Photos courtesy of Kayla Ebner
The driver of the navy blue SUV pulled over for speeding in a residential area in Warren probably did not care who was holding the radar gun, only that she got off with a warning.
Little did she know, it was a college student who had used the radar gun while accompanying Officer Randy Bryant for a ride–along for three hours one night in early March. A ride–along is an experience in which members of the public can join a police officer during their shift and observe what they do.
The Warren Police Department offers between 20 and 40 ride-alongs per year, which include students from Roger Williams University, said Deputy Chief Joseph Loiselle.
“[We usually take] students becoming police officers and the public to gain a better understanding on what [police officers] actually do,” Loiselle said. “It can allow a better understanding and can break misconceptions.”
One of these misconceptions is the belief that officers are committed to fulfill an assigned quota of tickets, when that is not so. Warren Officer Daniel McLaughlin, who took several RWU students on ride-alongs, recently gave several motorists warnings instead of a ticket.
“I don’t like to assign tickets over small things,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t like to ruin people’s days.”
A ride–along is required for RWU students completing the News 1 course. The requirement was introduced to the school by Associate Professor of Journalism Michael Scully, drawn from his previous teaching experience at Ithaca College where he had his students complete the same requirement.
“You can see the human side of law enforcement and how complicated it can get,” Scully said when explaining the reasoning behind the assignment.
Scully continued to point out that almost every front-page news story revolves around some sort of law enforcement. Students gain motivation and hope for their future as a journalist, while others find their passion calls in uniform. Most of all, perspective can be developed upon a first-hand account.
Today, we need that sort of insight and understanding more than ever. Why? As cases of what make headlines.
“I think there is a disconnect with law enforcement and the media, and many people’s perception of what they do on a day to day basis comes from television,” said Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakely.
Community and breaking down barriers: both are common themes. Both are reasons why the police departments of Tiverton and Warren offer ride–along opportunities.
But this requirement raises a question on the feasibility of finding a department that will take students, as some departments do not offer ride-alongs.
In the case of Portsmouth police, ride-alongs are only allowed for internships or for those participating in the 10-week Citizens Police Academy Course. Smithfield police only offer the opportunity for internships and the Explorer Program, which is mainly high school students in the area.
When asked why police ride-alongs were not open for the public, Smithfield Sgt. Gregg L. Catlow II said it could be due to liability and that the department does not want to be inundated with requests.
“We wouldn’t want to limit one person but not another,” Catlow said.
Catlow said too many ride-alongs might inhibit officers on duty from doing their job fully in high-risk situations.
The stations that hold ride–along opportunities do require paperwork to be filled out, along with a waiver for liability that participants need to sign. Tiverton police require participants to don body armor and wear a bulletproof vest. Participants are required to follow guidelines while on the ride–along as well.
“I had to wear a seatbelt at all times. I was only allowed to exit the vehicle if I was given permission. I couldn’t touch the equipment in the car, and I had to stay in separate rooms at the station when they were transferring the individual they arrested,” said RWU sophomore Rosalita Capoldo, who completed a ride–along assignment with the Warren police on Thursday, March 9 for the News 1 class requirement.
Well, RWU, time to take a seat shotgun in a police car and learn about the human under the uniform and the risks of that uniform. Time to challenge misconceptions.
“The job can get lonely,” Warren’s Officer McLaughlin said, “…so having the company of another person is always nice compared to the hours spent alone.”