Citizen's Police Academy: The ride-along

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Last Friday night I did my ride-along with one of Fairfield’s finest police officers. Guess where we’re at? (No, that is not dandruff on his jacket, it’s rain droplets.)

If you guessed Starbucks—ding, ding, ding—you’re absolutely right. SHOCKER! I know.

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The night was rainy, which bodes for a slow shift since criminals apparently don’t like to get wet. Neither do police officers—their puppy dog looks before heading out into the rain were just pitiful. I was warned from the get-go that it might be a long and boring evening. High crime weather is hot and in the middle of summer when daylight is at its peak. Slower crime times are bad weather days when people stay indoors. More traffic accidents and home burglaries, but overall there is less crime.

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Here’s my ride-along man Shack. He’s, like, twelve. No. Really, he’s 27. Turns out he’s a local kid and his family owns one of my all time favorite kitchen gadget stores in Napa. He spent his teens working in the store. Of course I had a million questions about the store and had to seriously restrain myself. He could have said his family owned Tiffany’s and offered me a free diamond necklace and I would have been less excited. With his kitchen gadget pedigree, the dude doesn’t cook. At all. I was astonished and appalled! How could that be?

And complete sidetrack here, but when we went to Starbucks Shack ordered a frappucino with whip cream. I had to laugh as it seemed to support his youthful position. Awhile back Halpin and I did coffee story that identifies what your coffee drink says about your personality. According to Starbucks baristas frappucinos are ordered primarily by teenagers and kids looking for the sweet.

Anyway, once we were under way, he was all business and bad guys. Here in Fairfield, the patrolmen work four days on, three days off. For the twelve hours they’re on shift, the patrol car is their office. I was humored by how similar our “desks” looked: both littered with business cards, pens with missing caps, a pack of gum, a tube of Carmex and a Starbucks to-go coffee cup that might have been three days old. Except Shack has way cooler gadgets than me. I do not have a rifle strapped to the wall behind my desk. Maybe I should though. Like most office people, the computer is the center of Shack’s communicative world.

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This is how he tracks who’s on duty, what calls for service are up, and where/how he needs to prioritize his time. It also has a maps module and some other neat features. I was surprised to learn the cars don’t have GPS units yet. Each officer has to spring for his own. Shack had his own personal Garmin suctioned to the windshield. The onboard computer is critical and it’s only drawback is the lack of internet access. This means he can’t surf the web and peruse porn on his down time. Bummer. I feel ya, man.

One of the things that astounded me was the amount of multi-tasking that goes on while driving. Shack was constantly typing on the computer (he can type in license plates for verification—this is the number one way they find stolen cars), texting on one phone (I think this might have been personal), chatting on another cell phone (with other officers on duty—like, where should they meet for dinner or just saying “hey”), and talking over the CB radio system (to dispatch). The communication stream is fairly constant.

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Ironically, in California it’s against the law to talk or text on your cell phone while driving. This rule obviously doesn’t apply to law enforcement who do a heck of a lot more than just talking while driving. And to be honest, they drive like shit! It’s a good thing people give patrol cars a wide berth or there would be accidents happening left and right. Traffic rules were not intended for those in blue that’s for sure.

Most of the evening was fairly uneventful. We had a handful of calls to folks fighting, a probation-jumper, DUIs, rowdy teens reported by frustrated parents, moving violations … yawn. Poor Shack was bored to tears. Me too. The previous night he’d been involved in a ten minute vehicle pursuit across town and he was itching to go all NASCAR again. Me too!

Finally, we heard a 10-851 call for a stolen vehicle over the radio. Shack perked up like a man at Hooters, flipped a U in the middle of the street and screamed for the mall. He was so excited that we fish-tailed our U-turn (Hello! It’s raining!), which then slammed me up against the passenger door and spilled coffee all down my front. Thanks, Shack. The whole rest of the ride left me grasping the oh-shit handle and hanging on while we did 50 in a 5 mph zone. When we got to the scene three cop cars were already fanned out in hostile take-down formation around a white beater ’92 pickup truck. Cops were using their car doors as shields and everyone had guns out and trained on the pickup. Whoo. Looked tense.

As we pulled into position, a police van and the K9 unit barreled in and completed the 6-vehicle fan behind the pickup. I felt like I was in the movies. I was guessing that this many vehicles for a simple stolen car at the mall was kind of excessive. The night had been so quiet that officers from across town drove over just to be entertained.

They got the driver, a young man in his late twenties, out of the vehicle and had him kneel down with hands on head, etc, etc. The passenger, a young woman in her early twenties, was next out of the truck and she promptly burst into tears and began bawling. I felt kinda sorry for her. After about twenty minutes, the driver, passenger and truck were thoroughly searched and then carted away.

For the next ten minutes, everyone stood around chit-chatting … where to go for dinner … how boring is your beat tonight? … who’s doing what paperwork … man, they all wished it’d been a little more interesting than what it ended up being. These poor chumps were bored out of their gourds.

Now, technically … I wasn’t supposed to take any photos at this point. Me being me, I did. But here’s karma for ya. At some point earlier in the evening I had unknowingly changed the shooting mode on my camera and all subsequent shots came out midnight black! AAAAAUUGGH!

F*!@#K! I was so pissed. So here’s the only shot from the take-down that is even remotely lit. It’s crap.

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Despite my contraband photography failure, it was an interesting, if not slightly boring night. In summary, here’s what I learned:

  • Patrolmen are TERRIBLE drivers. With all the multi-tasking while driving they can’t steer worth shit! They are hardly looking at the road.
  • Patrolmen are constantly talking to each other on their cell phones—their version of hallway chat.
  • When bored, patrolmen will go LOOKING for action. They will scour for it, so watch out.
  • Do not commit a crime on a rainy night unless you want a million bored and desperate-for-action officers on your ass in twelve seconds. They have nothing else to do.
  • Patrolmen feel passionately dedicated to keeping the city safe. Blue really does run in their veins.

For all of these things, I’m grateful to these folks in blue (or in our case, black). And I thank them for trying to keep my city safe. It’s primarily a thankless job and we totally take them for granted. We shouldn’t.

And I thank Shack for putting up with me last Friday night.

Over and out.

[Update: Ironically, last night’s Academy had a module on the motor training that officers get and there was much discussion about pursuits. We got to watch some pursuit videos that were hair-raising and learned some interesting facts. The average pursuit lasts less than three minutes. Pursuit training is centered around controlling adrenaline, which will skyrocket and can instantly flip one into fight/flight mode. And veteran officers do NOT relish pursuits. It is the young and crazy cops who enjoy it in the beginning before they’ve been in a truly dangerous pursuit and then the shiny sparkle quickly wears off. They’re highly unpredictable and dangerous to the runaway, pursuer and innocent bystanders.]

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