Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In The Hood...A Mother's Day Present

My oldest son, Jim, is a police officer in Sacramento California and I have always wanted to do a ride-a-long with him. Several times we have set it up and something unexpected has happened and I have had to cancel out. This year I was going to be in CA for mother’s day with my mom who will be turning a young ninety-three in June so I planned a few extra days so that I could do my long awaited ride-a-long.
I drove up to Jim’s home on Friday morning on May 7th and we went out to lunch and then stopped by and took lunch to his girlfriend Heather before it was time to go to work. Jim works on the Southside of Sacramento in what his cousin Mike (he works as a correction officer for the State of CA) refers to as the hood. Mike laughed when he found out I was going out on a Friday night with Jim and said to be prepared because you never knew what would happen.

We pulled into the secure parking lot at the station and Jim unloaded several bags of his gear into the car we would be patrolling in that night. We then pulled up to the building and unloaded two sheet cakes and three dozen muffins that I had brought to share with Jim’s co-workers. Jim said his co-workers/friends had a sweet tooth and I wanted to do something nice for them. We parked the car and then Jim left me in the roll call room while he went to change and get ready.

I met several of his friends and they all asked me if I was excited and ready to go out. They wanted to know why I wanted to do a ride-a-long, and I told them I wanted to know what Jim’s job was like. Soon the room was filling up with uniformed officers, all taking a seat to get ready for the sergeant and roll call. I was asked to stand and introduce myself at the end and tell why I was there. This was my mother’s day gift for me, to watch my son on a typical Friday night on the Sacramento Police Force. For me, the joy was to see my child, grown up and doing what he has always wanted, and knowing I succeeded as a mother in helping him realize his dream.

We took the last of the equipment out to the car and Jim made sure everything was ready to go as he snapped the shotgun in place between us. I asked if there was a panic button and he showed me where it was. He then explained about the onboard cameras, computer, and radio equipment. Wow! It’s not like the old movies where the police just jumped into a car and sped away when they were called. Today is high tech with new equipment being updated to protect the officers and provide information in case of an arrest.

Our first assignment was to take a prisoner, being brought in from the previous shift to the jail, to reduce overtime cost. The evidence was left at the station to be logged and sent later with the report the arresting officer wrote up. Jim placed his handcuffs on the suspect before the other officer’s handcuffs were removed and then the woman was placed in the back seat of our car. It wasn’t the suspect’s first time in a police cruiser or the judicial system, but she wasn’t fighting or complaining--just taking it all in stride, and as a matter of fact. We arrived at the county jail downtown Sacramento and waited for the security camera to verify who we were and then the large gray oversized roll-up doors began to ascend and we drove into the dark cavernous parking garage. The first order of business is to leave all weapons, guns, mace, stun gun, etc, locked in the trunk of the vehicle for everyone’s safety. We entered through a secure door and into the medical unit. The suspect was asked about medical history, illnesses, drug use, alcohol use, and women’s medical issues. I had to look away when she received a tetanus shot, not just because I hate needles, but the thought of the shot was causing her distress and I felt empathy for her as she was almost in tears. We moved back out to the computer station for Jim to finish his paperwork and then the prisoner was searched and photographed before she would be booked into jail. Jim said she would probably be in quarantine for up to twenty-four hours before being put in with the regular prison population.

Back out to the car and on the streets. Jim checked his computer to see what was happening in his sector-- B4. There are six sectors in the city and each is divided into three sections. It was early on Friday and it was quiet so we met up with his partner, Khang, to arrange a probation warrant arrest. Each team has been asked to take on a project to help improve their sector and, in turn, improve the city. A small apartment complex is what they are working on as they are trying to be a friendly face in the community and keep the residents safe. Another team joined us so there were a total of four officers responding to a suspect with outstanding warrants. I was allowed to get out of the car and go with them, just to hang back a little until given the okay to proceed with them. The renter allowed the officers into her home but said she didn’t know the suspect. After a quick search of the apartment, with her approval, and after verifying some personal information, we left. The children all smiled as we walked by and they played in the parking lot--and that is positive.

There was a call about a resident who assaulted his caregivers. This was not the first time the police had been called to this address. Everyone was calm when we arrived. The resident had taken his medication before we arrived and the caregivers did not want to press charges. Jim and his partner talked to the resident and made sure he understood what could happen to him and what his caregivers did not want to happen to him. The caregivers were told what their options were.

As we left to cruise the streets, an accident report came across the radio. Jim checked the location and radioed that we were on our way. Both cars had been driven to the side of the road and a fire truck was blocking one lane until the police arrived. No injuries, just lots of glass shards covering four lanes of traffic and broken automobile parts dangling from both vehicles. Jim’s partner began interviewing one of the drivers and Jim spoke with the other driver. They checked both vehicles for damage, talked with witnesses, and checked the scene of the accident. They told both drivers how accidents were handled in Sacramento, to contact their insurance agents, and gave them each cards with information to obtain police records in about two weeks. We stayed at the scene until both vehicles were towed.

In some parts of this sector, the houses and building windows are covered with bars to keep intruders out. Some businesses hire armed and unarmed security companies to patrol their business to keep them and their customers safe. Other parts of the same sector have older, well maintained homes, the lawns groomed, and large shade trees line the streets. It was while patrolling through one of these neighborhoods that Jim noticed an older Ford Bronco with a missing front plate. Jim ran the rear plate and found that it was registered to someone on parole. As the vehicle pulled into a driveway, Jim radioed in his location, told me to stay in the patrol car as he approached the vehicle with his hand on his gun. At this moment I looked at the situation sitting there in the car realize that my child is all grown up and ready to draw a gun if need be. Technology is so sophisticated in today’s world, but it still has glitches, like the couple of seconds the dispatchers couldn’t hear Jim on his radio and you can hear them calling out to him. It was strange to hear my son’s voice over the radio letting dispatch know he was okay and his partner had arrived. She immediately stood to one side of Jim, backing him up with her hand on her gun ready to draw if needed. The driver was asked to exit the vehicle and was then handcuffed and searched. A small plastic bag was found in one pocket which was secured as evidence and the suspect was put in the patrol car. His car was searched for drugs and no warrants came back on the driver. His driver’s license had expired and Jim confiscated it, and his registration was out of date. Jim and his partner determined the amount of marijuana was less than the state codes for arrest and wrote citations for the other items and released the driver. The drugs were weighed, logged, and recorded for evidence, then sealed in envelopes with tamper-proof tape.

A call came in asking for back up for another accident. One officer was already at the scene and Jim and his partner both responded. The first officer was flagged down by a citizen to report an earlier hit and run accident when a second victim stopped to report another accident that had also happened earlier in the day. Jim took care of the second victim while his partner and the first officer tried to get all the details on the first call. #2 was taken care of and left just as a citizen approached the other two officers to report someone had abandoned a vehicle that looked like it had been in accident several blocks away and matched the description of the hit and run. We stayed with #1 while the other officers went to see if the car was still parked. They radioed that the victim should follow us to ID the car in question; and it was. So one accident that happens in another part of town #1, moves a few blocks down before the driver flees #2, the victim flags down an officer at another location several hours later #3, and then they find the hit and run car blocks away #4. What are the odds in a city this size and hours after an accident that you could find the other car? Well the only thing that might be stranger is that at an hour and a half after we had been on the scene and were about to finish up paper work with four officers working this accident, a car pulls up and the hit and run driver gets out and walks down the street and says, “I did it, I’m sorry.” So much for being through with this accident. The officers interviewed the driver, asked his family, who had come with him for support, to move back to their vehicle and tried to sort out all the details. The victim from the hit and run was overly excited that the police found the driver, and she sent her mother to bring her family to the scene. It could have been a volatile situation but both parties just wanted to get the facts sorted out and no one yelled or got angry. In the end it will be up to the insurance companies to sort out who did what to cause the accident and who will be responsible. It is not always black and white when you first look at something. You need to ask questions, and sometimes ask again, before you can see the bigger picture.

Well, most restaurants in this part of town are closed at 9:30 PM or had stopped taking orders. As Jim and his partner sat in a parking lot doing reports and seeing if they needed to respond to any other calls, it happened to be the same parking lot of the restaurant where we had planned to meet my nephew Mike and his wife, Tiffeny, for dinner earlier. Life as a police officer does not revolve around set schedules for dinner once you are out on the street. We said hello, gave a hug, and then we were off patrolling again. It was quiet for a Friday night so Jim asked permission to take a dinner break. We ordered a pizza which we took back to the station and shared with several other officers.

The last call of the evening was a citizen who was wandering around a parking lot and the security guard was worried about her. She didn’t seem to respond to Jim when he called her by name as he approached her and she looked dazed and lost. She didn’t want to go home; she didn’t have any money, no place to stay for the night, no family to call, and no more options. Jim’s partner tried talking to her but with the same conclusion. They couldn’t turn her lose and have her turn up as a missing person or worse. She didn’t want to talk about why she didn’t want to go home, so they had no choice but to send her to the mental health hospital. She had been on medication, but her insurance had not started before she ran out of medicine, and by the time the insurance began she had been off the medicine several weeks and was lost again in a world she couldn’t control. Since it was almost the end of our shift, someone from the graveyard shift transported the citizen to the hospital, again to save overtime in an ever tightening budget in not just California, but every city and state.

The evening ended as it began, with a woman in crisis but at very different levels of understanding and control of their world around them. As a Christian I found it very hard to think of women, children, and families all over the United States dealing with violence either by their hand or at the hand of someone else. Health care does not exist for a large majority of the population and without it they are caught in vicious circle that ends badly, in many instances. Police men and women have sworn to protect and help the communities they work in, and yet have to fight every day some of those same people who are looking for an easy way out.

My night on the streets was probably a typical night. No lights and sirens, no big drug busts, no shoot outs, or high speed chases, just the everyday struggles the people in these neighborhoods live with. This was just one ten hour shift in a four day work week for my son. I’m thankful I could share a few hours to see what his job and that of his fellow officers is like. They are everyday people, like everyone else, just trying to make a positive difference.

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