Editor’s note: The Press salutes the men and women who keep our community safe and whose hard work and sacrifice often go unheralded. Hats off to our neighbors, friends and relatives who serve.
By BRIAN WALKER
POST FALLS — Makayla Desjarlais has heard some awful excuses for speeding.
She’s dealt with folks who had to speed to prevent themselves from going to the bathroom during traffic stops.
She even helped deliver a baby.
"Every day is different," the Post Falls police officer said. It’s what she likes best about her job.
One of the highlights of her eight-year police career was being the first responder in January 2017 to arrive to a call in which a girl was about to be born.
"It was incredible to be a part of something like that," she said. "That will probably never happen again."
Desjarlais said she recently pulled over an elderly man for speeding. He told her that he was heading to meet a pen pal and Post Falls was the only time during his trip from Arizona that he sped.
"He had an old paper map spread over his dash, so he wasn't paying attention to his driving," she said. "He had a GPS, but he didn't know how to use it. I didn't write him a ticket, but I wrote out turn-for-turn how to get to his destination."
Desjarlais said every officer is different, but she's not a big ticket writer.
"The majority of the people who I pull over are educated, but there are times when people definitely deserve tickets," she said.
"I have people tell me that they've never been pulled over before, but you can tell from their history if they are lying," she said. "Other people said they were traveling fast because they have to go to the bathroom."
Desjarlais has worked for Post Falls since June 2016. She was previously a Coeur d'Alene tribal officer, a position she held for nearly five years.
She graduated from Post Falls High in 2005, so she oftentimes pulls someone over whom she knew growing up.
"It can definitely be awkward sometimes, but it can also help on a call when somebody says they're somebody else," she said. "I may know them from the third grade."
Desjarlais said her background sometimes means a suspect is more cooperative with her than with other officers.
Desjarlais said she tried to talk to suspects with respect — even while taking them to jail.
"I hold them accountable and [the ride to jail] is the consequence for what they have done, but I can't tell you how many people I've arrested said, 'Thank you for being nice about it,'" she said.
She said many people may not be aware how much time officers spend writing reports. She said her reports are in depth, stemming from her days as a tribal officer in which there was less back-up help from detectives.
"I write thorough and detailed reports," she said. "Something that I instill in my trainees is to write a good report. It is not the funnest part of the job, but the better the report is, the less likely you have to testify in court."
Desjarlais has never been injured intentionally by someone on the job.
"When I go to a call in which someone is amped up, I generally can talk to the person to de-escalate the situation," she said. "Rarely have I had to go hands on with people to take them into custody, and I'm very grateful for that."
Desjarlais said officers are trained to expect the unexpected.
"Unfortunately in this day and age some people want to hurt law enforcement," she said. "There's definitely instances in which I have to listen to my gut until I figure out [if] it's safe. At the end of the day, we all want to be able to go home."
Desjarlais said there's a misconception that all officers think they’re better than anyone else.
"We're people, too, with families to go home to," she said. "Even though I need to hold people accountable doesn't mean I don't recognize them as a human being."
Desjarlais said her two injuries were a dog bite and being hit in the eye with a flying object caused by a weed whacker. Neither, thankfully, proved serious.
Desjarlais said the worst calls are when she has to give families death notifications and when residents don't survive their medical emergency.
"It is really hard to tell someone that their loved one has died," she said.
Helping others, whether it's through the school of hard knocks or being a part of a rewarding experience, never gets old, Desjarlais said.
"Every shift and every call is different," she said.