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The Daily Pennsylvanian had the opportunity to ride along with officers from the University of Pennsylvania Police Department.

Credit: Luke Chen , Luke Chen

When the call came in over the Penn Police radio on Saturday night, I could feel the adrenaline sharply pulse through my body — I was about to go to the scene of a reported armed robbery away from the center of campus.

On hearing the call at around 11:30 p.m., Officer Stephen Devlin of Penn Police Department’s Emergency Response Team turned on his car’s siren and got us to the scene of the crime right away.

Stay inside the car, he told me, as he got out to join a group of five or six officers trying to catch the robbers in their escape. That’s fine with me, I thought, as I rolled up my window to protect myself and tugged my bulletproof vest tighter around me.

Devlin is an expert in situations like these. As part of the ERT, he is akin to a S.W.A.T. officer for Penn and would be the first responder in any active shooter situation. As for me, I could only watch and listen (and hope my underwear was waterproof) as he and his fellow officers calmly and quickly drew their weapons as they searched a dark alleyway, not knowing who — or what — would be waiting for them.

After a few minutes searching, the officers got back in their cars. When Devlin returned to the driver’s seat next to me, he told me that I shouldn’t have been worried — he wasn’t going to let anything happen to me. He seemed so sure when he said that, it made me feel like I was never in any real danger.

What’s next? I asked Officer Devlin once my heart rate finally slowed down and the car had started driving again. We’re going to the Philadelphia Police Department’s 18th District station at 59th Street, he said, to pick up an incident report for a crime that occurred earlier that day.

Devlin, who could have been a professional athlete in another life (he was drafted by both the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers while he was in the police academy), didn’t skip a beat between the two jobs. About 20 minutes after responding to an armed robbery, he was in the 18th District, picking up paperwork.

For him, this was all in a night’s work.

Related: A night on the other side of the flashing lights


Jimmy Smith, the other officer I rode with on Saturday, had recently recovered from four shoulder reconstruction surgeries after he was hit by a car while on duty for Penn Police.

“Like the actor?” I asked when he told me his name. “No, that’s Jimmy Smits,” he responded with a laugh. Internally, I hit myself — I watched all seven seasons of West Wing at least four times, so I should have known better.

Smith, now 47 years old, has been a police officer for about five years. He started the police academy when he was 40, and knew ever since he started that he wanted to work at Penn. He said that he would “call Penn once a week” looking for a job as an officer.

“I like how vibrant it is down here,” Smith said, adding that he likes the “diversity of outlooks” he encounters from working at Penn.

Smith started his drive with me by patrolling the area surrounding Penn. For a while, before any jobs came over the radio, we talked about his work.

He told me that each night as a police officer was unpredictable, as one day could be rife with crime while the next could be a quiet night.

“This job — you never know what you’re going to get,” he said.

After a few minutes, we got a call over the radio that we needed to stop traffic so that city employees could perform work in the middle of the street.

“We treat every job equally,” he said. Whether it’s a robbery or, like Saturday night, helping city workers complete their job, each situation is treated “just as important” as any other.

“There’s a lot more to police work than chasing bad guys,” Smith said. “It’s a service industry.”

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