Clovis police officer Matt Maciel is scheduled to work Christmas night, and he shrugs it off matter-of-factly.
“It comes with the job,” he said. “Someone has to do it.”
Maciel — a five-year veteran of the Clovis force — patrols the city’s southwest neighborhoods. He said that beat brings him into contact with gang members and drug addicts, which is fine with him.
“It’s why I got into the job — to help people and get the criminal element off the street. I like arresting people before they victimize everyday folks,” he said.
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Christmas might be slow when it comes to arrests, Maciel said: “It’s typically quiet, but sometimes family disturbances can lead to stabbings and shootings. But not normally.”
The Independent did a Friday night ride-along with Maciel earlier this month. Over a five-hour period, he put into action what he calls “the Clovis way” of policing.
In one instance, the approach snagged a man who had drug paraphernalia and a stolen debit card.
Maciel also tried to help a woman whose car was burglarized — an effort with a long-shot chance of success but part of the service offered to citizens, he said.
Then, long after midnight, Maciel raced to aid a fellow officer who encountered an armed teenager in the shadows of a strip mall parking lot.
Maciel — one of 100 sworn Clovis officers — said police work suits his high-energy personality. He’s in his late 20s and previously worked for a larger police agency in Southern California.
“I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk from 8 to 5,” Maciel said. “I like being a cop. I like the chase. It’s a cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement and the criminals. It’s just exciting to me. I’m definitely an adrenaline junkie.”
But, he added, community service is at the heart of what he does: “I want to help people in need and people who don’t know where to turn for help.”
10:11 p.m. Maciel — who works a 6 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. shift — headed south from Willow and Shaw avenues.
“Clovis expects a lot from its officers,” he said. “Everyone has to be a go-getter and self-motivated. We don’t wait for calls. We try to control the criminal element before a crime is committed.”
Officers also hold law-abiding citizens accountable for such municipal code violations as parking a boat or motor home in front of houses, Maciel said: “You start letting the little things go and before you know it, you lose control.” (Boats and motor homes can park on Clovis streets for no more than 72 consecutive hours.)
Maciel said he’s responded to reports of barking dogs and pleas for help when faucets broke. “It’s a service we give our citizens,” he said.
10:30 p.m. A man on a bicycle rode on the sidewalk (a violation of the Clovis municipal code) near Gettysburg and Willow avenues.
Maciel stopped him and asked for identification and whether he was on probation or parole. The man said he wasn’t and that he was riding home from work in Fresno.
Maciel used the man’s ID to check with police dispatch about pending arrest warrants. There were none.
As Maciel talked to the man, he silently looked for tell-tale signs of meth use: Fidgety behavior, sweaty skin, grinding of teeth. The man showed no signs. Others do.
“In the Valley, there are drugs everywhere,” Maciel said.
The man received a warning about riding on the sidewalk and pedaled away after thanking Maciel for the work of Clovis police officers. He called Maciel “sir.”
11:08 p.m. For the next two hours, Maciel dealt with an arrest he made after spotting a bicyclist near Helm and Santa Ana avenues riding on the wrong side of the street.
Maciel found two meth pipes — blue and white — in the man’s backpack.
“He told me that he used yesterday, which typically means he used two hours ago,” Maciel said. He found meth in the lining of the man’s baseball cap.
As Maciel went through the backpack, he also discovered a debit card and Social Security card belonging to a Fresno woman, who had reported them stolen.
Maciel drove the man to the Clovis Police Department for booking and to properly label and store evidence in the case.
The man was charged with possession of drugs, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of stolen property. Before California voters approved Proposition 47 in 2014, the man would have been charged with felonies and sent to the Fresno County Jail, Maciel said.
Now, his charges are misdemeanors, and he got a ticket and court date before Clovis police released him that night.
Proposition 47 reclassified most nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Maciel called the outcome with the suspect “unfortunate.”
1:23 a.m. Maciel returned to his beat. As he steered his Dodge Charger police car through traffic on Shaw, he answered a reporter’s questions about the extra scrutiny that officers face today. Everyone, it seems, has a phone that can take video.
“I encourage people to video, and I try to get copies because I know it will exonerate me and make the bad guys look even worse,” he said.
In fact, earlier in that day’s shift, a man’s sister videoed Maciel and other officers as they arrested the man on suspicion of being a felon in possession of bullets, Maciel said. The sister shouted that the officers were guilty of racial bias, he added.
Maciel looks forward to the day when all officers wear body cameras. “If you do your job well, it will do nothing but help you,” he said as he arrived at an apartment complex on Alamos Avenue.
In the parking area, Maciel dusted a late ’90s white Honda Accord for fingerprints from a burglary earlier in the night. A stereo, speakers and amplifier were stolen.
It appeared to Maciel that the thief or thieves wiped away fingerprints or wore gloves, but he dusted for prints in the off chance that he might find something. The partial print he got wasn’t good enough to identify a suspect.
The Honda’s owner said she hoped that Maciel would find a hair on a door lock that could be the DNA link to a thief. Maciel told her that wasn’t likely.
“On ‘CSI’ it would be a possibility. But not in real life,” he said.
2:01 a.m. Maciel hit 60 mph with lights flashing and siren blaring as he drove west on a deserted Gettysburg. Someone had called police about suspicious activity in the strip mall at Gettysburg and Willow. The caller feared that the suspects were trying to break into a nearby business.
The first officer on the scene found a teenager with a gun. He radioed for backup.
By the time Maciel reached the scene, the call was downgraded. Other officers had detained three teenage boys without incident.
A 17-year-old with a gun stuffed in his waistband said he found the weapon on the sidewalk. Officers “obviously doubted” that story, Maciel said.
Maciel and another officer searched the boys’ Hyundai and found two burritos, a bottle of Snapple, cigarettes and a Xanax pill. Maciel questioned the boy whose mother owns the car.
That boy claimed he was depressed, and that’s why he had the Xanax. But the drug wasn’t prescribed to the boy, making it illegal for him to possess it.
The boy with the gun went to juvenile hall. Police cited the boy with the Xanax and released him to his parents. The third boy also was released to his parents.
It was almost 3 a.m. when Maciel and the other officers drove into the darkness and back to the areas they patrol.
Said Maciel: “It’s usually quieter now.” He and other officers would use the next few hours to patrol business parking lots and residential streets in search of burglars and thieves.
Dawn would arrive in a few hours.