Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A Ride-Along with the Washington, D.C. Police Department

By Marc Dubin, Executive Director, CAVNET

I wrote this shortly after going on a ride-along with the Washington, D.C. Police Department. It describes my experiences, and includes a domestic violence call.
I went on this ride-along with the Washington, D.C. police in 1999, from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., in Northeast D.C., an area of the city with a high volume of calls. Here are some highlights:


The evening started out quietly enough. I met with a Sgt. at the precinct, and I was allowed to accompany him for two hours. He went to a variety of scenes, as backup to other officers. As we were cruising along, we passed a shopping center. As we did so, we observed two private security guards from a department store wrestling with a man on the ground. We pulled over, and the Sgt. got out of the car and went over to assist the private security guards. I stayed in the car. I felt that it would be too distracting to the officer for me to get out, and I did not want him to worry about my safety as well as his own. The guards wrestled with the man, and the Sgt. assisted them in handcuffing him.

At that point, I got out of the car. I heard the security guards accusing the man of shoplifting, and of knocking a customer down as he fled. The man on the ground kept complaining that he was hurt, and kept denying that he had done anything wrong. Several bystanders gathered, and accused the security guards of kicking the man in the head. I did not see them do so. The Sgt. told me later that the witnesses would have to file a complaint at the precinct in order for an investigation to be initiated. He took no steps to investigate their allegations, and did not speak to them. He called for backup, turned the suspect over to the security guards, and we left.

Shortly thereafter, we responded to an "Officer Needs Assistance" call. Lights and sirens on, we sped through the city at 65 miles an hour. By the time we arrived, things appeared to be under control, although a large crowd had gathered. Four suspects were in custody. I was told that a police officer had been called to the scene by someone in the crowd, and that the caller had complained that four teenagers were drunk and making a lot of noise. When the officer arrived, the four had drawn a crowd, and the officer had asked them to put their alcohol away and move on. One of the four, a young woman, had refused to do so, and as he reached hor her to take the drink away from her, her boyfriend became threatening. The officer then called for assistance. Approximately 8 units arrived. The four were arrested for refusing to obey the police, and for having open containers of alcohol. I was left wondering if there had been a way to defuse the situation without the arrests. We moved on.

After driving around a bit more, we returned to the station, and I accompanied another officer for the remainder of the evening and morning. As it turned out, it was the same officer I had accompanied on a previous ride-along. This time, he was working alone, without a partner.

I sat in the front seat. Our first call was to a business that was trying to close up for the evening, but was unable to do so because a woman was sleeping in an alcove. The owner wanted a police officer to ask her to leave. The owner met us at the scene. The officer went into the building, and spoke to the woman. I followed him in.

He was very respectful to her, and addressed her politely. She accused the owner of being a crack dealer, and asserted that she wanted him arrested. The officer asked her if she was homeless. She denied being homeless, and peacefully left the building. The owner thanked the officer, and we left.

We drove around, stopping at a 7-11 for coffee, and then resumed patrol. Things were very quiet, and it began to look like a slow night. Suddenly, the dispatcher informed us that a robbery suspect was being chased in our area. The officer joined the chase, and we were off. For a moment, I held the officer's cup of coffee, and then, at his request, tossed it out the window. As we were going 75 miles an hour through narrow streets and alleys, it seemed the prudent thing to do. As we met the other units, I observed several officers in foot pursuit of a man wearing blue shorts and a light blue shirt. The man's description was broadcast, and more units joined the chase. The officer we were riding with chose not to get out of the cruiser, but instead drove to an area where he felt he would be able to intercept the suspect. We careened around corners, and we momentarily lost sight of him. I was bouncing all over the front seat. I spotted him running to our right, and alerted the officer. He continued the chase, and then reached a point where we could no longer pursue by car. He slammed on the brakes, and got out. I wasn't sure what to do -- I thought it would be safer to stay in the car, rather than join him in the foot pursuit. Then I remembered what he had told me on a previous ride-along about snipers shooting at stationary police cars. Great choices. As I was trying to decide, the officer yelled at me to join him, and as he disappeared, gun in one hand, flashlight in the other, I got out of the car and ran after him, into the darkness.

As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw the suspect run into a building, and saw the officer follow him into the building. I declined to follow them in, and waited for other officers to arrive. Within moments, they did, from all directions. A helicopter suddenly hovered overhead, with a very powerful search light illuminating the scene. An officer with a German Shepherd arriived as well. The officers had not seen the suspect enter the building, nor had they seen the officer we were riding with enter after him. I pointed out the building they had gone into, and told them what I had seen. They rushed into the building, and I stepped back to see what would happen. I observed a man inside the building, and saw him go out onto a second-floor balcony. He appeared ready to jump, but an officer was pointing a gun at him before he could do so. Officers tackled him, and took him into custody. He was unarmed. The officer rejoined us, and we left. I later asked him why he had told us to join him in the foot chase, and he told me that it was his opinion that it was more dangerous to sit in the car. Officers really don't get paid what they deserve.

After a while, we received a radio run informing us that a woman was involved in a domestic dispute, and was holding a man at bay with a knife. When we arrived at the scene, she was in the front yard, and she informed us that the man had left. She said it was her common-law husband, and that he had threatened her with the knife -- she denied that she had held him at bay. The officer broadcast a description of the man and of the vehicle he had left in. We went inside to interview her.
She informed us that she had been arguing with the man about his failure to help around the house and failure to pay child support, and that during the argument, he had taken a large knife from the kitchen, and had put it in his pants. She became frightened, and had called 911. She told the officer that the man had not brandished the knife, and had left it on the counter before leaving the house. Upon further questioning, she acknowledged that he had beaten her in the past, and that she was afraid of him. She had gotten restraining orders in the past, but had allowed them to expire, and had allowed him to return. The officer explained to her about her right to a restraining order, and asked her to go to court Monday morning. She said that she feared he would return later that morning, and he advised her to pack his things and leave them on the front porch. He gave her the Hotline number, and she said she would call. I do not know if she ever did so. The man was not apprehended.
By 3 in the morning, I was ready to leave.

The ride-along had certainly broadened my respect for law enforcement. I recommend that others consider contacting your local precinct and inquiring about the possibility of going on one.

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