What You’ll See from the Passenger Seat

by Safety Connection

I went on an MPD ride-along this week, and a call that simply started out with some malfunctioning traffic signals at a busy west side intersection quickly turned into so much more.

An officer responded to the call to check out the flashing lights, and when he was turning around in a nearby parking lot, he spotted a stolen car that had been involved in previous crimes. The dispatcher asked if he wanted a second officer to join him (because while the windows were tinted, he was pretty sure he could see a man sleeping inside). He told the dispatcher “yes” and the officer I was with was just a few blocks away, so we quickly joined the first officer as his back-up unit.

This was an extremely dangerous call for the patrol officers (more officers eventually arrived plus a sergeant) who surrounded the vehicle. I don’t want to give away their tactical particulars (but BOY are they patient and do such a great job of using verbal commands before weapons at all costs).

The suspect instead decided to make a poor decision and escape which involved backing up toward officers and then speeding across the vast front lawn of an apartment complex. He took out an apartment light pole and jumped the curb to the city street and sped away. On 4 flat tires. He made it many, many blocks before losing control of the car on a quiet residential street where he first side-swiped a parked car before smashing into the back of a parked truck (so thankfully, both vehicles were unoccupied).

He fled on foot (with a witness saying she thought she may have seen a weapon in his hand). The pursuit was on within moments which soon included a K9 and a drone. I counted at least a dozen MPD officers, a DCSO Deputy, 2 FBI agents and an MPD special investigator all tending to this incident at one point (plus there were 3 different areas to cover and there may have been more officers I didn’t see).

MPD Forensics Services Vehicle

The reports/charges this incident generated, plus the canvassing of witnesses and looking for the weapon and taking photos and collecting video took multiple officers HOURS to complete. All while making sure the victims and witnesses (and even the suspect) were okay.

At one point the foot pursuit track through backyards went cold, but one of the K9 officers insisted that the K9 was indicating that the suspect did not leave the area. The officers decided the suspect was either still there hiding or had gotten a ride. The officer I was with was about to canvass some of the witnesses in our spot (several blocks over from the search) when a frantic shout came out over the radio saying officers had located the man. We (with other units close behind) went flying to that location and arrived within a minute, just in time for me to see another officer I know arrest the man, read him his rights and ease him into the back of his squad car.

The MPD K9 was bouncing around and barking excitedly as officers were telling each other how the man was found in an empty city trash cart (again very dangerous because they didn’t know if he had a weapon with him under that cart lid). All of this took place in a quiet cul-de-sac on the west side with neighbors in their jammies looking out of their windows wondering what on earth was going on.

The more officers you have, the more options you have to slow down a chaotic scene like this and make smart, informed choices about how to resolve it peacefully. Remember that at budget time when you hear from naysayers that MPD has too many officers and a bloated budget. They do not. This one call took almost half the police resources in the city for a good chunk of the morning, and from the sound of the scanner, there were many other calls going on at the same time requiring officers to respond.

I chatted with one of the K9 officers during a lunch break and learned about everything I missed before my officer and others arrived at the arrest scene. The whole thing from start to finish sounds like a movie playing out in real life. And again, most people in our city will have no clue that any of this happened. It didn’t make the news—it’s just another day in the life of our police department and our city.

This is not my first ride-along, but I’m scared to go on one every single time. I’m sensitive to violent movies and I freak out in hospitals and at the sight of blood. And even though I was getting to know some officers through our Good Neighbor Project several years ago now, it took me 2 years just to be brave enough to ask one for a ride-along (and then I didn’t sleep at all the night before worried about all the things that I might see or experience).

Well, I got broken in quickly. My first ride-along several years ago involved an attempted suicide-by-cop call that was also resolved peacefully and led to many officers (including the one I was with) getting awards for saving the suspect’s life.

An MPD squad at the scene of an incident

I’ve been in homeless shelters, a psych ward, detox, the jail plus the emergency trauma rooms of hospitals more times than I care to count. I’ve been on just about every type of police call including spending time with a homicide suspect at his apartment.

That’s probably not the best lead-in to encourage YOU to experience a police ride-along for yourself. But I believe there is no better way to see what’s really going on in our city every single day—in homes, apartments, businesses, parks, parking lots and on the streets. People hurting and hurting each other, suffering from abuse, and drugs, and mental illness, making poor choices or sometimes just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But then you’ll get see our smart, professional police officers caring for people—all people—and problem-solving and resolving some of the most chaotic or complicated or heartbreaking or even sometimes just goofy things you’ve ever seen in your life.

And then you’ll go home and think over what you’ve experienced for weeks, and maybe even months or years. But those police officers you spent time with on that single day will put on their uniform the NEXT day to face a whole different set of problems to solve and people to help (even those people who disrespect or hate them)—sometimes at the risk of their own lives.

I can never thank officers enough for what they do for us.

Now, go sign up for a ride-along and experience it yourself!

Printed with permission from a long-time Madison west side resident

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