As I drove down the freeway headed to the city of La Porte where I scheduled my first ride along, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the coming experience. I knew this was an important step in my process of changing careers into a civil service role. First impressions are very important and I am taking this new direction seriously, so I made sure that I gave myself plenty of time to reach the station before the shift began. In fact I was nearly 30 minutes early, so I had some time to wait in the lobby while the evening shift was in their daily briefing before heading out on patrol.
I chose the evening shift on a Saturday since I was told it would provide the most opportunity to see a variety of calls and situations. The officer I was riding with, his name I will omit to respect his privacy, was a really nice guy. He would explain things as they happened and answered questions I thought to ask throughout the shift, which was between 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM. One of the draws for me to this line of work is the fact that unlike so many other jobs, you have no idea what sort of challenges you will face during your shift. Working with people and serving the public appeals to me as a person who is happy to assist those in need and focused on safety.
Our shift began with a missing persons case which we took before even leaving the station. Once the officer collected all of the information, we headed to our car. Sitting in the car, he had to get the computer up and running which he would then use to enter notes about the missing person just reported. Most people have seen police officers working on the computer in their cars, but it’s quite impressive to see just how much they can do with them. It’s definitely an invaluable tool in their job.
We were assigned to district 2, which would cover the east side of the city. As a patrol officer, you patrol your district looking for any signs of trouble, but ready to respond to calls as they come in from dispatch. The officer may also handle traffic control in the form of observing vehicles failing to follow the posted speed limits, failure to stop at stop signs or red lights, to vehicle safety and registration requirements. I believe many people are most familiar with that side of policing as it’s probably what we see the most during our daily commutes while ensuring that we follow traffic laws. I was looking forward to seeing traffic control procedures, but calls for assistance take priority and we were not short of those during the shift. One of the best features of the in-car computer is the ability for the officer to view a map of the city which places a marker at the destination of a call when it’s received from dispatch. It also shows other police units location and status in real time, which officers can use to better locate calls for assistance and allocate resources. When the officer initiates a traffic stop, dispatch is able to see that, so they immediately know the officers location before he even calls it in on the radio, improving their safety on the road. Technology is indeed a wonderful thing.
Throughout our shift, we responded to lots of information type of calls, a welfare check, a report of two men wielding a machete, a noise disturbance, a report of someone drinking alcohol in the park, an alligator on the loose in the middle of a busy road (pictured at the top of this post), and the worst call being a death on arrival. Sometime between all of the calls, we managed to work traffic at a stop sign where people frequently fail to stop. We initiated two traffic stops, but based on the officers discretion, only verbal warnings were given. For safety reasons, I had to remain in the car for traffic stops and for most calls we responded to, however the non-dangerous information type of calls I was allowed to exit the vehicle with the officer to observe.
Reflecting on my first ride along experience, I feel more confident in my direction as I learned a lot about the procedural side of the job. From working on the computer to filing reports and notes, to handling the radio, calls, traffic, and even driving. It was certainly a different experience from what I believe most of the public sees and it exposed a lot of parts about the job which helped me to ensure this is the direction I want to go. I’m looking forward to doing more ride alongs with other departments as it will be good to see policing from different departments and officers. For now, I can say without a doubt that I am more focused and committed than ever to pursuing this career.