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The other night I had the privilege to do a “Ride-Along” with an Indianapolis Police Department officer in the southeastern district of the city. The night gave me a newfound respect for the public servants who work every night to keep us safe.
I showed up at the roll-call station a little after 9pm on Friday night. Because I was riding during the “late shift,” I knew that we would be out the whole night. With a cup of coffee in my stomach, I stifled a few yawns and sat in the waiting room until my ride-along officer was ready.
Finally, we got rolling. Officer Matthew and I drove around a bit, introducing ourselves and waiting for the radio to announce our first crisis. After a brief stop in Starbucks, we finally got a call. Domestic disturbance. Apartment complex.
We showed up at the apartment around 11:45pm. Matthew encouraged me to join him, so the two of us walked up to the door and knocked. I was ready for anything… half expecting a shootout or a manhunt or something.
Greeting us at the door was a twenty-something Hispanic girl and her very worried mother. The girl explained that her ex-boyfriend was “jealous” that she had received a ride home from another guy. He had broken the other guy’s car mirror and threatened her.
We went over to the ex’s next-door apartment and knocked. Nobody answered the door. We went back to the girl and Matthew asked her what she wanted us to do. “Nothing, I guess.” was her response.
As we went back to the car, I was thinking, “Wow. Now that was uneventful.” I started to worry, thinking the whole night would be just as anti-climactic.
We started to pull out of the apartment complex when a new call came on the radio. Car accident with injuries. The dispatcher gave the location.
“Wait,” said Officer Matthew, “that’s right…”
Right there, immediately outside the entrance to the apartment complex, was the accident. We were the first on the scene.
It was a DUI. A 26 year old girl, drunk after a wedding reception, had been driving her husband’s pickup truck past the apartment complex when a van started to pull in. Attempting to swing into the left lane to pass, she overcompensated and drove straight into oncoming traffic.
The car that hit her was a white sedan, sitting smashed and crumpled at the bottom of a shallow ditch when we arrived. The driver and passenger of that car were lying on the embankment, in pain from abdominal injuries caused by their seat belts.
Not wanting to get in the way, I sat in the car and watched as emergency vehicles came rushing to the scene. Within 10 minutes of the crash, the road was jam packed with four or five other police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance.
Everyone jumped right into their jobs the moment they arrived. The firemen piled out of their truck and began tending to the wounded passengers of the white car, the ambulance crew set up a stretcher and stabilized the more severely wounded passenger.
The whole time, Officer Matthew took statements from the drivers, ran driver’s license numbers through his computer and searched the area with his flashlight for the point of impact.
To say I was impressed would be an understatement. These people were good at their jobs. Efficient. Even the tow-truck guy loaded up both totaled vehicles in only 10 minutes, despite one car being down in a ditch…
Just one hour after the accident occurred, the wrecked cars were gone, the debris was swept from the road and all four lanes of traffic were back open. Amazing.
After leaving the scene, Officer Matthew and I headed over to the closest police station, where the DUI driver was being prepared for her night of sobering up in jail. As a first time offender, she was understandably devastated.
Before the ride-along, I had never really thought about just how severe the consequences of a DUI could be. And I’m not just referring to the fines and driving probations and jail time. As I watched the girl come to grips with her situation, I saw someone dealing with cold, hard guilt.
More than a few times during our hour in the station, she shook her head and said, “I could have killed somebody tonight.”
As we walked out of the station, I reflected on what I had just seen. With one bad decision, this girl (who is the same age as me!) had changed her life forever. I mulled over this thought as we got back in the car.
The next few hours of the ride-along were pretty much uneventful. At one point we “helped” the Fire Department enter a building in response to a fire (in other words, we watched as they breached the door), but it turned out to be a false alarm. Hope the store owner had insurance!
Our final call of the night was a bit strange. First, we were told that there was a drunk man walking in the middle of a street a couple of blocks away, but when we got there, we didn’t see anyone.
A bit later, someone else called to say that they had seen a drunk man walking in the street. Again, we drove to the address, but again we saw nothing.
Finally, the drunk man himself called 911 saying that he had been mugged and that the assailant had taken $200 from his wallet. This time, we actually found him.
The man was standing outside of a bar, staring out at the street with a vacant expression on his face. His head was bloody from a nasty looking gash, and he had trouble stringing cohesive thoughts together.
Officer Matthew talked with him and tried to get the full story. As they talked, I felt more and more sorry for the guy. Sure, it seemed like the “mugging” was little more than a drunken tussle with a friend, but he was obviously dealing with some major psychological issues as well.
Several times over the next 45 minutes (as we waited for the paddy wagon to arrive to take him to the hospital) he walked out into the street, trying to be hit by a car. The poor guy was suicidal.
Finally, after he was taken to the hospital to get help, we got into the car and drove back to the station. The night was over. I shook Officer Matthew’s hand, got into my own car and drove back to my host home.
At 5:45am, I crawled into bed, reflecting on all that I had just learned and experienced. Before falling asleep, I had two major realizations.
First, I realized that all of this, from taking care of domestic disturbances to protecting car accident victims to keeping things peaceful… All of it happens every single night. As I sleep comfortably in my bed, there is a whole army of public servants keeping me safe. Firemen, EMTs, the police…
I have a newfound respect for the sacrifices these public servants make every day. Night after night they expose themselves to danger. All while I sleep in my bed. Wow.
The second major realization I had was this: We are extraordinarily lucky to live in a place with such incredible public services. In many countries of the world, a disciplined police force or trustworthy fire department are nothing more than dreams.
Yet again I am humbled to know that I have lived my whole life taking something for granted that the majority of people in the world will never, ever have. Public safety.
These thoughts kept me up for a few minutes, but it wasn’t long before sleep got the better of me. When I finally drifted off, it was 6am.
And while I slept, the sun came up, and the morning shift began…
- Go on a ride-along yourself. You'll be surprised at how much you learn!
- Thank the next public safety professional you meet for their selfless service.
- Pray for the work of your local police department. Pray that they will continue to bring peace and safety to your area.
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.