I’ve done it and you can too. It will change you forever.
Both the Gilroy Police Department and the Santa Clara Sheriff’s have ride along programs where you can do a shift with a cop and see first hand what they face. You will never look at police the same way.
I’ve done ride alongs with agencies across the area and I’ve also taken the Citizens Police Academy in Santa Cruz. My conclusion is that we expect the people in blue to be superhuman, but they are, like the rest of us, only human. Most of them, however, border on superhuman in the challenges they face every day and the way they resolve them peacefully.
When you consider that most of us get our information about policing from TV dramas where officers solve cases in a half an hour and do impossible things like shoot a bad guy in the arm to make them drop their gun, it’s easy to see that we often judge them much too harshly.
You can sign up for a 12-week, once-a-week course with Gilroy Police (info on the GPD website), an opportunity that I strongly recommend. In Santa Cruz I got to do a staged car chase, arrest “suspects” and shoot in the firing range.
The first thing you feel driving in a police car, is that it’s like you have a giant target on your back. There are plenty of people out there who hate police, and even though you are armed, you feel like a sitting duck. There’s virtually nothing to stop someone who hates cops and has access to one of the 315 million guns in America from taking a shot. Cops told me they don’t feel like that, but as a civilian sitting in that car, I sure did.
The second thing you learn is that police training is incredibly difficult. You will fail often. Do one of their drills where they have to figure out if they are shooting at an innocent or a bad guy, a real life video game, and you realize it takes Olympian skill and judgment to make the right call. It’s much easier to Monday morning quarterback those situations.
The next thing you realize is that many of the people you stop are rude and think you are in the wrong, even when it’s clear they are. A good half the people you stop greet you with malice, and frankly, many of them are people we don’t interact with in daily life. They are on drugs, they are criminals, they are violent and after spending a day with them and an officer, you will thank your lucky stars for the officers who deal with them every day.
On a Santa Cruz ridealong recently, I watch a 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound man attack the 5-foot-5-inch cop I was riding with, while yelling racial epithets at him. The officer asked the man to get off the sidewalk blocking access to a pizzeria; the man refused and got belligerent.
For a minute, I was scared for my life, but more scared for the officer. I thought the bigger man could easily grab his gun and things could get violent quickly. I was digging in, getting ready to help the officer if he needed it, when in the blink of an eye, the officer had the man down on the ground and handcuffed, like a martial arts master.
That was really superhero stuff. Even more amazing was the fact that the officer remained cool, calm and polite with the man, even when the man, an African American, was calling the officer, a Mexican-American who was once an undocumented immigrant, a “wetback” and using worse terms to provoke him.