Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cop-Proof CRB Part 6 Ride-Alongs

Police departments are quick and happy to charge citizens with being under-educated with respect to the details of police work in an effort to discourage the formation of citizen-run oversight panels. Once again donning their curly wool coats, police in Oakland, BART, Memphis, Antioch, Portland, Jacksonville, Mount Pleasant, and many more, constantly invite citizens for a ride-along, assuming most will fold rather than call. If you are a taxpayer who doesn’t like your PD, CALL! If you want to be part of a working, successful Citizen Review Board, get your board together and take that ride along. But when you do, insist upon the following and settle for nothing less-------

Police Department Ride-Alongs

· Determine all automotive enhancements added to the body, engine, etc

· Identify all communication devices in the car

· Identify additional weaponry not carried as part of the uniform

· Route designation and timing

· Observe a complete police call from arrest to court

Introduce and Explain To the Member

A ride-along is the essential cornerstone of all early Citizen Review work, both for the individual Members themselves and the review board as a whole. Members must see firsthand, what a cop on duty does on a given shift.

A good ride-along needs to start with a tour of the exterior of the police vehicle, with special attention given to anything not normally found on a civilian’s vehicle of comparable make, model and year. Armor added to the body, strengthened glass, special tires, added equipment such as roll bars and the like, larger engines capable of greater speeds, all should be noted.

The interior should be observed with even more care. Computers, satellite devices, all audio and video equipment as well as any other communicative additions need to be viewed and understood by the Member as to their scope and use. Members need to ask as many questions as possible before and during the ride-along, and all answers from the police employee on duty must be totally honest and forthcoming especially with regard to recording devices. Copious notes should be taken, and a small, personal audio tape recorder should accompany the Member on the ride.

What weaponry is carried in the vehicle that is not a normal part of the employee uniform? Is this weaponry part of the everyday use of the patrol car? How is it accounted for and how often? Was there training in the application and maintenance of each weapon? Must the use of these weapons be reported to the PD before use or after use or not at all?

Nuts and Bolts During the Ride

Inquiry should be made about route choices and timing. Member must determine if a cop makes up a route as he goes along or if it is pre-defined. If the PD assigns it according to citizen’s request total time spent on that area must be noted, and if not, observation must be made as to how many streets are covered, and how often on a one shift. Member should document how many radio messages are sent and received, and exactly what they mean. If a received message causes a change in the patrol route, record why. Member must keep track of sent messages, and why they were sent. In short, every move the police employee makes needs to be explained to the satisfaction of the Member. And Member---take notes.

Follow-up To Conclusion

A successfully completed ride-along must include one police call resulting in an arrest, with follow-thru to a holding cell or jail and paperwork. If the use of force, personal or weapon related, occurs, all dash cam tapes will be retained by the Member, (more on audio and video recordings later). Any documentation of weapon use will be observed by the Member and must be copied upon their request.

The arrestee’s first court appearance and police testimony must be witnessed by the Member, with special attention given to the physical condition of the defendant. Printed or tape recorded proof of if, when, and how the arrestee was questioned, how his rights were explained, and if his rights as he chose to exercise them were carried out must be documented and supplied, without redaction, to the Member. It must be emphasized that the ride along must extend to the very end of the citizen’s experience with their law enforcement employee for the Member to get the whole picture.


A ride along is not the time for criticism or judgment by the Member. It is a fact-finding and information collecting experience only. Members must be especially attuned to that fact and refrain from any display of conclusions or opinions. Police cars equipped with an internally aimed dash cam should have the cam running throughout the ride, with tapes becoming the property of the CRB. After the completed ride along by each Member, all notes, personal recordings and dash-cam tapes must be collected upon exiting the police car, retained by the Member and archived by the Citizen Review Board for later review and training with new Members.

These and other measures need to be established right up front to make a true review board work and worth having. Without a solid foundation from which to build, a Citizen Review Board will never be cop-proof, and will certainly fail. A CRB is about taxpayer control over the police department, insuring that the PD and every police employee in it will do all and only what the citizens expect in return for their money. Next is Member homework.

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