With red and blue beacons flashing, Ardmore police officer DJ Long dismounts his bike, eyes prowling, as he approaches the vehicle.
Like most police officers, Long looks for red flags. A threat could be lurking behind each dodgy movement and each reach into the glove box. But he proceeds. For him, the opportunity outweighs the cost.
It’s time for a ‘visit.’
“Every single stop I make I think, this could be the one that kills me, this could be the one that shoots me,” Long said. ‘You have to be aware of that, but in every single stop there’s a person involved — I need to make an impact on that person.”
Long’s traffic stops or as he calls them ‘visits’ aren’t just about license and registration. They’re an opportunity to connect with the community and plant a seed towards making Ardmore a safer place.
According to the Ardmore Police Department,  Long made 1,194 traffic stops, issued 432 citations and made six arrests in 2017. And in each of those stops, he said he does his best to put reckless driving into perspective and communicate the real cost of running red lights and exceeding the speed limit.
“I make a lot of traffic stops and I write a lot of tickets, but the truth of the matter is, I do a lot of visiting,” he said.
Long’s visits haven’t gone unnoticed. It seems the impact of each individual interaction has created a ripple effect.
“His roadside ‘visits,’ as he calls them, have changed the way a lot of drivers act while behind the wheel,” APD Sergeant Audie Gee said in a statement.
According to an APD press release, Long’s efforts, which included both his visits and his effort to create a dedicated traffic division, have helped reduce traffic collisions in Ardmore by 26 percent since 2015.
On Jan. 12, Long was named the APD’s Officer of the Year.
Long, who’s served the Ardmore community since 2012, said every officer has their passion. While some officers are driven by getting drugs off the street, helping youth, or combating theft, Long said his passion is reducing traffic accidents.
For Long, the issue hits close to home.
When Long was seven years old, he lost his father to a car wreck. Years later, his little sister died at the age of 17 in a head-on collision.
Plagued by tragedy, Long decided to do something about it.
“I saw the impact it made on my mother, and the loss of her child and her grief,” Long said. “I’m just one of those who are inherently born with the necessity to be anti-bullies and protectors. Traffic is my biggest thing. I’ve seen so many families impacted and carry that with them forever.”
In 1988, he followed the footsteps of his grandfather, taking an oath to protect and serve as police officer in the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.
But his unbridled passion soon became mired in an imperfect system.
He said his fire for justice was always there but he saw the world in black and white, right and wrong. And with the legal system’s loopholes, he said he found himself getting burned out.
“When I was younger, I was too principled to understand the grey,” he said. “So it took me a long time to find that happy medium to be as involved and passionate as I needed to be without coming apart. I had this view that if you did something wrong, there was a consequence. At times, our criminal justice system doesn’t work that  way.”
Long left the force in 1991. He was called to a different line of work running heavy trucks. He travelled the country, but always had his eyes on the roads around him. And after over 20 years away from law enforcement, Long rejoined his blue family and his biological family, moving to Ardmore and later joining APD.
Long said time and wisdom prepared him to rejoin the force.
“I took up going back into law enforcement to do what I always wanted to do, be with my family and take an active part in my community,” he said.
In his time, Long and his partner Sergeant Audie Gee have spearheaded an effort to bring a motorcycle division to the streets of Ardmore. And since 2015, their efforts have demonstrably paid off in the statistics, in lives saved, the community and peer recognition.
Long is the first to downplay his individual accomplishments. He said winning Officer of the Year is more of a reflection of the force and his team than anything else.
“I’m honored as I can be, but it’s a reflection of the department and of every officer,” Long said. “It’s not about me. I’m just one guy. There’s 54 officers. We’re a family.”