Over a two-week period in December I stayed up way past my bedtime to ride along with law enforcement from the Hastings and Cottage Grove police departments, and the Dakota and Washington County sheriff’s departments, which are in the House district I represent.

I saw them treat members of the public with respect, empathy and understanding without being judgmental. I saw them give tickets and give breaks.

I saw a man on the worst day of his life, whose decisions that night will have repercussions for years. I saw officers with guns drawn take a non-compliant man into custody safely, with no one getting hurt.

I saw a woman who could barely walk back to the squad car and failed to even attempt a field sobriety test, then blew a 0.0 on the breathalyzer. A cornucopia of illegal drugs were found in her vehicle. There's little doubt she would have attempted to drive home after she woke up had someone not called police when they saw her slumped over the steering wheel, passed out.

I saw a speeding ticket issued for driving 107 mph, but a break given by not adding careless driving to the charges.

I was involved in executing a felony arrest warrant and rescuing a cat from a burning building. I experienced the adrenaline rush of responding to an incident with lights and sirens, and the tedium of sitting on the side of the road awaiting a tow truck for an impounded vehicle.

I saw a man who wanted to end his life, talked off a bridge by two young women who happened to drive by at exactly the right time. Then I saw a police officer hold a cigarette up to the trembling man’s lips as they waited for help. Mental health professionals with years of training can spend hours to diagnose an illness that police officers need to determine in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

I watched as an officer checked a peep hole before opening the door to leave the police station late at night because he knows that some people view the badge as a target.

When an officer stopped four drivers for random violations on a Friday night, three had suspended or revoked driver’s licenses. A casual observer might say he got lucky when in fact, having good instincts makes a good police officer.

These are everyday occurrences for law enforcement officers. What I witnessed is nothing compared to what they experience on every shift. I learned that these officers back each other up physically and emotionally, not only their partners from their own department but across departments.

I saw an officer pull over to take a call from a partner to advise on a situation, then minutes later watch his back when they both responded to a domestic disturbance.

One officer told me about a late-night traffic stop on an isolated road where he knows he would have killed or been killed had his partner not showed up and seen the vehicle occupant’s gun at the ready.

Another officer told me that his first call on the job was to respond to a suicide attempt. Despite the self-inflicted gunshot to the head, the man was still alive. This is what the officer faced before he wrote his first speeding ticket.

I also heard of an officer who was shot in the line of duty just three weeks into the job. The assailant was killed when his partners returned fire.

I want to thank Cottage Grove police officer Rob Swanson, Washington County sheriff's deputy Dave Eichman, Hastings police officer Jake Willers and Dakota County sheriff's deputy "Tropical" Tony Welin and their partners for tolerating me and teaching me about their jobs. They educated me about the many challenges in their work, but also how much they love the job.

I also want to thank Cottage Grove Police Sgt. Pat Nickle and Chief Pete Koerner, Washington County Commander Doug Anschutz and Sheriff Dan Starry, Hastings Police Sgt. Dave Bauer and Chief Bryan Schafer, and Dakota County Sgt. Matt Regis and Sheriff Tim Leslie who all approved and supported the ride-alongs.

To all law enforcement officers who protect and serve all day and all night, every day and every night, I want to say thank you and pray that you get home to your family safely after your shift.