As the traffic light turns red, the beige sedan squeals through the intersection of Regent and Mills. “Bing bing, just like that,” says the sergeant behind the wheel of the Ford Police Interceptor SUV as it revs into high gear. Red and blue lights flash above our squad car. The siren blares twice. The sedan doesn’t stop — it accelerates.
With sirens at full blast, the Interceptor weaves through traffic to catch up. The sergeant radios back to the station, requesting immediate backup. The sedan hangs a right, flies across Monroe Street, and crashes through a fence. The perp leaps out of the car and dashes towards Camp Randall stadium. As the sergeant plunges the Interceptor into park, she tells me to stay put. She takes off running, but trips and falls. Without thinking, I throw the car door open, leap over the crushed chain-link fence, tuck-and-roll through the grass, and think…
…that’s how this could have gone.
But, really, I just sat quietly as Sergeant Cherise Caradine of the University of Wisconsin Police Department (UWPD) pulled over a polite and apologetic gentleman for running a red light.
Let’s state the obvious: writers have overactive imaginations. Which is why, when I arrived at the UWPD’s Monroe Street station, I couldn’t help but think about all of the scenarios that could happen on my ride-along. Suddenly we’d be in a high-speed pursuit on the beltline. Or maybe we’d stumble across some sort of backwoods undercover drug ring in the Arboretum. So, being the over-imaginator (and Gemini) that I am, I wore sneakers… just in case. Alas, as I mentioned, the most action we had was an unsafe traffic violation.
Oh, and a lockbox full of heroin.
For Caradine, traffic violations are probably one of the more boring aspects of her work. It gets more interesting when the officer riding along in the back seat has to get involved — her partner, K9 Officer Casey. Caradine and Casey make up the UWPD’s first and only narcotics detection unit, and have been working together for the past nine years.
For four years, Caradine had been working to get a narcotics program off the ground. It took numerous proposals, compiling statistics, and finding funding. Casey was the piece that brought it together. When she was one year old, a former City of Madison police officer-turned dog trainer purchased Casey from a Madison-area breeder and brought her to the UWPD. “I came across Casey and was like… she’s so beautiful!” Caradine says. “I don’t even care how she works, I want her!” Now, for all intents and purposes, Casey is Caradine’s dog. She lives in her house, plays with her kids, and naps on the deck.
You may be picturing Casey as a giant, surly, menacing German shepherd. I certainly was when I arrived at the station. But after leafing through a copy of National Geographic in the waiting area and sending an “I’m in jail” Snapchat to my moderately upset S.O. (come on, I had to), I was greeted by a petite, caramel-colored dog. Before I could stand up to introduce myself to Caradine, Casey trotted over, sat herself down, and gave me an irresistible “pet me now, please” face. I can see why Caradine fell in love with her—she’s one of the most unique looking dogs I’ve seen. She doesn’t walk—she slinks, with her neck slightly extended. I compare her to a hyena, but Caradine shakes her head ‘no.’ “A dingo.”
Casey is more than just a pretty snout. In her nine years on duty, she’s recovered six illegal guns, tens of thousands of dollars, and pounds of drugs including marijuana, crack, cocaine, meth, and heroin. “She’s incredible at her job,” boasts Caradine. “She’s 97% accurate.”
As we begin touring the station, I see that 97% accuracy in action. We head into the dispatch center, which Caradine calls the “central nervous system” of the UW campus. Three walls are filled, floor to ceiling, with computer monitors, all linked to various security cameras and alarms. The room is dark, but Casey sniffs something out immediately: half of a Dorito, hidden under the desk. Then she turns her attention to a backpack lying near the feet of an intern.
“Uh oh, whose backpack is that?” Caradine asks. “Is that yours? Whatdya got in there?”
“Granola bars…” he responds.
“Why was she sniffing around in there?” She’s joking, of course (I think?), but I swear the kid breaks a nervous sweat. Caradine may be nearly five-foot-nothing, but she’s quite intimidating.
Caradine shows me around the rest of the station: the “wall of shame,” where all of the officers’ portraits hang (human and canine alike); her office, complete with two coffee makers; and the “drunk tank,” or the stainless steel holding cell for people arrested for driving under the influence.
As we head toward the exit door, Casey moves a little faster and looks back at Caradine with anticipation.
On the clock
We walk through the parking lot toward a Ford Interceptor SUV. “This is Casey’s car,” Caradine says. She’s warned me that Casey’s personality changes considerably once she’s on the clock, but I feel like Casey and I are on pretty good terms. Caradine let’s Casey into the caged area behind the driver’s seat and closes the door. As we walk around to the passenger side, she explains that there’s a small Plexiglass window separating Casey from the other passenger seat—where her “prisoners” sit. Caradine steps away from the car, and instructs me to open the door and hop in.
I do, and Casey turns into one of the most terrifying, ferocious dogs I’ve ever encountered. She’s barking hysterically and, for a moment, I’m convinced that she’s going to break through the glass. I jump, and Caradine chuckles. “Boom. Just like that: personality change. She’s like, ‘this is my ride. This is my mom’s car. Don’t mess with me.’”
Caradine gets in the car first, and then lets me in (which Casey allows). The radio turns on to 96.3 Star Country, and Chris Janson’s over-emphasized southern accent seeps through: Workin’ like a dog all day ain’t workin’ for me. How fitting. There is an incredible amount of stuff in this car. A pair of handcuffs hangs near the driver’s side window. A computer is wedged on the center console, which Caradine flips open and starts working on. There are two cameras attached to the windshield, and one behind my seat facing the arrestee. I turn around, and am made very uneasy as I realize I’m sitting next to a giant rifle. I look up, shifting my focus from the mag to a pair of wide, glistening eyes: Casey is sitting, dead still, staring at me.
Once Caradine clocks in, we set off down Dayton Street. As we cross over onto University Avenue, Caradine starts pointing out hotspots. “Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights, we’re down here,” she says as we pass Wando’s. “Nabbing drunk drivers… preventing fights… forest fires…” she laughs.
Forest fires aside, Caradine and Casey do a lot more than just narcotics detection. All UWPD officers work Badger athletic events, as well as Madison-area events such as the IronMan and Madison Marathon. They also do community outreach, like running sixteen miles for the Special Olympics’ Torch Run. Casey makes several trips to the UW residence halls each semester, mainly to help draw a crowd to safety presentations. Spoiler alert: it works. “People come to school, leave their home, leave their family, and leave their family pets,” Caradine says. “I’ve had students that just cry—they’ll lay on the floor and Casey will just come up and lay by them like, ‘don’t worry!’”
We turn right onto Park Street past a sleepy Chadbourne Hall, as most students haven’t come back to campus yet. “There’s a two-week slowdown once school lets out, when the students leave and before the summer influx starts,” she explains.
As we circle past the Memorial Union Terrace, she explains that the summer weather brings a rise in the transient population. “It’ll be concentrated, but it moves depending on where the resources are that they want and need,” says Caradine.
We head south on Park Street to patrol the Arboretum, and I realize that there’s a dispatch radio that’s been going off—something about a child getting beat up by a group of teenagers.
“Have you been paying attention to that this whole time?” I ask Caradine. She nods, and rattles off, verbatim, what the dispatcher has said. “If you weren’t in here, this would be up,” she nods to the computer, “and I would be checking license plates, messages that come through, all that stuff.” The dispatch radio that I’m hearing is from the City of Madison. She also has an earpiece that she’ll put in later on, which is tapped into her police channel.
We’re getting closer to the Arbortetum, and I admit that I’m slightly confused. Perhaps I’m just totally naïve, I tell her, but I wouldn’t think to patrol the Arboretum as much as, say, State Street alleyways.
“It’s a hotspot,” she says, as if it’s obvious. “Prostitution and drug use,” as well as gang-related activity. What?! But I run through here! “It would completely creep me out to live here,” she says. She points out hidden pathways and secluded parking lots as we go through. We also pass part of the Arboretum on the other side of the beltline (that I didn’t know existed), and circle back on Monroe Street where she points out more “secret” entrances.
“If I sent Casey out,” she says of one of the gravel parking lots, “you would find some blunts or some needles or stuff like that.”
Casey’s been so unbelievably quiet up to this point; I actually forgot she was back there. I ask if that was part of the training—her riding so well in the car—but Caradine says it’s just her nature. I scowl, thinking about how my dog insists on riding in the front seat like a human, and is so obese that she sets off the seat belt alarm as soon as we take off.
Hunting for a rabbit in a hole
We get back into campus, and Caradine pulls the Interceptor into the parking lot behind the Regent Street McDonalds. “You cool?” she asks the silent backseat passenger. “We’re going to put some dope out for you.” She’s going to let Casey show off.
As we get out of the car, Caradine starts explaining why Casey is so good at sniffing things out. “If your boyfriend is cooking pizza, you walk in your house and go, ‘Oh, pizza!’ The dog walks in the house and goes, ‘Oh, yeast, flour, tomatoes, oregano, three kinds of cheeses!’
Caradine opens the trunk, then a locked compartment within the trunk, then a black lockbox. She unlocks it, and I see four round canisters filled with bags of white, powdery substances. I can read two labels: heroin and cocaine.
Having led a very boring, PG-rated life, I internally freak out. I’ve been riding around in a car filled with illegal drugs?! Should I call the police?! Oh, wait… “Hope you’re not into it!” Caradine jokes as pulls out one of the bags. I get that feeling you get when going through airport security checkpoints, when you’ve done nothing wrong but suddenly feel like you should confess. “It’s not good for you.” I ramble into an uncomfortable monologue about my elementary school D.A.R.E. instructor and how all the girls had a crush on him (hey, Officer Olson).
Caradine walks over to a white van, bumps open the fuel cap, and shoves the bag inside. We wait and let that hard-drug musk set in. I learn that all three of the UWPD K9s are passive-alert. The other type is aggression control, like the drug dogs on television that turn into teeth-baring destructive menace. Casey is trained to sit and look up if the contraband is higher than her, or lay down with her head on the ground if it’s down low. Caradine equates it to a dog hunting for a rabbit in a hole. But instead of a rabbit, Casey’s reward is in the form of a yellow bowling pin-shaped squeaky toy that Caradine throws after they make a bust.
“Hey show off, you wanna go find some dope?” Caradine asks as Casey hops out of car. Caradine walks quickly along the line of cars, pointing with two fingers. She sweeps below the car, up the doorjambs, around the hood, and Casey follows her fingers like a laser. When they get over to the car with the planted drugs, Casey picks up speed. Without being prompted, she dives below the fuel tank, sniffing upward. Then, after one sniff at the crack along the fuel cap, she sits down.
“Where’s the rabbit?” Caradine asks, toy in hand. Casey is unwavering, until the yellow toy falls out of the sky. Caradine praises her in the baby-est of baby voices. “Yes! You got it! Good girl! You’re such a good girl!” She pats her and sings. Casey comes over to me and drops the toy.
Caradine laughs, “No, she’s not going to throw it for you.” I mean, I would’ve…
We all pile back in the squad car—me getting in last, per Casey’s request—and head back to the station. “We’ll take the long way back and see if we can get a traffic stop along the way."
As the traffic light turns red, the beige sedan squeals through the intersection of Regent and Mills. “Bing bing, just like that,” Caradine says as she revs the Interceptor into high gear. Red and blue lights flash above our squad car. The siren blares twice. The sedan doesn’t stop. Caradine turns the sirens on full blast, and the sedan pulls over in front of Budget Bicycles.
The whole affair takes around 15 minutes, but it feels much longer—and it certainly feels even longer for the gentleman receiving the $175.30 ticket. Once the sedan pulls away and Caradine is back in the car, I can’t contain it anymore.
“That was exciting! We got to put the lights on!” I say like I’m a three-year-old boy obsessed with his toy police cars.
“It took me… probably seven years to stop getting excited about turning my lights on,” Caradine responds lightheartedly. As for Casey?
I look in the backseat, and she’s napping. Traffic stops aren’t a part of rabbit season.
Photo by Andy Manis Photo.