I’ve established before that I have a healthy skepticism of the police. But with all the stuff that’s going down around the country, and Halloween weekend coming up, I decided now would be the perfect time to try to get the other side of the story.
Most towns and cities have some form of a civilian ride-along program. After a background check, you get to hang out with a police officer for a couple hours while they patrol the streets. I jumped through the hoops and signed up to do one in my college town. I got assigned to a younger officer I had once seen arresting one of my friends for urinating on bystanders off the library roof. Nice guy.
Officer: Okay, so basically, I don’t expect we’re going to get anything too crazy tonight. It’s Friday, so definitely some intoxication, underage drinking, maybe a drunk driver if we’re unlucky. Department rules are that if we get into something serious, you stay in the car. Got it?
Me: Sounds reasonable. Do I get a bulletproof vest?
Officer: No. What? What did I just say?
We hopped in the patrol car and cruised up the main bar crawl route. I guess some people call it “5th Street.”
Officer: I’m assigned to patrol College North, so I usually start around the student accommodations and the fraternity row area. It’s 8 p.m., so the noise complaints should start rolling in.
Me: Did you go to college?
Officer: Yeah I did. I was an English major.
Me: Were you ever in a fraternity?
Officer: Believe it or not, I was for a little while. I grew up in this town, but went to school at [another school farther south]. They made me the Risk Manager, (laughs). I thought I was a pretty good one too. I ended up quitting after I decided I wanted to be a police officer.
Me: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen on the job?
Officer: Oh hands down, one night we responded to a breaking and entering, and then we get the call from dispatch that a body had been discovered at the residence. The caller believed his girlfriend was dead. It turned out the caller was the guy breaking and entering. He was so drunk he was barely coherent, and thought he had smashed a window to get into his house. Actually, he broke into a house across the street, and the guy who lived there had this terrifying, anatomically-realistic sex doll. It was doesn’t get much stranger than that.
We see a group of about 5 or 6 freshman girls stumbling from the dorms toward Greek Row. It’s getting to be about mid-Fall now, and I’m definitely wearing a thick jacket. These girls are not. The officer cruises by them real slowly. As we pass, one of them pulls what looks like a bottle out of her purse and throws it into the bushes.
Officer: Hold on.
He flips on the lights and pulls over to the curb. He radios in a bunch of codes I only recognize from watching COPS and several of my brothers’ dash cam videos from, uh, ‘previous incidents.’ He steps out of the car and waves at the girls. The heels they are wearing can’t even pretend to allow escape.
Girl 1: Hello, officer.
Officer: Evening ladies. Have we been drinking tonight?
Girl 2: No officer. Just two beers.
Girl 1: Kelsey! God!
Officer: Let’s see some IDs please.
Girl 1: We’re 21, officer.
The other girls nod. He looks them over.
Officer: If I were you, I’d rethink that statement you just made.
Girl 1: Why?
Officer: In this state, lying to a police officer is considered a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $6,250 fine and up to a year in jail.
Girl 1: Shit!
They hand over their IDs. Obviously, none of them are 21.
Officer: I’m going to be writing you all a citation for minor in possession of alcohol tonight.
Girl 3: That’s not fair! You can’t even prove we were drinking!
Officer: By your own admission, one of your group said you had several beers. I watched one of you pitch an empty bottle into the bushes.
He takes less than a minute to pull the discarded Bacardi pint from the base of the bush. He opens it up and sniffs it.
He bags the bottle up and puts it back in the car.
Officer: In addition, one of you lied to me about your age, at which point the rest of you responded in the affirmative by nodding. I could charge you all with giving false information to a peace officer under [state statutes]. Trust me, an MIP is going to be a lot less painful.
Girl 3: Fuck! I’m on the track team!
Officer: I’d recommend returning home at this point. Have a good night, ladies. Please try to stay out of trouble.
We got back in the patrol car.
Me: Do you guys intentionally target college students? How much money is five MIPs for the department? Like $3,000?
Officer: We don’t target college students. But we have a job to do, and that’s protect and serve the citizens of this town. The problem with college students is that you guys need a lot more protecting than most other groups. The upside is that it’s usually very obvious, and early interventions like this have the potential to do a lot of good in the long run. MIPs carry diversion opportunities, one might not even go on your record. We give them out to keep kids from getting into more dangerous situations. Hopefully those girls will think about some of the choices they made tonight. With how intoxicated they already were, this early in the night, we could have prevented something much worse from happening.
The rest of the night was uneventful. We shut down two loud parties, including one at one of my own live outs (Sorry, Dobbs) and gave out a couple more MIPs to meandering freshmen.
Me: What would you want to say to the college students of America, if you could?
Officer: I badly wish that you guys would stop being so stupid. I know, I was there once, it’s not something you really see until you reach the other side. But looking back, the behaviors you engage in at that time in your life are so risky and dangerous.
Me: What if that’s the way you like it and you’re never going to change?
Officer: Oh, try not to get caught..