I had the pleasure of doing a ride along with a deputy sheriff on Friday. I opted for the mid shift which gave me a chance to see both day and night. I also chose the sector in which I live, even though it might not have as much "action" as some of the other ones. I thought by doing this, I would learn more, as I might have more time to chat with the deputy. After all, I was doing this to learn about the 'little things' that will add realism to my books, as much as for the fun.
Their day begins at 3:00 pm with a briefing and runs until 2:30 am. As a rider, I was free to decide how long I wanted to stay. Since two days earlier, two deputies had been shot in a hotel parking lot, their briefing ran long, and it was close to 4:00 (I still think in am/pm time, although everything was done on a 24 hour clock system) before I met Chris, who would more or less be responsible for my life for the next few hours. I asked if he drew the short straw when he got the assignment, but he said he normally does the ride alongs in the sector because he enjoys showing the general public what they really do on the job. I was also a tad surprised that I was doing more than 'riding' because for most of the calls, he brought me along and introduced me as a 'colleague.'
We started, immediately on a call to check on a missing person. I learned that although these are "Patrol" officers, they don't have time to roam the streets looking for bad guys or anything suspicious. They go from one call to another. If it's not an emergency, he uses the time in traffic to run plates of the cars around him. Red flag for him—overly tinted windows, but he'll do random checks. He says it's surprising what will come up, but he does need probably cause to stop someone. He did this once, with one of the too-dark windows because the driver didn't come to a stop at an intersection. Turned out the driver wasn't the car owner, but all the information he gave was correct, and the guy's record was clean, so he just told him to watch his stops and to tell his girlfriend her car was in violation of the law. He's not out to write tickets just because he can. It's about establishing a presence in the community, and being reasonable.
The zone he works has 3 deputies, and they cover a LOT of territory. They also back each other up, based on who's where, so a deputy from another zone will come if they're closer or needed.
First observation: they don't routinely park in front of the address they're investigating. An exception would be when it's a routine call to get information about something that's already happened. However, we parked halfway down the block for almost all of his calls.
There are also priorities to calls, which I learned firsthand as he was listening (with immense patience, I must add) to a "Family Dispute" from a woman who wanted "them" to do "something" about her 25 year old daughter who was on drugs and stealing from her, although she had no real proof, and couldn't make up her mind what she wanted as Chris explained the consequences of each of his options. He had started to fill out a report form when he handed it to her and said he'd be back later to pick it up. I thought he'd just reached his limit in trying to figure out what she really wanted from him, but as we got into the car and he took off with lights and sirens (GREAT FUN!), he explained he'd gotten a Code 3 to another location where they were setting up a perimeter to catch a bad guy (which is the term he used with me, although it's not the one used when cops talk to each other). That was broken off when they captured the suspect, but we were immediately sent to an "Aggravated Assault with a Weapon. We first went to talk to the victims. They didn't want to press charges, but one of the things they had talked about in their briefing was "taking the streets back" and not letting criminals call the shots, so they're making their presence known. This was in an area he is called to regularly, and this time, he told me to stay in the car and lock the doors when he got out, and he pulled a shotgun from the trunk before he went to the apartment. As he put it, "They had a gun, so we go in with a bigger gun."
While he was gone, I listened to radio calls and watched the computer screen. Everything is done from his car, as much by electronic data transmission as the radio. The computer gives him different sound effects depending on what kind of a call it is – and I can tell you, nobody would miss a "Code Three."
He had no qualms about letting me read the screen (although I've got a stiff neck this morning, because it required some twisting). He even ran my driver's license and confirmed a point I used in my book (thank goodness!) that the pre-digital licenses don't have pictures on file. Another quirk – I got a new car last February, but when he ran my license, it didn't show up.
That's it for this post – my night at this point is about half over.