That One Night I Spent in a Police Car

To be honest, there were actually three nights. And it began in a station and ended with a ride in a police car, not the other way around. But most importantly, I was there by choice. I had signed up to do a Police Ride-Along with the District of Columbia Metro Police Department. The idea was proposed to me by the Associate Director of the University College and Learning Communities.

The process to apply was simple, requiring only a request form and consent form to be completed. Once I had filled them out and sent them in, I received a call a few weeks later informing me I had requested a ride along district that did not exist. In DC apparently, the Police Department is districted separately from the city wards. I corrected my mistake and received confirmation a day later.

A map displaying the MPDC districts
Washington DC broken up into the MPDC districts. Image from http://mpdc.dc.gov/page/police-districts-and-police-service-areas

The first day I requested was a Sunday in the 3rd district from 10pm to 2am. This area covered the Adams Morgan region in the NW quadrant. I walked in to the station and had my identity verified, before being introduced to Officer Compher.

We spent the four hours patrolling his Patrol Service Area (PSA), responding to assignments from dispatch and people who flagged us down. It turns out that Sunday is a very quiet night, so I had more time to talk with the Officer about his job and district. The 3rd district is the most busy in terms of volumes of crimes, but the types of crimes aren’t typically as serious as some other districts.

That night I had the chance to observe an arrest, the driving procedures, taking statements, and more. I learned about the different specialized units within the department, and in addition to Officer Compher, I had the chance to speak with a few other officers who were on duty that evening. While some of the officers grew up in the area and always knew they wanted to join the police department, others never expected to end up where they were. One officer was returning to graduate school in a few years. Another came from Chicago. Some were career officers, while others were just doing the job for a few years.

It was a really interesting experience, and nice to see life from an Officer’s viewpoint. For my second ride along I requested the 7th district, which covers most of the SE district of DC. While the 3rd might have been the busiest by numbers, the 7th has traditionally seen the most violent crimes. I was there on a Wednesday night though, so once again, it was very quiet. I rode along with Officer Gray this time, who was born and raised in the area that he now patrolled.

While I didn’t get to see as much activity as on the first ride along, I did get to know the Anacostia region a lot better. This region is associated the most with a lot of the violence and crime in the DC area, which traditionally has been true. By the end of the night though, the Officer had given me a new viewpoint of the area. The area is definitely improving, and fast. Officer Gray told me about the declining rates of violent crimes, and the gentrification of the area. A new government agency is moving into the area, and there is a lot of construction making new housing available. It also turns out that the absolute best view of the DC area is from this area.

It had become clear to me at this point that to really see a busy night I needed to do a ride along on a Friday or Saturday night, so my next ride along was in the 2nd district on a Saturday night. This time I rode with Officer Brady, who was a volunteer officer. Volunteer officers have all of the same powers as career officers, the only difference being they don’t get paid. Officer Brady works a 9-5 job during the day and then volunteers at night.

Officer Brady is one of the best at what he does. He was the city’s Officer of the Year a few years ago, and routinely gives out more tickets/responds to more situations than most of the paid staff. He is also part of a specialized unit that focuses on robberies. The night I rode with him was very cold, so it wasn’t very busy. I did like riding around the 2nd District though, as I got to see the areas that I usually spend my time in. And Officer Brady had some interesting thoughts on how police officers saw the city differently:

“You get used to different kinds of screams.”

I plan on doing another ride along when it gets a little warmer, most likely in the 2nd District again. It was interesting to learn more about police officers in different parts of the city and how their jobs differ slightly. I also like knowing DC more.

If you’re interested in doing the same thing, the police districts can be found here, and the forms can be found here: http://mpdc.dc.gov/page/police-ride-along-program

Jack Struck

Student in our nation’s capital, studying International Relations with a focus on the Middle East. Web designer, runner, reader, and leader.

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