Twenty years ago, Carl Harper was just another high school kid with dreams of becoming a cog in the federal government.
"I thought I was going to get into the FBI," Harper said.
Instead, he found himself in law enforcement of another, particularly eclectic kind: patrolling the streets of Bala Cynwyd, with its mix of corporate, retail and residential. And looking back on his teenage aspirations, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I like regular uniform-type police work more," said Harper, now an 11-year veteran of the Lower Merion Police Department.
The 38-year-old Chester County native and West Chester University graduate returned to the Bala Cynwyd beat, his original assignment, this year after a few years covering mostly the vast and sparse residential stretches of Bryn Mawr and Villanova.
"There's just a wider array of things to come into contact with here," Harper said. "I do like that fact, even though it's a smaller area to patrol."
One day for Harper is rarely like the last or the next. Most memorable was a hostage situation in Penn Valley in 2006, when Harper was among the first on the scene when a disgruntled condo maintenance man held officers at bay.
But more frequent calls vary from office-building alarms and traffic stops to prowlers and retail thefts.
"Lord & Taylor ... we're there a lot," the officer remarked.
Harper, who enjoys biking when he's not working, said he is troubled by how many people on his beat fail to lock their vehicles or valuables at night or otherwise neglect simple safeguards.
"Sometimes (it's difficult) getting across to residents that just because they live in Lower Merion doesn't mean that big-city problems won't affect them," the officer said. "People seem to think we're out there with the ability to stop things before they happen. Unfortunately, police work is mostly reactive. We do rely on the public to really notify us when they see something suspicious."
Harper stations himself at a variety of visible places throughout Bala Cynwyd during a typical shift. He doesn't particularly care where his office is, as long as it's not in an office, he said: "I am not suited to sit in a cubicle."