Seventy-Three. Ride Along.

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Day Seventy-Three’s activity was actually suggested by my kickball teammate Ben. He has a friend who is a Sargent in Atlanta’s Zone 4 precinct, one of the poorest districts in the city. It’s a rough beat. He asked if I would want to go on a ride along with an officer there, that he could ask his buddy to set it up. I jumped at the chance. So on Day Seventy-Three, I joined Officer Youngs of Zone 4 for a ride along during half his shift.

I was excited at first about the idea of a ride along, imagining myself the civilian solving crimes a la Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. However, driving to the southwest Atlanta precinct, I began to feel nervous. Partly because I was running late for my 7pm designated time to arrive, and partly about what I might experience or see during the trip in a cop car.

The precinct was in a small brick building adjacent to a park in the middle of the West End. I walked all the way around the building before finding the main entrance. The officers inside all seemed very serious and my nervousness escalated. There were a group of young men in handcuffs in a main area with various offices branching off.  Sgt Reese, my point person, was out on a call and I imagined the horrors he was documenting.

Another officer brought in a waiver for me to sign. Like at the shooting range, the piece of paper released the police department should I be injured or killed during the ride along. My apprehension grew even more.

Not too long after the paper was signed, I went back with Officer Youngs to begin my ride along. Sgt Layton, Ben’s friend who had set the event up, had left his bullet proof vest for me to wear, but Youngs said I didn’t really need to wear it. Sweet. Maybe this wouldn’t be so dangerous.

Our first call was a car jacking, or more precisely, a scooter jacking. Because the crime was considered a “category one” crime (other category ones include aggravated assault, drug arrest, homicide, larceny, armed robbery, and burglary), we were able to ride with the lights flashing, siren on, and obeying no traffic laws. What a way to start the ride along. We weaved in and out of stopped cars (most didn’t really pull over, but just froze) through the West End, down I-285, and to the crime location. All the while Youngs was trying to explain to me what to do should anything happen to him and he can’t get back to the car. Something about turning the radio knob all the way to the left and saying some code. Good thing I never needed to use it. And actually, I realized later that Youngs went through this spiel pretty quickly with his ride-alongs, I think in order to scare them in the beginning.

The scooter jacking ended up being something less than kosher. A seventeen year old claimed that a guy named Steve with a box cut (shorter than Kid N Play) and a scar on his mouth like a fever blister (herpes) had knocked him off his bike by Ben Hill park. However, victim boy didn’t have papers on his scooter, a license to drive it, nor did he know where he lived (he had just moved there a month ago). When Youngs questioned him about his guardians we found out that his mother was incarcerated and his stepdad (who had given victim boy the scooter) was out of town. It was a bit of a mess, and bad for the officers because as a Category One crime, it would be included in the precinct’s crime data that is pretty much the basis to how safe your area is.

Once it was determined that nothing else could be ascertained from the victim, Youngs gave him a number to call with the proof of ownership. We said goodbye to the detective and two other officers on the scene and headed to the next call, a shoplifting at a nearby strip mall.

The shoplifting had been called in awhile ago, and the eight year old who was caught had been let go with his mom once the clothes were returned to the store. Yes, you heard me right. An eight year old. That was kind of sad. The manager said that the guardian didn’t even seem to care, and the area security guard had gotten his info to send to the precinct. Youngs couldn’t do anything else there, so on to the next case.

The next call was from outside the CVS just up the road. A purse and cell phone had been stolen from an unlocked vehicle.  Youngs talked to the woman and dusted for fingerprints on the door. He asked halfway through if I was learning anything. “Yeah, don’t leave your car unlocked of your purse visible.” That’s a lesson for everyone I think.

Next we had enough downtime for Youngs to catch up on the police reports from the night’s events until the next call, a report from the alarm company that a home alarm was going off. This time, I was able to see the squad car side light in action. We drove down a dark dirt road with small homes spread out on either side. We couldn’t find the purported address nor hear an alarm. Youngs shone the light up and down the road, looking for any sign of this seemingly non-existent home. We drove up and down three times before he decided to call in not being able to find the location.

Ten minutes before the end of his shift, the last call came in for Youngs. A car accident. I really hate car accidents. I read the call information on the laptop mounted in between the two front seats and asked (more) questions about what the shorthand meant. Youngs told me that there were injuries, but no fatalities. That was good. But oh, how I don’t like car crashes.

We arrived to find Fulton Co. police, Atlanta Fire, and East Point fire all on the scene. East Point police were on their way, and there was some discussion over whose scene the accident was. Turns out it was Youngs, so we stayed for the half or so hour it took to clear away the wreckage and get statements from witnesses. The Fulton County officer had actually been on his way home when he passed the crash, so as soon as he transferred his information to Youngs, he headed off.

We waited for the fire and tow trucks to do their thing, Youngs taking the time to finish up reports. His night was far from over; he would still have to go to Grady to serve a ticket to the offending driver, and finish all of his paperwork. Cops have a lot of paperwork. Even if it’s all done on computers, it’s still quite a trail.

Youngs dropped me off at the precinct before heading to Grady. On my way home, I reflected on my four hour adventure riding in a police car. It was kind of amazing. I was fortunate enough to have seen a broad spectrum of activity, and by interrogating Officer Youngs I got a good idea of how hard it is to be a cop. I have an enormous amount of respect for the job and what officers have to go through every day, from the piles of paperwork to dealing with people who don’t respect you, to seriously brutal and dangerous activities. And Youngs said he has always wanted to be an officer. That’s pretty awesome.

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