This evening, after work, I went on a ride-along with the police. I showed up at 53-Division and they partnered me up with Sergeant for the rest of his shift. First, they ran my name through the computer to make sure I didn't have any outsanding warrants ("I see your house got broken into...") They gave me a bullet proof vest to wear, showed me how to use the radio in case of emergency, and basically said, "don't get shot." The Sergeants ride around on patrol, but they have a different role than the regular patrol cars. The regular cars are responding to 911 calls in order of urgency. The Sergeants respond to certain types of calls (in the case of a death, for example) to make sure that the first responders are doing things correctly. They really aren't supposed to get "in the mix" too much if they can avoid it.
Still, as we sat waiting for something interesting to come up the officer was keeping his eye out. He was running license plates from passing cars--a habit he picked up on his patrol days. He learned how to quickly type them into the police computer with one hand. The computer also has mapping software that shows where all the patrol cars are and what calls people are responding to, etc. As we were driving around a BMW went through a red light right in front of us. Of course the lights went on and we pulled the guy over.
The Sergeant explained that he rarely gives out traffic tickets, and even had to dig to find his pad, but he couldn't let such a flagrant violation go. He said the driver apologized and was gracious about excepting his $180 ticket.
The windows were down the whole time, and often we were going rather slowly. "You can drive as slow as you want; no one will say anything. It's better because if you drive too fast you can't see anything and you can't hear anything."
This officer has sharp eyes, and noticed a guy walking on the sidewalk near a liquor store that looked out of place. He immediately pulled the car around and started to pull into a parking lot after him. As he did so, he took off his seat belt. I thought that this was so he could jump out quickly, but actually, he told me, it was more because if something happened he might need to get to his "tools" quickly.
Once in the lot, we lost sight of the person of interest. When we found him again, we could see that he was wearing a blue bandana (a gang sign) and also had a black tear tattoo under his right eye. This is a gang tat, and normally it means one murder for every tear. The cop told me later that his impression was that the guy was either in a gang or crazy. As it turns out, he was a bit of both. I thought the guy might run, and so did the cop, which is why he stayed about 12 or 15 feet away from him. "If the guy runs for it, you want to be a little ways off because then you can cut the angle and get him, if you are too close then he has a head start. I was also worried that he might have a knife, because I hadn't searched him yet. This way I would have enough time to Tazer him." Having the guy sit down was also a way to make sure he didn't run. "I love that. It gives me a huge advantage."
At first the guy was indigent about being questioned by the cops. "I'm sure you get stopped like this all the time," was the response of the cop. Indeed, it turns out the guy has a criminal history and is, essentially, on parole with conditions. By this time, another cop car came up and gave some assistance searching him. The Sergeant told me later that he really expected the guy would probably have some kind of weapon on him or that he might run. I certainly noticed that the cop was very alert and never took his eyes off the guy, so neither did I. A few minutes later another patrol car swung by just to make sure the situation was under control. Neither of these cars had been requested, they just heard about it over the radio.
The story the guy gave us didn't make any sense, and the cops were pretty sure the guy was getting ready to shoplift from the local liquor place when we spotted him. He has a criminal history, but he is also mentally ill. The cops certainly thought he was crazy to be walking around in gang clothes in this neighbourhood. "Look," the Sergeant said, "any cop that doesn't stop that guy is just being lazy." Still, he hadn't done anything wrong and they let him go. Later, they entered some information about the guy into a database. "We put everything in here. We've caught murderers because someone made a note in the computer about some guy that looked suspicious."
Another call was for a man that had passed away at home. He had terminal cancer, but the cops still have to investigate. Because he is effectively a field supervisor, all the Sergeant had to do was ask some questions of the guys that were handling the case. He told me that the detectives would talk to the cops on the scene, but might not come down unless there was something suspicious. He told me that his least favorite job is death notifications. I told him about some of my experiences as a hospital chaplain, and was thankful I was just observing at the death we attended.
I got a tour of the Division HQ. Things were nicer than I expected. Computers were up to date and things looked quite professional and nice. The offices for the detectives could have been pretty much any business office. it was a relatively quiet night when I was there, but they said that it gets busier later.
One of the interesting things we spoke about was the culture shift happening as the baby-boomers retire. The job has changed a lot. "Really, I'm just a social worker with a gun." Cops today are expected to work with the community and make referrals and really do a lot of problem solving.
The Sergeant had hoped that something more dramatic would happen during the ride along, but I was satisfied that I got a sense of what my Parish area looks like from a cop's perspective. I think these sorts of experiences are important for pastoral clergy. I mean, if all you know about your parish what your congregation tells you, then you miss out on some very important aspects of the community you seek to serve.
Would I do it again? Sure! It has exciting moments and can be kind of fun. The sergeant told me that he likes doing these ride-alongs because it gives him someone to talk to!