My first ride along with the Bakersfield Police Department in fall 2015 was actually a requirement for a community leadership program in which I was enrolled.
Wanting to get a little “Cops”-like action out of the experience, I chose to go on a Friday night patrol that turned out to be a roller-coaster ride of excitement.
I witnessed two takedowns of burglars, one of them involving a canine officer; a booking into the county jail; the weighing and turning in of drug evidence; a police and ambulance response to a stabbing; and several less dramatic calls for service.
Once I learned that BPD allows civilians to go on one ride-along every six months, I was hooked.
Two years, several ride-alongs with Bakersfield Police and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and a 13-week Sheriff’s Community Academy later, I count myself fortunate to have taken advantage of these opportunities local law enforcement agencies offer community members so they can learn about the work of policing in an up-close-and-personal manner.
This is particularly important in our era of strained law enforcement-community relations.
One reason I like ride-alongs is because you can get to know an officer or deputy in a much more intimate way than at a coffee-with-a-cop event. Since you have them all to yourself for an entire shift – as it’s just you and your officer in the car – you can get them to open up about things.
You can physically see the lively demeanor of a fast-talking, self-assured cop change to brooding and quiet when you ask him what his most difficult call for service was (a child-not-breathing incident where the infant couldn’t be resuscitated) or that of another jovial and upbeat officer turned agitated and indignant when he talks about the unfairness of people judging all cops by the actions of a few crooked ones.
You get indignant alongside of them when you witness the rudeness and unreasonableness of many of the people they encounter: people on drugs; people who cuss at them; people who, as one of my ride along officers put it, “expect us to solve their problems for them.”
You almost feel their weariness as they tell you about the 30 pounds of gear they have to wear around their waist and torso (gun, baton, Taser, pepper spray, handcuffs, radio, bulletproof vest) and how all that extra weight can cause hip and back pain and make the heat of summer so much more unbearable.
Cops are, after all, human, like the rest of us. A ride-along helps us remember that.
I truly believe law enforcement-community relations could improve if more civilians went on ride-alongs. Thinking about it optimistically, it’s a chance to get to know your officers. Thinking about it cynically, if you’re concerned about officers using excessive force against civilians, your presence could act as a dampener: After all, with you as a witness, officers are bound to be on their best behavior.
To find out about ride-alongs with Bakersfield Police, visit Bakersfieldcity.us and type in “BPD ride along” in the search bar. To learn about Kern County Sheriff’s Office ride-alongs, go to kernsheriff.org, then scroll down and click on the “Forms & Applications” icon. To inquire about the Sheriff’s Community Academy, call Sheriff’s Headquarters at 661-391-7500. ￼
Louis Medina works for Kern Community Foundation, serves on the board of directors of the Gay & Lesbian Center of Bakersfield and volunteers for CSUB’s Kegley Institute of Ethics. The views expressed in this column are his own.