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Shorthanded Gainesville Police Department's Officers Finally Have A New Contract. Here's What It's Been Like For Them To Patrol The City On A Saturday Night

Cpl. Farrah Lormil, right, is responsible for patrolling Downtown and Midtown in Gainesville. That shift sometimes has her putting in handcuffs people involved in street fights. (Julia Collins/WUFT News)
Cpl. Farrah Lormil, right, is responsible for patrolling Downtown and Midtown in Gainesville. That shift sometimes has her putting in handcuffs people involved in street fights. (Julia Collins/WUFT News)

Farrah Lormil was pissed at her eyelash lady. Bombarded with texts asking how long the appointment would take, what the current state of her lashes are and what time she should come in the following day, Lormil sighed.

“She knows I’m at work right now,” Lormil said.

Work for Lormil — "Corporal Lormil," as she's known within the Gainesville Police Department — consists of showing up at 8 p.m. for a briefing, and then until 8 a.m. responding to 911 calls and patrolling the Midtown and Downtown areas of Gainesville.

A typical night for Lormil has become more difficult in recent years because the Gainesville Police Department is understaffed. On a recent Saturday night, there were 13 available shifts, and only about six of them were filled. That meant Lormil was the only officer assigned to cover all of Midtown and Downtown.

Those numbers concern Lormil’s captain, Jamie Kurnick.

“We’re lucky two serious events haven’t happened at the same time,” Kurnick said. “I don’t know what we’d do, since all of our officers have to respond to those intense situations.”

The amount of officers on duty isn’t the only concern at GPD right now, though. On that Saturday night, Sept. 21, Lormil noted she hadn’t had a raise in 8 years.

“I’m not going to wait for a raise to get the things I want in life,” Lormil said. “I’m going to work extra hours to be able to afford things like a new car and a house.”

Lormil now may not have to do that quite as often. On Thursday, the Fraternal Order of Police (also known as the police union) and the City of Gainesville updated and changed some of the terms of their contract. Contract negotiations have been prolonged, but they’ve finally come to an agreement.

Included in that agreement were “catch-up raises,” as well as a lump sum for employees hired on or before Sept. 7, 2018. That applies to Lormil, an 18-year GPD veteran.

Before joining GPD, the New York native was a special education teacher.

• • •

Though Lormil’s Saturday night would crescendo into dealing with someone with alcohol poisoning, fighting people in the streets and putting some in handcuffs, it started with chicken wings.

The Gainesville Police Department, located at 721 NW 6th St., appears sterile and stern on the outside. But once inside and past the lobby, it’s bustling with laughter and a community. The sergeant who ran that night’s briefing explained how the officers have to have hard exteriors when they’re on duty, so inside the briefing room, they let loose.

Lormil, with her spitfire jokes and ever-present smirk, along with the other officers in the briefing participated in the briefing with sharp intelligence, responding to the different scenarios presented with thoughtfulness and precision.

After the briefing, Lormil hustled over to the break room, where she heated up some chicken wings.

“I can tell these were baked,” she said. “But the chicken wasn’t seasoned, and they just put the sauce on afterwards.”

Lormil’s penchant for accurate analysis (of the chicken wings’ origin, in this case) manifests throughout her shift. Predicting what could happen in any situation is an essential part of her job.

Wings devoured, Lormil headed to her car. There was a UF football game earlier that day at noon. Lormil explained that since the Gators won, and because it was an early game, the football players would likely be out.

“Gold Room (Night Club) used to be their spot, but now they go to White Buffalo,” Lormil said, though she ultimately wouldn't encounter any football players that night.

The front seat area of a cop car is like a normal car, only there is a sturdy computer locked into the middle console. The screen is swiveled towards the driver’s seat. On-screen, the police department’s software has a spreadsheet-like interface, with 911 calls categorized by numbers.

The number one is the most urgent.

• • •

Around 9 p.m., Lormil headed out of the station. Her first order of business: Head to a noise complaint. On the way, she explained that it’s important for her to have “organized ADHD.” She can go from responding to this type of minor complaint, pulling someone over on the way, having a conversation with an offending driver, filling out paperwork, and thirty minutes later still have to get on track with the noise complaint.

Compartmentalizing is a part of the job.

Arriving at the location of the noise complaint, Lormil drove around the area and asked different people what they knew about it. The noise had since stopped, and unable to find the source, Lormil pulled over and began filling out the paperwork on her computer.

From the start of her shift until around 10 p.m., Gainesville’s streets were calm. But because Lormil knows what typically happens later in the night, it was like the town was holding its breath.

After the noise complaint paperwork, Lormil did a lap around town. Starting Downtown and working her way to Midtown, she made sure there was no trouble. While cruising, she gestured left and right, able to identify homeless people, their story and where they usually are early in the night.

When she arrived at the Midtown area, swarms of people stood outside the Salty Dog Saloon and JJ’s Tavern area. She noticed a traffic holdup on The Swamp Restaurant’s side of the road, so she sighed and picked up her built-in microphone in the car.

“Move these cars. You’re causing traffic to back up,” Lormil said. “Honda, the car behind it, and the car behind that, and this Honda on the other side of the road — move the cars.”

Midtown in better order, Lormil headed back Downtown to get gas. On the way, a red car switched left into a turning lane before the lines allowed for a turn. Lormil whipped her car over and turned her lights on, signaling the car to pull over.

Lormil stepped out of the car and walked toward the red one. Suddenly, the red car’s rear passenger swung open, and heeled feet swiveled out toward the sidewalk.

“Get back in the car,” Lormil demanded. “Nobody leaves this car yet.”

Turns out the car she pulled over was an Uber driver. The women trying to exit were astonished at what happened. After a few minutes, Lormil let the girls leave, and when they exited, they were nervously giggling with wide eyes and gaping mouths, clearly shocked that had just happened.

Lormil gave a warning to the Uber driver, a middle-aged man, and explained how to properly switch lanes.

After filling out the warning paperwork, she noticed two cars were parked in the bike lane. She explained that that road was very narrow, and when cars park there, RTS buses have a hard time fitting through. So while she was outside of the car in the process of getting the car’s information, two RTS buses passed her, and both drivers gave her a thumbs up.

“All people will see is a ticket on the dashboard and complain there’s no parking in Gainesville,” Lormil said. “But what they don’t know is that they are seriously blocking the road.”

Halfway through filling out the two parking tickets, Lormil got a call.

It was category one. She quickly sped away from the cars toward the St. Francis House homeless shelter.

• • •

At around 11:30 p.m., someone made a 911 call from the St. Francis House about a man who allegedly jumped the fence at the home and climbed into one of the women’s rooms.

The reason for this call’s urgency? His reported actions technically fall into the category of a burglary.

Lormil arrived at the scene, along with a few other colleagues, and they entered the building to find the woman at the front desk in a panic. Fraying hair framed her face, her sneaker had a hole in the toe, and her hands spastically flew about, matching the energy of her words. Displaced women and children who stay at the St. Francis House are not allowed to have visitors, so even if the women in the room knew the man, it would be prohibited.

Officer Lormil approached a stained door and knocked.

No response.

She had to knock incessantly until the door opened. A woman opened it and denied anything about someone being in her room. A lone mattress was on the floor, and a sleeping baby laid on it.

The “burglar” was never found, though the officers thoroughly searched the perimeter.

Lormil chatted with her fellow officers for a minute, attempting to lighten the grim mood.

• • •

After devouring a Felipe’s taco that her friend Officer Ortiz brought her, Lormil hopped back into her car to finish the two parking tickets.

“You are the lucky winner of a $33 ticket!” Lormil joked.

Right after Lormil dealt out the parking tickets, another category one call came in, this time from a man who needed immediate medical assistance. He was sitting at the busy intersection of West University Avenue and Northwest 13th Street. Half of his face was covered in blood, and he claimed someone just came up and punched him.

When he said that, Lormil raised an eyebrow and gave some serious side-eye. She questioned that story.

“He is only bloody on one side of his face, and usually when people get into fights, the front of their face is bloody,” Lormil said. “He is clearly drunk, and he probably just fell and hit his head. We see that all the time.”

The night continued on, with Lormil and Ortiz dealing with: a crack addict, a college student passed out drunk on the side of the road sitting in his own vomit, and the need to barricade certain roads to prepare for bar closing, traffic flow and more.

By 1:55 a.m., Lormil, her fellow officers, and Capt. Kurnick (who arrived part way through the night), dealt with a variety of issues; Lormil’s car computer showed an unending string of incidents.

In a police department that’s understaffed, it is hard to not get overwhelmed at that time of night.

• • •

Underage drinking, it seems, has remained pervasive in certain Gainesville bars and clubs. But what can Lormil and her colleagues do?

“We could very well go in and arrest half the club for underage drinking,” she said. “We just don’t have time to do that.”

Just as she said that, another incident occurred. Down the street, where one of the police cars was parked barricading the road, two hooligans were roughhousing.

On top of the cop car.

Lormil and Kurnick started power walking toward them. Lormil loudly asked for them to get off the car, and they did not listen. She walked even faster toward them. The two males — evidently having had much to drink — stopped just before the two female officers reached them.

Lormil: “Hey! Would I disrespect your car like that? Where’s your car?”

One of the men said, “My car’s right here, baby,” gesturing to his groin.

After that vulgar comment, the two men started harassing Lormil and her captain. They made more sexually-charged comments in an attempt to provoke the officers and were so audacious as to record on video the whole encounter with a phone.

A minute or so went by. Lormil decided to just walk away. She said they were drunk and not going to listen to anything she said.

She walked a few paces and then realized Kurnick wasn’t walking with her. Lormil whipped her head around, and at that moment a fight broke out between the two hooligans, her captain, and a third man in the middle of the intersection at South 1st Avenue and South Main Street.

Lormil sprinted over to help and quickly called for backup on her radio. About 30 seconds later, more officers came sprinting over and tackled one of the men. All three ended up in handcuffs, though only the original two agitators went to the station in the back of the car.

The third man said he was attempting to defend Lormil and her captain from the harassment, and that he would do it again in a heartbeat.

• • •

Adrenaline rushes come and go on the overnight shift. Lormil’s next two and a half hours were spent doing paperwork and reflecting on what just happened.

“I probably get five marriage proposals every shift,” Lormil said. “You just have to have a thick skin to do the job.”

By 4 a.m., Lormil and her colleagues went to Shands Hospital to check on the status of one of the men involved in the Downtown fight. He was taken there instead of the station because he hit his head on the concrete during the short melee.

One of the doctors told Lormil that he subsequently bit an EMT in the ambulance.

Lormil collected her handcuffs off of him and then sped off into the night to continue her shift. Four more hours, and she would be done.

But she couldn’t forget her 8:15 a.m. eyelash appointment.

Julia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.