Friday, August 17, 2007

Bringing Justice To the Streets of Nashville, TN

Yesterday, I got to go along as a "rider" with a friend of mine at church named Matt who is a police officer. I showed up with him before his shift began, and went along for everything he did until his shift ended late last night. If you've never done anything like this, it's way better than watching COPS.

I wasn't sure exactly how to go about this post, but I've decided to break it down into some bullet points. I want to mention some of the specific things we dealt with, as well as some things I learned about how the police work.

The evening began with him showing me how to use an extra shot gun that he keeps in the car. It is locked in place in a rack behind our heads, and there is a hidden release button if you need to use it. He has a brand new car with only 900 miles on it, and a lot of the sweetest new gear. I never realized how much time officers spend using these portable tablet PC's. They are logged on the entire time to several different services, keeping an eye on what needs to be taken care of, looking up people's information, and finding directions to places.

Here are some of the things we had to go and take care of:
  • Attempted Burglary - Someone tried to break into a lady's condo between midnight and 6am. Her screen door was pulled loose from the frame, but there were no marks indicating that someone had really tried to enter the main door. So basically, there wasn't much that could be done. At her request, he dusted for fingerprints but got none. When nothing is actually stolen and there isn't a complete forced entry, all the police can really do is file a report.

  • Loud Music Complaint - These kinds of calls are pretty annoying. In the end, I think we were more annoyed than the people who had been complaining about loud music. We had to drive all the way out to the edge of our zone, and of course, there was no loud music and the person who had been complained about was sound asleep, and definitely not bothering anyone.

  • Thief Arrest - At Lowe's, a girl who worked there had been pocketing money from the cash register, and had taken a total of $4,200 over several weeks. They caught her on video. Their loss prevention specialist got her in a back room and got her to confess. He handcuffed her and she had to wait on us to come and get her. We went in with another officer. One thing that was really fun for me the whole night was watching people try and figure out what my role was. I wasn't in uniform or anything, so I didn't appear to be police, but since I was riding with the police and was going everywhere they were going, they assumed I wasn't an average joe citizen. I think a lot of them thought I was some kind of undercover detective.

  • Security Alarm - At Save-A-Lot, the alarm went off. They called for the police to go and check it out. The doors at the front and back were all secure. In the end, I think Save-A-Lot may end up in a little trouble. Legally, if your business has an alarm system, you are required to get a sticker every year stating what kind of system it is and that it is current. Along with this, you are required to have a responder for your business who comes every time the alarm sounds. Save-A-Lot didn't have any stickers up, and there responder didn't want to come, so we had to leave them a note telling them to get their act together.

  • Juvenile Delinquent - We went on a call to a situation where a lady's 13-year-old niece was causing lots of problems. It was one of those sad situations where the parents were no good, so the aunt was trying to help out, but didn't have stellar parenting skills herself. The aunt called because the girl constantly shows her attitude, makes messes, and screams at the top of her lungs (according to the aunt). The girl made the aunt sound pretty bad. We went in there and talked with each of them. The girl kept showing some attitude to Matt, so with the Aunt's decision, we cuffed her and took her downtown to the juvenile detention center. We felt pretty bad about the situation because everyone in this situation really needs help. The girl really needed to be in counseling and psychological evaluation a lot worse than she needed to be taken to juvenile hall. At the same time, hopefully now that she is in the juvenile court system they will get her to the people that she needs to be getting help from.

  • Car In Wrong Lane With No Lights On - This was our last stop of the night. There was a car driving up the wrong way of a one-way mall exit with no lights on and a broken brake light. We turned on our lights and swerved around, going after them through the parking lot. You could tell they had seen us and kind of wanted to get away without us finding them. But when we got up on their bumper and he started giving them commands through the speaker, they pulled over. They were acting really nervous. The driver was fairly cooperative, but the passenger was being a punk. Matt ended up searching both of them and then went through every nook and cranny of their car. He was really hoping to find some drugs, because they looked and acted very suspicious. We're convinced the passenger may have had a small quantity on him, but since Matt didn't find any, we let them go with a warning.
Those weren't all of the calls we dealt with, but that is a good sampling. Having gone along and watched all this stuff, and having visited with my friend about it, I wanted to give a few insights that I took away from the experience.
  1. If people would stop calling the police about so many stupid things, our streets would be a lot safer. Matt's goal is to serve at least one warrant every day that he works. Three times during the evening, we would finish a call, and he would start looking up someone who needed to be arrested. We'd have their address and information, and would be en route to go get them...then someone would call with something totally lame. Instead of chasing bad guys, police officers spend enormous amounts of time dealing with things like loud music complaints, people saying "this guy threatened me, then he hopped in his car and rode off, but I just wanted you guys to know about it", and other stuff that the police have no reason to be dealing with. We had to go to a house where some family sold the house, but wasn't finished moving out, and the new owner was being a punk about letting them in to get their stuff. It was a complete waste of time, and if people just practiced the golden rule, they could easily resolve this themselves. The reason we didn't arrest any true criminals last night had a lot to do with people not working out their own petty problems. Warrants do not work like calls. Warrants are done on more of a voluntary basis by the officers, but calls demand priority. Less calls = more warrants served.

  2. Unless something happens to you involving real theft or violence, there isn't much the police can do. One of our longest calls last night involved driving to the middle of nowhere where someone saw a cat get hit by a car that wasn't quite dead. It was dead by the time we got there. In the end, this doesn't even concern the police. After we checked it out, we had to call some other service to come get the body. Along with this, if you get locked out of your car, don't call the police. They used to help break into cars by doing the coat hanger-lock routine, but there's too much liability involved. Your best bet is to call Pop-a-lock, or some company that does that full time. If you tell the police to get you into your car, the only way they will do it is by smashing your window. The police are there to deal with crime, not to handle our little inconveniences (though thankfully, most of them are willing to help out with the little stuff anyway).

  3. I was amazed at the variety of things a policeman encounters. Matt had to go from chasing a speeder, to stopping to help someone broken down on the side of I-40, to counseling a juvenile, to mediating between a home buyer and seller.
Overall, it was really an eye-opening experience. I had a great time, and definitely hope to go and do it again some time. I have gained an entirely new appreciation for what our police forces are doing to keep us safe. They really do work well as a team, and really show an incredible amount of patience for the people they are protecting.


  1. That is cool that you got to go on a police shift. I think if more people were able to experience other people's types of jobs we would all have a lot more empathy and think twice when we have complaints about things.

  2. Mark I did something like this several years ago but in a much smaller place than Nashville. It was eye opening to see what is going on in the "neighborhood."

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Bobby Valentine

  3. I really appreciate this memo. My best friend Robin that you guys might have met just graduated from Police Academy. It was neat to see what she is beginning to experience! Hope you two are doing well. You are greatly missed here. Thanks for posting on Mia's blog. It's nice to know people are looking.
    Crystal and Dan