On a recent Thursday evening, I had the opportunity to ride along with two different officers from the Metropolitan Police Department’s 2nd District. MPD’s Ride Along program allows citizens to shadow police officers to learn more about the reality of their jobs. You can learn about the program here: http://mpdc.dc.gov/page/police-ride-along-program.
I spent the first few hours with Ofc. C, a relative newcomer to MPD. He is assigned to Police Service Area 207 on the evening shift. Almost as soon as we entered PSA 207, he received a call to investigate a burglar alarm. This is something MPD officers do quite frequently. As it happened, there was no evidence of a break-in; Ofc. C reported this to his dispatcher, who relayed the information to the alarm company.
When not specifically assigned to a call, patrol officers drive around the PSA, ensuring that peace and order are maintained. They may find themselves assisting individuals with car trouble, or citing drivers for traffic violations, or interceding in fights in or near nightclubs. In some cases, officers are called to address incidents involving people facing mental illness.
Around 9:30 pm, Ofc. C, along with two other officers, responded to a call from an individual in McPherson Square. The man who had made the 911 call met them at the edge of the park, and indicated that he was being followed. As he went on with his story, it became clear that his reality was not the same as the officers’ – or mine. But the officers responded with compassion and respect, eliciting additional details from the caller. That information allowed the officers to use the computer in the cruiser to access several databases to try and learn more about the individual and his prior interactions with MPD. Ultimately, however, there was nothing the police could do. The caller was not an immediate danger to himself or others.
Afterwards, Ofc. C and I talked about that call at some length. He shared some frustration that he was unable to provide more assistance. But, as he said, “We are frequently asked to address problems that are not police problems.” MPD officers receive some training in working with people in crisis, as well as those with mental illness, but the law limits what they can actually do.
As his shift was ending, Ofc. C drove back to 2nd District headquarters, where I met Ofc. G. A 10-year veteran of MPD, Ofc. G is one of the rare breed of police officer who works permanent midnights; she patrols PSA 207 from about 11 pm until roughly 7 am.
I asked Ofc. G what kinds of incidents she encounters during the midnight shift. She replied, “I see a lot of drunk people.” Because PSA 207 includes quite a few nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, she deals with intoxicated individuals – and their resulting behavior - on a regular basis.
I mentioned to Ofc. G that I was surprised by the sheer quantity of information that each officer receives, almost without interruption. Calls come over the radio nonstop for incidents throughout the 2nd District. Information pops up on the on-board computers constantly. And officers are still responsible for looking around as the drive through the PSA. Ofc. G noted that officers become accustomed to the volume of data, and develop the ability to sort through it quickly for what they need.
I finished my ride along with much more insight about the job of an MPD patrol officer – as well as more respect. I recommend the ride along program to anyone who wants to learn more about the reality of police work. It is nothing like you see on TV, that’s for sure!