Me in front of the 5th Precinct Station House, Mpls MN 12/12/14
(Yes, this is the police station that wanted to look more like a police station, so I suggested they put a tardis out front.)
Let's not bury the lede: The four-hour ride along was uneventful, involving more paperwork than crime stopping.
I met up with Officer Bevan "Butch" Blauert in the 5th Precinct station house a block from my apartment. After scouring the computerized monitor in his car to see if anything needed immediate attention or wasn't already being handled, we… went to lunch. We were joined by a police buddy of his, who talked shop and waved at police from a difference precinct meeting at the Green Mill. Just like every blue collar crew I've ever worked with as a contractor. Both cops were 20+ year veterans of the force.
One screen of the monitor in Officer Blauert's patrol car. "Assigned units" are the patrol cars dispatched to the incident.
I did ask a few questions. Neither wanted to be quoted on Twitter, because their views were too deep for 140 characters. I hope I can summarize one discussion here, from memory:
To a large extent, the police (and the criminal justice system) exist to protect the rights of criminals. With no trusted law enforcement institution, any crime -- large or small, true or falsely accused -- could be met with lynching, property destruction or threats to the family of suspected (not proven) bad guys. And the powerful protected. Knowing that a criminal can be caught by the police and tried by an objective court means that victims don't take the law into their own hands. The system doesn't work perfectly, but it works far better than the lawless Old West.
After lunch, we handled one of the incidents that came up on Butch's screen. An accident at 50th and France. A delivery truck hit a smaller car as the truck was turning into an alley and the car tried to pass on the left. No one was hurt and the damage to the car could be repaired. The truck wasn't damaged. Butch took statements from the two parties involved and got the number of a witness who wasn't there.
Not surprisingly, the two parties had different takes on who was to blame. Butch patiently made sure everyone was off the street while he assessed the situation and took information. When the dust settled, the truck was allowed to continue its delivery route (nearly two hours behind schedule) and the car was determined to be drivable to a repair shop.
Then the paperwork. The computer in the car could handle much of the routine paperwork. Ah, but not all of it, and one of the apps didn't want to open. Officer Blauert and I returned to the 5th Precinct to finish the paperwork. This was more than just writing up the incident. It involved making a map (really, a diagram not to scale) at the point of impact. And calling the witness (who wasn't home) and clearing up a few details. All while keeping an ear on the radio.
This took a while. Police not only have to be on their toes as all time, keep their eye on action happening 360° around them while listening to the police monitor, they have to be computer geeks. They don't use paper forms anymore, though they had some at the station. It's all on computers. This is a good thing, as the flow of information in all directions helps ensure transparency and a timely outcome. Again, not perfect, but good and getting better.
After this, Butch took me on what was listed on the monitor as "Foot Beat". Harkening back to the "constable on patrol" days. Few cops know their territory, but every shop we went into around Lake & Hennepin knew him by name, and were happy to see him.
And then the shift was over.
The four hours zipped by. Butch apologized for an uneventful ride along. A few more things happening might have been interesting, but I was just as happy to avoid nastier incidents and to see how ordinary the job was. Usually. I might do another ride along in warmer weather, if they'll have me.
Me and Officer Blauert in front of his patrol car after the shift 12/12/14
1) Whenever you see a science fiction convention covered on tv, you mainly see people in costumes or a panorama of the Dealers Room. Which is not what most of the people reading this actually do at cons. Most people see the visual, easily explained, portion of the event. Rarely is a panel shown (and if so, very briefly), or the consuite or the parties at night. You never see coverage of hotel check in or waiting for the elevator (unless it broke down).
Similarly, what you see on tv about police work is just the visuals, just the sound bites. Cops have to be ready for anything, and too often what they're not prepared for is the glare of a tv camera. They do their jobs under difficult circumstances. More and more, they have to be geeks as well as lawmen.
We didn't discuss recent events, though we briefly touched on transparency (we're both in favor). I've dealt with many of the cops in my neighborhood. With power comes responsibility. With freedom comes vigilance. No one's perfect, but it takes skill and training to be a good cop. They know what they're doing. I trust the guys doing a hard job under trying circumstances far more than the ammosexuals who make treasonous threats against government officials and think the government is coming to take all their guns. They couldn't take all your guns: too much paperwork.
2) Since I didn't know what to expect, I set up Twitter and took my camera and my iPhone. Tweeted along the way, but not a lot. I still don't get Twitter; it keeps indicating a notification but I never can find what it's notifying me about. And I keep seeing retweets, and few tweets from the few people I follow. Mostly, I ignore it. Might go to Instagram, which has more members than Twitter and is more photography based.
XMas tree at the 5th Precinct. Designed by Sgt. Smulski, according to the desk officer.
See also my public Facebook gallery on our visit to the Strategic Information Center.