Every year I make a new list of things I want to try. Some are fun, some are difficult, some are shockingly mundane. You can read about past shenanigans here.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I signed up for a police ridealong.
I mean, obviously I prepared by watching a bunch of ‘Cops’ clips on youtube
, but that’s about it. And I wavered between hoping we’d be involved in some sort of high-speed chase and hoping we’d spend the night poking around Bloomington, Minnesota pulling people over for expired tabs.
And, for better or for worse, my experience was the latter.
Over the course of four hours, my ridealong officer:
* Ran a million license plates
They can do this from inside their car, using a computer. So if a cop is sitting behind you at a stoplight, it’s entirely possible that they’re putting your license plate number through their system as you change radio stations.
Some police cars come equipped with technology that reads plates automatically as you drive past; sometimes police officers have to type the plate numbers into a laptop. The computer announces the findings, so the whole time we were driving around, a robot voice was reciting things like “VALID LICENSE.” “CANCELLED LICENSE, SEX OFFENDER.”* Pulled over an old lady who was driving in the dark without her headlights
* Pulled over a guy who was driving with a cancelled license
He wasn’t an American citizen so we spent an inordinate amount of time shuffling through paperwork + passport + international ID cards. The driver was cooperative so the officer decided to give him a ticket rather than arrest him – which he could have done.
* Drove around looking for a suspect who had just stolen a purse from an elderly lady’s shopping cart
Apparently, thieves often work in pairs, targeting the elderly at big box stores. One person distracts the mark and the other one steals the purse. Then they usually fill up their gas tank and head to Target or Walmart where they buy as many gift cards as possible. The gift cards are untraceable so they can use them without attracting suspicion.
When we got the call about the robbery, we drove from gas station to gas station and checked out the Target and Walmart parking lots, but since the description of the car and the suspects was woefully vague we didn’t catch anyone.
* Stopped at Home Depot because there was a 911 hangup that came from one of their lines
After standing around making small talk with the employees while we waited for the manager, we discovered they didn’t have a phone number that matched the one that allegedly called 911.
Between all of this excitement, I quizzed my officer about All The Things.
What was the most exciting thing that had happened in the last week? Arresting the same guy twice in one day.
What are the personality traits of a good officer? Communication, being able to perform under pressure, having a certain amount of empathy for people in tough situations
Did the police department have a psychologist on staff? Yup. But that wasn’t always enough.
What drugs were causing problems these days? There’s been a 300% increase in heroin use.
Were there sex workers in Bloomington? Yup, they operate out of the hotels.
How often have you felt really, really scared? Very rarely. Maybe only a few times in a police career would you feel like that.
Do people ever thank you for the work you do? Yes. Sometimes the people in line behind him pay for his coffee!
When you watch Law and Order
do you think it’s ridiculous? Yes.
Super interesting, right? Even without any car chases! Ridealong policies and programs differ from state to state and city to city (I organized mine through a friend), but many cities have programs in place if you’re interested in doing a ridealong of your own.
Have you ever done a ridealong? Would you? Do any of your work in law enforcement?
P.S. Other New Things that I’ve tried: flying lessons, writing an inmate, take an overnight train ride.