I Spent Five Hours In A Cop Car
By: Wayne Groome
….not as an invited guest, but as a willing participant. Being a graduate of last year’s Citizen Police Academy, I remembered what an adrenaline rush it was to ride along with an on-duty police officer. The upcoming academy will introduce this year’s students to ten weeks of police information and law, plus ride-alongs, dispatch department visits and building clearing techniques. That is where they train you with dummy firearms to clear rooms in city hall. For make believe, that was stressful.
I asked for and received permission to ride with officer Rudy Solano when it was convenient for both of us. I featured Officer Solano in the “Police Profile” series I wrote earlier this year for this paper. Solano, like the rest of my profiled subjects, impressed me with his knowledge of the law, his take on how to be a good cop and his dedication to being an educator as well as an enforcer.
I met Rudy at the beginning of his shift last Friday night, at which time he was uniformed up. It takes preparation to be on duty: uniform, bulletproof vest, small flashlight, firearm (45 caliber), taser gun, hand-held radio, asp (a telescoping baton), pepper spray, package of plastic gloves and two sets of hand cuffs. In all, 35 pounds of equipment is attached to a midsection belt.
Each item is strategically placed on his belt so he does not have to think where it is. He may need lightning-reflex reaction to retrieve any one of them.
I signed my release, absolving the Police Department and the town from any responsibility for my safety and followed Officer Solano to his 2008 Dodge Charger police vehicle. At this point, each officer on duty must check all equipment on the car he is to operate that shift. A visual walk around for dents and scratches; check the radio, on-board computer and audio visual camera (positioned on the dash); test the radar’s calibration at least twice and all the fancy lights. Everything checked out and so did we.
Riding in a cop car as an observer is thrilling in itself, but actually being on site for a law infraction brings a sobering dimension to the experience. I stayed car-bound during our three traffic stops.
Rudy emphasized that the traffic stop is the most dangerous aspect of the job because the officer has no prior information for a normal stop. He does not know who or what is in the vehicle he has pulled over. He has no idea of the temperament of the occupant or whether there is contraband or guns on board. He does not know if the people inside the vehicle are naughty or nice, so he has to have his wits about him for his own good, as well as those he stopped and anyone in the near vicinity.
I observed Rudy on all three stops to be polite, respectful and very much aware of his total surroundings. I quizzed him on one stop and he gave me a complete run-down of the vehicle, its driver, the people across the street and where the traffic was. He instantly sized up the situation and knew what he was going to do under any circumstance. This technique comes with training and experience, but it shows you what stress comes with the job. Cops are human, stress is real and must be managed by the individual officer. His personal stress cannot interfere with his professional way of doing his job.
The next most dangerous call for a cop is domestic disputes. They are usually racked with emotion from both parties, who are often acting out their frustrations. Even though someone has called in a complaint, frequently they will not formalize that complaint. Domestic calls are best handled with a back-up officer.
Ah, but the fun of the night was bar hopping with Officer Solano. We hit all three night clubs in Estes and did a casual walk-through, talking to patrons and the management. Just checking to make sure all was well. Solano’s eyes took in everything and everyone. Of course, he knew the regulars and gladly conversed with them. I kept a smile on my face but watched how individuals responded to the uniformed presence. Virtually all were cool with Rudy’s appearance, except one young man who appeared nervous and quietly exited. Rudy had arrested this fellow twice before and I’m sure that the young man’s recollections of those times encouraged him to put distance between himself and us.
As the evening went on, we cruised the backs of downtown shops, as well as the shopping centers, mini warehouses, apartment complexes, Good Samaritan and various town neighborhoods. Rudy was checking on suspicious behavior, unlocked doors, strange autos and unusual appearance of people, buildings, cars, etc. Officer Solano pointed out homes and vehicles of people he knew, not necessarily the bad guys.
The five hours spent with Rudy Solano was interesting and informative. He displayed enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication for his job, all the time being pleasant with a smile on his face and had a non-judgmental attitude. But make no mistake, he knew his job and would not be afraid to flex his officer-of-the-law muscles if he had to. I came away from this experience feeling good about my rapport with Rudy and that I was safe at all times while in his company.
Next year’s Academy is coming up on January 12, and I strongly recommend that you take the course and find out for yourself how good our cops are. You can register at the police station or call Amanda Nagl, Community Services Manager at 577-3822. If you want the experience, I would register now because the classes are usually restricted to thirty people.