, so I went on my first ride-along.

We stopped a few cars but mostly it was about a police presence to make the kids scatter. But as we went up and down the streets, I increasingly felt uneasy and then it dawned on me – Everyone stares at a police car when it drives by. I mean everyone. They stop and they look. They watch you. I do it too. You almost can’t help yourself.

Officer Roy (I can’t for the life of me remember his first name) laughed when I asked him about it. “Yeah, you’re a marked man.”

Those words seem particularly poignant during National Police Week when the 73 officers who lost their live in 2011 will be honored at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

There are more than 19,000 names on the memorial, dating back to 1791. That’s a tremendous sacrifice.

If there are any police officers reading this: Thank you for your service. And if your company is selling products and services that help law enforcement do their jobs better, thank you too and keep up the good work.

This blog is dedicated to Sgt. Manuel Trenary, who was killed in Harrisonburg while responding to a burglary in progress on Oct. 8, 1959. The case remains unsolved.