31 May 2009

Things Learned Doing Ride Alongs

As a prosecutor, every so often I go along with a law enforcement officer on a "ride along." It's an interesting experience and I suggest it to anyone who has the opportunity because it gives you a look at what things are really like before they become sanitized in the courtroom. There are a few things that I've noticed on these rides:

1. People do not react well when a police car is coming down the road at high speed with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Some people just don't seem to feel they need to get out of the way. BTW, even if there are two lanes, and the passing lane is empty, pull over. A car traveling at a high rate of speed has a good chance of coming partially into your lane on that curve ahead. Worse is when people turn on their left turn signals and then pull off to the right. I've seen this twice, both times on two lane highways with little room for the officer react.

2. People drive poorly - even without alcohol. Cell phones, arguing with others in the car, eating that burger, &cetera all seem to be more important to people than staying in their lane and not swerving over into oncoming traffic.

3. Every time I've done a ride along there's been at least one mental or physical health call. Most of the time the mental health call involves keeping a scene as calm as possible until the ambulance arrives and is able to take the distressed person to the hospital. The physical health calls are usually things like someone slumped over the wheel of car by the side of the road. Not much can be done but to get there and get the lady to the hospital. Interestingly, civilians at the scene of mental health problems usually seem calmer than people at the scene of physical health problems.

4. No matter how many officers respond to a house/trailer/apartment complex they are almost always outnumbered. I'm not sure how this happens, but it seems that no matter how many officers arrive at the scene more neighbors, kin, or just plain troublemakers will simply appear. Much of the time the officers who respond to these kind of situations are peacemakers, calming everyone down and separating the two sides rather than arresting anyone.

5. The law requiring drivers passing police cars at a stop to pull over to the passing lane or (if unable) to slow down is an extremely good idea. It's amazing that more officers aren't hit as they walk back and forth between their cars and the cars they've pulled over. The side of the highway can be extremely narrow (at least here in mountain country).

6. Eating at a restaurant with a group of officers usually has this part in the conversation (regarding the restaurant's staff): "We've arrested him and him and her and, hmmm, when did Peter get back out of jail?"

7. The officers want to know how to do things right. Almost every time I've done a ride along there's been a discussion of 4th and 5th Amendment requirements brought up by the officer because he's heard that there's been some change (things like Gant and Montejo) or he's seen a defense attorney argue something in court or because he's had some tricky situation come up which he's unsure of.

8. People will admit the most amazing things to officers: "How do you know MaryBeth stole your transistor radio?" "Well, she and I were in my apartment last night doing some shrooms and the radio was there. When I woke up in the morning MaryBeth was gone and so was the radio."

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