shotgun with a believer in blue
The late shift
By Kirk Noonan
Editors note: While high winds and rain blasted Floridas
coastline on a Saturday night in January, Kirk Noonan, associate editor,
rode along with Sergeant Mike Simmons through the streets of Pensacola,
Fla. Though rain squelched many peoples desire to be out and about,
some still found ways to get into trouble. Following is Noonans
account of the night that started at 7 and ended a few minutes before
8:33 p.m. First call
Slashing rain pelts the police cruiser as we speed to the J-Street
Apartments where a gang fight is reportedly in progress. "The dispatcher
says there are weapons," Mike Simmons, the Pensacola police officer
I am riding with tonight, says as he negotiates thin residential streets,
traffic and puddles of rainwater. "Well see if thats true
when we get there."
cruisers red and blue lights pierce the stormy night as I let
my mind wander to the frightening possibilities of what a gang fight
might entail. I envision worst-case scenarios before opting to scribble
down notes and concentrate on the sanguine voice of the police radio
At the apartment complex, Simmons works a spotlight, in search of the
fight, as we roll through the dilapidated area. There are no signs of
a fight and after five minutes of looking he determines the call was
"This is not a night for fights," Simmons, a 16-year veteran and second-generation
police officer, says. "If there were really something going on there
would be people fighting or waving us to where the fight was."
Satisfied, Simmons, who is a member at Pensacolas First Assembly
of God, returns to his beat. For the next seven hours he will help protect
the citizens and property of this beachfront city on Floridas
panhandle and Ill get a glimpse of what it takes to be a police
Simmons grew up in Pensacola and is as familiar with the city as he
is his own backyard. As he drives, he points to a corner where he worked
his first murder case, then to a house where he rescued a family overcome
by carbon monoxide. We enter a small parking lot and he tells the story
of serial killer Ted Bundys desperate escape attempt from a Pensacola
police officer that began at the lot. The enthusiasm in Simmons
voice tells me hes proud to be on the force. "I feel called by
God to be doing this. I cant imagine doing anything else," he
says. "But I dont know how an officer who is not a Christian can
do this job.
"Every single day I put on the full armor of God," he says. "Im
not a brave guy, I just know God is going to protect me. But I always
keep in mind that the worst thing that can happen is that if I die Ill
go to heaven."
In 1993, Simmons came close to death while escorting visiting dignitaries
around Pensacola. As he tried to pass a vehicle, his motorcycle slammed
head-on into a truck. At the hospital, doctors told Simmons wife,
Jerri, that one side of her husbands face had caved in, crushing
his eye socket and shattering his cheek and jawbones. Because of the
head trauma doctors believed Simmons would die. Jerri began praying.
"Some peoples perception is that police officers and their families
are towers of strength," Jerri, who is a school secretary, says. "But
the only strength we have comes from God."
Simmons made a remarkable recovery and doctors were stunned when he
returned to work, says Jerri. "It was God," Mike Simmons says with certainty.
"The accident focused my faith. Im on His time now."
10:08 p.m. Serving and protecting
Simmons is the second officer to arrive at a hospital parking lot
where an intoxicated passenger refuses to pay his cab fare. The first
officer on scene advises the man to pay the fare or hell be arrested.
The man complains, then begrudgingly hands over a credit card and threatens
never to use the cab company again his threat falls flat and
only seems to please the driver.
Simmons says many of the calls he responds to involve drunks or people
who are acting irrationally. For many rookie officers, he adds, such
a reality is disenchanting. "A lot of young officers see the chases
and excitement on television and think thats the way it is all
the time," he explains. "But when reality sets in, some are disappointed
because they realize this is a hard and dangerous job that is oftentimes
Whether being thanked or scorned for his presence, Simmons tries to
make every call he responds to a positive experience. "I pray all the
time," he admits. "When I am called to a scene
my job is to be
a police officer, but I pray under my breath. People are open to Gods
love during times of crisis."
12:23 a.m. Dealing with the lost
Simmons and several other officers rush into a crowded nightclub
and usher two women, both in their early 20s, out of the building. The
two have been fighting. One has a gash on her arm; the other has one
on her head. As Simmons and the other officers interview the women,
accusations, curses and threats spill from the womens mouths.
Drunken bystanders, eager to get in on the action, also hurl insults
at the women.
"All police officers see is the bad in people," Simmons says later,
explaining some of the challenges he faces as an officer. "We see so
much bad we begin to think everyone is bad."
The rain abates, leaving the streets black and glistening. As if on
cue, people come out and once-empty corners and sidewalks suddenly become
meeting spots. Simmons pulls the cruiser next to a prostitute who is
working a dark corner.
"I thought you were gonna quit doing this," he yells out his open window.
"One day," she says approaching the car. "If I ever get beat up like
I did last time, Ill quit. Whereve you been?"
"A real job must be nice."
"You could get one too," Simmons says. "Might not make as much money,
but at least it would be safe."
"Someday," she says, giggling. "Someday."
The prostitute searches for more to say before settling on goodbye.
Suddenly, she has someplace to be and staggers in the opposite direction
of the corner where she had been standing.
"Shell be back as soon as we leave," Simmons says. "She is really
a he; thats why he got beat up. Its sad how messed up peoples
A call from the dispatcher crackles from the radio. In a matter of
minutes were in the parking lot of a seedy strip joint. Simmons
enters the lobby and is directed to a dark, smoky room where two scantily
clad dancers sit. In the lobby, a woman with a stocking cap pulled low
over her eyes is crying as she talks to an officer.
She tells the officer that the women Simmons is interviewing attacked
her and yanked out a clump of her hair. When the officer asks to see
her head she takes off her cap revealing thin, wispy hair. She tells
him she has recently undergone treatment for cancer and is pregnant.
"What are you doing in a place like this?" the officer asks.
"Just having fun," she mumbles.
All of the women are given two choices: drop the matter or go to jail.
They decide to drop it and we leave.
1:58 a.m. Beyond the call
The "Blocks," Simmons tells me, is an intersection where young people
party into the early morning hours after Pensacolas nightclubs
have closed. Nearby there are a bottle-club (a club where patrons bring
their own liquor and can party until 5 a.m.) and two mom-and-pop businesses
that serve barbecued ribs and chicken.
"This is probably the worst intersection in the city," Simmons remarks
as we pass through the intersection. "There have been more murders,
shootings and stabbings here than anywhere else in Pensacola. In an
hour or so, this place will come alive because the nightclubs close
As we move on, Simmons tells me of the Royal Rangers program he started
for inner-city children. Each week 15 to 30 boys gather at a community
center to learn survival skills, camping techniques and about Jesus.
"Most of these inner-city kids dont have Little League, church
groups, clubs or even stable homes," Simmons explains. "They have nothing,
but Rangers offers some of them a way out."
An hour later, we are called to a housing project where a resident
has reported suspicious activity in the parking lot. Simmons pulls the
cruiser behind a low-riding Oldsmobile Cutlass and turns on his takedown
lights. He cautiously approaches the car then begins ordering people
out. Slowly, an embarrassed 15-year-old female and a 21-year-old male
emerge from the backseat. When backup arrives the young woman cries
and begs the officers not to report her to her parents. They refuse
and call her father.
A half-hour later, a tired and disgruntled man, the father of the 15-year-old,
pulls his truck into the parking lot. As Simmons and the other officer
tell him what happened the mans anger boils over and he tells
his daughter to get in the truck.
"Were always dealing with strange situations out here," Simmons
says as he drives back to the station. Its almost 4 a.m. "Some
people come out here and they think its a game, but when you think
like that you eventually lose."
As we pull into the Pensacola police station I am thankful that God
has kept Simmons and me safe. Having only experienced a glimpse of what
police officers go through on a daily basis I am reminded that police
officers and their families need Gods protection and peace and
Kirk Noonan is associate editor of the Pentecostal