"We're in Methville. Where is everybody?"
Rebecca Caster, her blond hair swept into a ponytail, has posed her question from the passenger seat of an ancient Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department Crown Victoria. She and her partner, Aaron Kohrs, are cruising Sector 30, a territory bounded roughly by Interstate 435 to the east, Missouri Highway 210 to the south, Northeast Vivion Road to the north and North Oak Trafficway to the west. The police radio stays mostly quiet as the two officers pass through neighborhoods dotted with small homes, patrolling business strips stocked with check-cashing joints and tiny taverns with blacked-out windows.
The department is testing more modern vehicles, but this unit isn't one of them. The odometer hovers near 215,000, and the AC wheezes. A shotgun is locked down between the two cops, and there's no barrier between the front and back seats.
It's the first Saturday afternoon of August, and nothing is happening north of the river. The sun shines down on miles of idle road-construction projects, and traffic is light.
"Why is nobody out?" Kohrs asks Caster during a commercial break on the oldies station they've been singing along with. Blood, Sweat and Tears (no calls). The Eagles (no calls). Stevie Wonder (no calls).
Caster and Kohrs pull into a QuikTrip to pick up cold drinks. (The first rule of patrol officers is to stop exclusively at QuikTrips: "7-Elevens don't have public restrooms," Caster says. "QuikTrips clean their bathrooms every hour, on the hour.") But before Kohrs can head inside, their unit finally gets a call: an "outside disturbance" at a nearby Wal-Mart. The dispatcher advises Caster and Kohrs to look for a red Toyota.
Kohrs switches on the siren and the lights and accelerates into the low 50s. The store is only a mile or so away, and soon the partners are scanning its parking lot for red Toyotas. (Whoever called 911 apparently didn't provide a model.)
After a few minutes, two Wal-Mart managers direct the officers toward a young man leaning against the trunk of a white Ford Taurus. The 23-year-old man called police after finding his 16-year-old sister at the store with a boyfriend he says is abusive. The sister and her boyfriend have already left. The brother, a distraught, lanky blond kid, wants the officers to issue a restraining order against the boyfriend.
"It's up to her to do that," Caster, an officer for 11 years, tells him in a commanding voice. "She has to file the restraining order."
"She'll take the abuse until she's dead," the brother says. "We weren't raised right. It's my sister. She's so little, and she's not eating. She's on that K2 stuff, and it's messing her up."
The officers comfort him as best they can while reinforcing that there's nothing they can do until the sister makes her own police call.
"We don't have a victim here," Caster tells him. "Be there for her when she's ready."
As the unit returns to duty, the officers don't talk. They share a moment of frustrated silence that's part of the job. All that awaits them on this part of their shift is a minor fender bender.
But a quiet afternoon is something of a break for Caster, who, in addition to her patrol duties, has spent the past nine months as the KCPD's first LGBT community liaison.
Her new gig puts her in charge of forming a strong relationship with LGBT residents of the city as well as promoting a culture of acceptance and openness for LGBT officers on the force. The work — searching for unfair policies, advising gay officers and reaching out to advocacy groups — keeps her busy. And she took the job at the end of a five-year personal storm. Calm Saturday patrols might be just what Caster needs more of.
A brush with cancer, a miscarriage, a divorce, coming out gay. Any of these events by itself would be plenty for one person in a lifetime. Caster, though, spent a tumultuous five years enduring all of them in rapid succession — as she will happily relate to you over coffee. (The only outward sign: a shark-bite-shaped scar from a surgical procedure.)