Monday, November 18, 2013

My First Ride-Along With the GRPD...On Halloween

What's it like to spend a 12 hour shift with a GRPD officer on a rainy Halloween night? It involves stolen candy, irish drinking songs, and being accused of soliciting prostitution.

As a pleasant perk of Citizen Police Academy, we were given the opportunity to ride along with officers on a day of our choosing. Since I was feeling particularly mischievous, I decided to sign up for October 31. I've often heard that officers hate working on Halloween, so I was positively itching to experience the horrors of the night.

via CarrieLu

The Day Arrives

When the day finally came, I was a little nervous to ride along with Officer Stevens. I was hyperventilating in fetal position at the police station bathroom. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if I offended him with a stupid joke? Oh god, what if he was that officer who caught me scarfing down a Frosty in an empty parking lot at 3 am?

I was simply told, "wear comfy shoes, no jeans." Since the rules were so vague, I couldn't decide between my Captain America or Commander Shepard costume. I ended up wearing an all-black ensemble. I had the ability to blend into the night, if the situation called for it.

via Jeyhun85
I arrived at the station and was given a vest. I put it on with trembling hands and waited for Mark to lead me into the Squad Room. During what was possibly the longest elevator ride ever, Mark told me that I missed out on the action-packed shift last night. There were shooting homicides at a place called Chicken Coop. "They've got good chicken, but not worth dying for," joked Mark.

It was that moment. It was that precise second when I realised that all my talk of wanting to fight criminals, to tangle with baddies, and wrestle around with crooks, was all but a fantasy. All the witty one-liners I've thought of, the perfectly timed explosions as I slowly walk away while quipping "look's like school's out!"...that wasn't real police work. Real police work involves mistakes, mistakes that could result in death.

Mark stepped out of the elevator. I briefly considered pressing the close button and running back to the comfort of my delusions.

via Stuart Anthony

I followed him into the room where there were several uniformed officers. They went through the debriefing while I watched them and scribbled down notes from the back. Officer Stevens introduced himself, and to my relief, he wasn't any of the officers who's pulled me over in the past years. 

Our First Conversation

Stevens gathered his things and led me to his cruiser. He asked if I wanted to put anything in the trunk, so I silently took off my scarf and slipped it in the back. I wanted to leave something for people to remember me by.

"So, I hear you're a journalist," he said in a polite, conversational manner. I spent the next few minutes convincing him I was one of the few good ones, and that I wasn't out to get him. He must have bought the act, because he didn't punch me in the face.

As we cruised around the city, he told me about previous riders. In all his years, he's only had trouble with one rider.

"Really, why's that? What did he do?" I wondered.

"Let's just say he was very annoying," he said forebodingly. 

"I need to know! I'm probably going to be worse than he was!" I pleaded, but he just laughed and assured me I was free to say and do as I please. 

And he was right, for several times that night, I asked (and eventually begged) to do several tasks. I wanted to steal candy from trick-or-treaters, use the PA system to yell at drivers, and run down to the jail to mock inmates for being shackled by waving our free wrists at them. He politely turned down all of my suggestions, no matter how incessant.

Stealing Candy and Dealing With Children

We drove around for a bit, issuing a few parking tickets. I asked why some neighbourhoods were much more crowded than others, and he explained the rules of trick-or-treating. Kids scope out the areas and flock to the houses that give out the best candy. I suggested purposely giving out bad candy so that kids would leave.

He pulled over next to a group of teens who were reportedly seen fighting near a school. After a few quick words, he concluded that they were just goofing around. A little boy flashed his bag at Stevens and asked if he wanted some candy.

via Sean Dreilinger
He was pretty nice with the kids. As we drove past, I suggested that we snatch one of their candy bags and drive off like maniacs. "What are they gonna do, call the cops?" I cackled. He laughed but again, chastised me for my wicked ways. We were soon interrupted by a call. The person on the radio kept repeating something about a "possible G6." Stevens was pretty calm but I was freaking out. What's a G6?! Is it a gun or a tank? We better not be heading to the Chicken Coop, people die there!

It turned out to be a report of stolen Halloween candy. We chatted with the fellow officer on the scene and drove on our merry way. We answered more calls as the night progressed. One of the children at the houses peeked out from behind his mother and shyly told Stevens, "I wanna be just like you when I grow up!" Stevens told him to be a good boy and listen to his mother. 

How I Behaved, On Calls And In Jail

I never knew quite what to do during calls. I mostly stood silently in the corner, awkwardly lurking behind dark shadows as people mistook me for a nosy neighbour. Thankfully, being a silent creep came naturally because it's the trademark of a good journalist. Most people were curious and pleasant to me.

I was surprised by how many women were getting their doors knocked down by angry ex-husbands or boyfriends. I figured out the root cause of all the domestics. I earnestly told Stevens the obvious problem is that they have doors. They should invent a man-sized cat-flap door specifically for women who insist on dating scumbags.

It was hard not to say anything at all when we had someone handcuffed in the back of the cruiser. Stevens was speaking normally with me, but I couldn't shake the desire to include the future inmate in our conversation. When we pulled into the jail, Stevens had to remove all of his weapons and place them in a locker.

"You're not carrying any weapons, are you?" He asked.

via Caylin
"No...unless these guns are considered dangerous," I responded, gesturing seriously towards my hands.

"Yes, they're considered weapons," he responded with equal grave seriousness. Hm, he seemed to be immune to my attempts at trolling.

Despite the hot talk of wanting to fight criminals, I clung to his side while we were inside the jail. He was nice enough to explain everything he was doing in detail. A terrifying, Hell's Angels-looking man was being tested for his blood alcohol content. Jail staffers were kind enough to pretend not to notice my horrified expression. 

Sharing A Meal In The Car

After the booking, we went to get something to eat. We spoke about family, ranted about kids these days, and ate our sandwiches amongst the dark of the night. He continued typing his report while I tried not to breathe so loudly. I couldn't believe that I was on the other side of the world, casually sipping a strawberry tea next to an American officer in his cruiser. I have never wanted to take a selfie so badly in my life.

via Yung
Although I was done eating, I awkwardly held onto the wrapper because I was too nervous to make a peep. Stevens started laughing and asked if I wanted to throw that in the trash. "I was wondering how long you'd hold onto that," he snickers.

"Honestly, if you hadn't said anything, I'd still be clutching onto it for the next six hours," I responded, only half-jokingly. 

As the night trudged along, we pulled aside often so that he could write down reports. He entertained me by playing some of his favourite Irish drinking songs, and we deliriously sang along to "What Does the Fox Say?" He went back to his notes and I pulled out my little pad to write down my thoughts. "I do this for the children," he said while eying my notepad, "Yup, just trying to make this world better, one day at a time." It was nice to laugh.

The Drunken Accuser

The final call was probably the most hectic. It was a traffic stop involving an impossibly drunk driver. He placed her in the backseat and I spent a few moments of silence with her. Well, I was silent, but she was ranting about how she saw my supposed boyfriend with a hooker named Lisa. She was insistent that Stevens was cheating on me, and that we would both be fired for breaking the law. 

via Douglas Muth
We were quickly joined by other officers. She was hysterical and started fighting. They tried to verbally diffuse the situation. I wanted to reach over, grab one of their Tasers, and zap her myself.

We went back to the jail, where the accused lass screamed her head off about Stevens and I. She insisted that he would cheat on me and break my heart, and that us Latinas should stick together against no-good racist cops. Another GRPD officer was there, and could barely hold his laughter. She was finally taken to a cell, and the jail staffers offered me Halloween candy.

My Final Thoughts

It's no easy task having a 12 hour night shift, let alone spending it with a foreign stranger. The officers I met weren't glossy, politically correct Robocops. They were real people who put on a uniform and took care of peoples' troubles, no matter how repetitive or petty they seemed. 

A lot of people were stiffly polite, but cold to the officers. They were mad and frustrated when they felt the officers weren't doing anything. Many times there wasn't much they could do with the information provided.

The calls he received were often spliced in between our conversations and laughter. He would recover from the tensions of a call and begin laughing again, when he'd suddenly be reeled back into his stressful duties. It was like a badly edited movie, one moment we were outdoing each other with awful jokes, and in the next, my heart was racing as he yelled "put your hands up!" at a strange man trying to break into a window.

I couldn't believe how calm the officers were in response to vile, swear-filled accusations or heartbreaking incidents. It must be tough on their spirit to constantly face this while trying to do their job.

via St Stev
What kind of weight do these duties leave on the shoulders of officers, as nights turn into years? We pile our concerns onto their backs, and I wonder how they recover. I think back to when my friend's church taught me about The Amazing Spiderman, how even Parker needs the support of his community to continue fighting for good.

I spent my Halloween riding along with the GRPD, but I still got to hang out with superheroes. And although I didn't go trick-or-treating, Stevens gave me a Twinkie. It was delicious. 

No photographs were taken during the shift. All images used in this post belong to the sources listed. 


  1. This sounds scary!! What were you doing when the drunk girl was fighting?

    1. Some parts were definitely spooky, but it was mostly interesting. I could always stay in the car if I felt scared. I was just sitting quietly in the front passenger seat when the drunken lass started freaking out. I was trying so hard not to laugh because she'd get angry whenever I giggled.

    2. I loved doing the GRPD police academy back about 11 years ago. I am so glad I did it. I went to school for Criminal Justice (I am not an office) and though I am in an office with this (Criminal Justice background) as career I still love it and my experience with the academy.

    3. I enjoyed my time there! It was great to meet the officers that I always see cruising downtown. It must have been great experience for your background in CJ! I think I would have pursued career in law enforcement in another life. =D

    4. It was a pleasure to have you in the passenger seat. Thanks for sharing about your culture as well and I learned hopefully as much as you did

    5. I definitely learnt a lot! I've put aside my dreams of being a criminal, I realise that it's not as glamorous as shown on "Lockup."