While many college students choose to spend spring break on the beach, William Karl Valentine decided to spend his week off in 1985 riding around in a cop car.
Valentine, at the time a photography major at Arizona State University, had been interested in beginning a documentary series while on break. Since his father had been a reserve officer on the Pasadena Police Department in California for 25 years, he was able to gain access for his son to ride around with and photograph the daily routines of on-duty officers. Valentine already knew many of the cops, so the rapport and trust he had with the officers made taking the photos a much easier process.
“The vantage point that I had, no one else really had,” Valentine said. “Now you have a lot of TV shows that began with Cops, as well as a lot more video access, so people are more familiar with it.”
At the time, Northwest Pasadena “was nuts,” rife with crime mostly related to crack cocaine and PCP.
“If there was a fun moment or a horrific moment I’d try to get pictures of that. I wanted to capture the whole thing, not just the arrest.”
At first he photographed with a fixed 50 mm lens but he switched to a 35mm once he showed early images from the series to his professor Bill Jenkins.
“He had great advice: He said put a wide angle on it, it’s going to make you get closer,” Valentine recalled. “As soon as he said that I had to get five or 10 feet closer. The wider lens had a huge impact on the images, the way they packaged more information in the frame added much deeper meaning and gave the images more intimacy.”
Valentine actively worked on the series until around the middle of 1987, when he decided to begin a career in law enforcement that included time working as a detective. The flexible schedule on the police force allowed him the opportunity to also work on a number of photo series—ranging from sports to fine art—although balancing picture taking while on-duty became too difficult to continue.
Yet, for Valentine, choosing a career in law enforcement was an easy decision.
“I like the hunt,” he explained. “I enjoyd being out there with the opportunity to step up when someone did something wrong to an innocent person. If somebody hurts a kid, being able to pick up that person and put them in jail, that feels good. Getting something complex and figuring it out, documenting it well and getting an arrest or warrant issued, that’s very satisfying.”