It’s 10 pm on a typical Friday night in Adams Morgan, Washington DC. People are strolling down the streets, heading for bars, ready to party after a long week of work. I merely notice them when they pass me, though. I got somewhere to be. I’m looking for the local police station.
If you follow this blog, you know that I’m very much into true crime. It’s why I visited a double murder trial in Los Angeles and it’s why I signed up for Ride Along. The Ride Along program allows you to accompany the police for a couple of hours and watch them do their work.
When I signed up, I picked the Adams Morgan area – not only because it can be reached easily via bus, but also because there are lots of bars there that keep police busy. Time-wise, I picked the 10 pm-2 am shift on Friday. I still remember how excited I was when I finally received the confirmation of my Ride Along request via e-mail, along with a number of instructions.
“The wearing of revealing attire, such as bathing suits, flip-flops, halter-tops, or clothing with derogatory obscene, and/or offensive language or designs is prohibited”, it says in the briefing. No bathing suits? Well there goes that outfit idea.
Bullet proof vest and guns
I’m wearing blue jeans, a black turtle neck and my leather jacket when I enter the police station in Adams Morgan on that Friday night. There are two Officers behind the counter. One takes my passport and checks my personal data while the other one starts doing smalltalk with me.
I learn that he’s from Brooklyn, New York, which is where I’ll be over Thanksgiving. We talk about traveling, about the Big Apple, about Los Angeles and other miscellaneous topics as the lady hands me back my passport and I wait for the Officers I will ride along with on this night.
“Did they already do a fitting for your vest?”, the New Yorker asks me at one point. I give him a confused look.
„A bullet proof vest“, he says. „And you‘re gonna need a gun too.“
I burst into laughter. Hilarious. He’s kidding, right? Before I get the chance to ask, the door next to me opens and two Officers, a woman and a man, come out. It’s the cops I’m going to spend the evening with. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just call them Officer B. and Officer D.
Officer B. is a woman shorter than I am. She has her hair tied back in a bun. Officer D. is tall and wears a baseball cap. I say goodbye to the New Yorker officer and follow the duo. We head for a police car. As the Officers get into the car, I hesitate. Can I really just…?
“You can sit up front”, Officer D. says. “I’m taking the backseat.”
In sheer excitement I open the door and claim my spot. The inside of the car looks just like in the movies. There’s a computer, and a keyboard in between the two front seats and another handle with a set of various buttons. As I will later learn the cops use it to turn on the car’s siren. Officer B. starts the computer. As we drive down the road, various windows appear on the screen.
“It shows us what’s going on in the area at the moment”, Officer B. explains. As she’s talking, another window pops up.
“A suspicious person was spotted in a street nearby”, Officer B. says. “Actually, we can take that.”
She pushes some buttons and speeds up a little. Now that the police car’s alarm lights as well as the sirens are on, the other cars all move aside as we pass them.
“Someone saw a person wearing a green jacket and a mask, peering into cars”, Officer B. says. “According to the caller, they’re still there.”
We arrive at the said alley and slow down. As we drive down the road at low pace, I can hear metal clinging. Officer D. is getting his handcuffs ready. But we don’t spot the person we’re looking for. He probably ran off.
Via computer, Officer B. let’s her colleagues know that we didn’t encounter the suspect. Officer B. drives back to the main road. Earlier I had learned that both, Officer B. and D. have been in duty for a little less than two years. Their main task that night is to drive through their designated area and be present. As we do that, I have plenty of time to ask all the burning questions I have.
The worst crime
“What’s the worst crime you’ve dealt with?”, I want to know.
“Well I haven’t been there”, Officer B. says, “but a couple of weeks ago, a jogger got stabbed in our area. It was a random attack.”
I’m shocked. Even though I had already been in the US during that time, I haven’t heard about this case. I turn around and ask Officer D. the same question.
“I took a call by a victim of sexual assault once”, Officer D. says. “It was tough to see her in that state, right after it happened.”
For a couple of minutes we just drive down the streets in silence. But there are still many questions on my mind. Only a few days prior to my Ride Along tour, there had been a terrible shooting in California. One of the first victims that was killed, was a deputy officer.
“Does news like this make you feel unsafe?”, I ask.
“Well, not really. It’s very tragic but it’s pretty much what we signed up for”, Officer B. says as her colleague agrees. “We took a vow that we’d protect the city at all costs.”
“We took a vow that we’d protect the city at all costs.”
In the following hours, we rush from one part of the Officer’s designated area to another. There are a couple of spots the we’re are called to.
Alarm at a church
When the alarm goes off at a church, it only takes us a few minutes to arrive on scene. Officer B. and D. take their flashlights, get out of the car and examine the building as I follow them.
“Hey, what are you doing here?”, Officer D. suddenly shouts.
He has spotted people at the main entrance. As it turns out, two homeless guys were just trying to sleep on the front porch when they accidentally triggered the alarm.
“Darn, it’s cold outside”, Officer B. says as we get back into the car and I tell her I’m glad I’m not wearing my bathing suit. I tell her about the e-mail briefing.
“If it said that, it means that someone definitely has worn one at one point in the past”, she says, laughing.
Windows keep popping up on the computer screen. We learn that there’s a “person down” – that’s the keyword I see on the computer screen – not too far away. It’s yet another homeless guy who probably had taken drugs and got drunk. Now he’s lying on the streets and can’t get up. As the Officers ask him for his name, he mutters random phrases. Eventually, the ambulance arrives and brings the man to the hospital.
It’s already past midnight when the Officers switch seats and now Officer D. is driving. He goes up and down the street and I find it very relaxing just to sit there, watching the city lights. Then seemingly out of nothing, he pushes the buttons on the handle that make the red and blue lights of the car blink.
“You’re pulling him over?”, Officer B. asks, referring to the car in front of us.
“Yeah, no headlights on”, Officer D. says. The car in front us stops on the right side of the road.
“That’s where people keep their guns”
“Stay in the car”, the Officers tell me as they get out and approach the car.
I can see them talking to the driver. Finally, the Officers return and run the guy’s car tag through the system. He’s got a clean record. This time he gets away with a warning.
“Did you see how he reached under his seat twice, though?”, Officer D. asks his partner. “That’s really not where you should keep your documents.”
“Yeah, it’s where people keep their guns”, Officer B. agrees.
We continue to drive around for a while. It’s cosy and warm in the police car and my thoughts are drifting away. Eventually, we stop at a building – several police cars are lined up and a handfull of Officers stand there. Now I’m wide awake again. I am about to ask what happened – did an alarm go off? Is there another person down? But then I realize that we’re right where my journey started: at the police station. I take a look at the watch. It’s close to 2.
„This concludes your ride“, Officer B. says.
I say goodbye, get out of the car and enter the station. The New Yorker is still on duty. He asks me how I enjoyed my Ride Along tour.
“I loved it”, I say. “So next time, I wanna try a sketchier district.”
“You should go to the 6th district“, he suggests. „But you probably need a bullet proof vest there for real.“
I laugh as I casually take out my notebook and jot down the number of the district. You bet I’m going to pick the 6th one. I wish the officer a good night and step out of the building.
While waiting for the bus – yes, I‘m still using public transport, even if it’s 2 in the morning – I can hear police sirens in the distance. Whereas this sound used to make me feel a little bit uneasy, I now feel safer than ever. Because I know, my friends are right there, somewhere down the street. “That’s so cheesy”, I think as I type down the very words you just read on my phone.
“Looks like I just found a conclusion for my blogpost.”