Driving 80 mph down Highway K with lights and sirens wailing, St. Charles County Police Patrol Officer Andrew Nicolay locks his eyes ahead as he focuses on the first task of his shift: responding to an elderly woman’s medical emergency during evening traffic.
“It’s not really us we have to worry about, because we’re paying attention. It’s the distracted drivers who make getting somewhere quick kind of tough,” Nicolay comments while navigating around sedans and SUVs that haven’t cleared the passing lane. If he reaches the medical call before an ambulance crew, he can begin CPR or other basic care until medics arrive.
Medical triage isn’t a role many people associate with police, but it’s part of the daily safety mission of St. Charles County patrol officers.
Nicolay, who grew up in St. Louis County and spent five years as a St. Louis City police officer before moving here, says medical calls, drug busts, domestic disturbances, peacekeeping, car accidents and thefts are the daily mix on patrol.
“There’s times it’s scary, but you can’t let fear take over your thinking and affect what you’re going to do next,” Nicolay says, commenting that officers need a safety-first mindset and must be actively aware of suspicious behavior and potential danger.
That awareness mindset was at play during an arrest over the summer, when a stolen vehicle was identified in a gas station parking lot. The driver’s reaction to seeing a police officer was one of the clues.
“When someone is up to no good, their body language changes,” Nicolay explains. “They’re very aware of the officer and stare more, or they don’t look at us at all because they don’t want us to notice them.”
The suspect ran from Nicolay, drawing a handgun from his waistband. Officers are trained to watch a suspect’s hands, so Nicolay immediately spotted the danger and switched to a defensive approach. Working with another officer, they cautiously followed and captured the suspect without harm.
Severe violent crime is rare in St. Charles County, but officers are regularly called to incidents where people have been harmed by domestic violence or drug overdoses. Over time, it can be emotionally draining to see people suffering from abuse, addiction, or injury.
“The hardest thing is separating your home life from stuff you see on the streets, especially where kids aren’t being treated right or taken care of. You start to think, ‘That baby reminds me of my kid,’ and it’s hard,” Nicolay explains.
What helps officers get through these difficult experiences is their support network of fellow officers, family members, and professional support services. Acts of kindness from members of the community also go a long way.
“It’s very rewarding when you can save or help someone, but also just to see the little things people do to let us know we’re doing a good job,” Nicolay comments. “Like a little kid saying they want to be a police officer. Little things like that make us proud to do this.”