I like taking ride-alongs with
the police, and I think you should too. Below is my report about a
ride-along I participated in in Lenexa, Kansas.
August 3, 2007
On my 7
PM to 11 PM ride-along with the
police that ended a few hours ago I
witnessed and to the tiniest of extents participated in what I regard, in my
ever-growing experience with these ride-alongs, as a pretty interesting episode.
In an early conversation my cop of eight years' experience told me that in
his first four years, in Mississippi, there weren't quite so many rules, you
didn't have to take quite so much attitude from bad guys, and maybe
sometimes justice got meted out a bit earlier in the stream of due process
than what you would expect in, say, Lenexa, Kansas. He agreed that he would
rank KCMO PD's real-life, on-the-ground policies as somewhere between
Mississippi's and Lenexa's in terms of how much you'd want all your words
and actions as a cop recorded for later scrutiny. When we got in the
car, one of the first things he did was explain that, unless he told me
different, we should assume that all our words in fact were being recorded
by microphones, and all our actions in front of the car were being recorded
by the little TV camera next to the inside mirror, which they were.
Even the radio on his shoulder could be set to record every sound all the
time and broadcast it to the car.
You see such real-life recordings on television shows like "Cops," and I am
here to tell you that compared to all the segments of that show I've seen
over the years, the episode I was about to observe would make the top ten,
except it wouldn't all fit in the half-hour time slot.
Shortly after we had sat down to have a quick bite at a strip-mall
restaurant, a call I couldn't read came in to my cop's radio. He stood up abruptly and
said to me, "We have to get away from here. I'll tell you why later," and we
whooshed out the door and into the car and out a back driveway. It turns out
my cop's car had been spotted by an undercover detective who was about to
make a drug buy at Tanner's, a bar a few doors down, and they didn't want any
black-and-whites in the area, for obvious reasons.
We cruised off towards my cop's district. It's by far the smallest in terms
of geography, and that's because it's by far the largest in terms of crime. He says it's the "best" of the districts to patrol. There's one such car per
district, plus one rover, so seven cops and seven cars in all,
plus however many are at the station.
On the way
he tells me about an incident from a few months before in which their
SWAT team decided to break into a well-barricaded drug dealer's house by
placing an explosive charge around the door, apparently quite a large
charge. Somehow someone forgot to tell my guy, so he blithely
pulls up in his car right in front of the house just as the bomb
explodes. Although shaken, he is uninjured, and a few seconds
later he sees all the other cops rushing to the house. He sets his
radio to PA and yells, knowing neighbors might be listening, "Whiskey
Tango Foxtrot!?" Get it?
The radio tells my cop that someone at a particular address has called 911
and then hung up. He makes a few turns to head off in that direction and we
chat a bit more. The radio then says something I can't catch, and all of a
sudden my cop hits the lights and siren.
The hang-up caller has managed to call back to report an "ongoing domestic
dispute with injuries." The dispatcher who received this 911 call tells my
cop she heard sounds of violence over the phone.
My cop drives about as fast as you can and still stay within a reasonable
margin of safety. He hits the straightaways at full speed, and he takes the
corners right up to the point of skidding. He's very good at it, and
it's miles of fun for me, of course. He operates a specially loud
siren at certain intersections to clear traffic even faster, and he just
generally transports us from point A to point B as fast as you can while
ground-bound. Of all the cop cars that eventually show up there, we arrive
at Point B first, an apartment building in a Section 8 complex called
Westminster, and a few onlookers have already gathered, drawn by the sounds
from the apartment.
My cop is the kind I like on a ride-along. He had already told me that
unless he literally dropped me off "several blocks away" from a scene to
keep me safe, I could do pretty much anything I wanted. I should point
out that by this time I've told him I'm an experienced ride-alonger, and
after recounting a few quick stories I convince HIM to trust my judgment. As another example,
when I happened to ask whether he minded my smoking when we were outside the
car he said, "Heck, it's not my car. You can smoke inside if you want to."
He was kidding, of course, but you get the idea. I liked Officer
Stu Roberts, and before the night is over I come to respect not only his
judgment but his bravery. Officer Roberts is exactly the sort of
police officer I want protecting me and my loved ones.
So when he runs and I walk up to the apartment and he grabs his gun and
crouches down way off to the side of the door, I decide my best move is to
stand right out in the open fifteen feet away. But my cop doesn't notice, or
probably care, because at this point he is yelling, "Open the door or I'll
kick it in." He is yelling this because of the ruckus and screaming from the
I see activity behind the side light of the door, the side away from my cop. A woman
claws the drape open, then it falls closed. The drape is slashed
again and there's more frantic activity, none of which my cop can see.
The next time the drape is swiped open -- by which time my cop has yelled a second
time, using the exact same words, "Open the door or I'll kick it in" -- I
realize the only person anyone looking through that side light can see is
me, not the cop. I shout to him, "There is someone at the door. They think
I'm you," and I skittle to my right to get out of sight of the front door. And by doing so I happen to see something my cop can't, which is a teenage
girl jumping out a first-floor window on the side of the building. She is
bawling and wild-eyed, careering barefoot towards me through a bed of dirt,
yelling something at me I can't understand. I yell at my cop, "There's a
girl running up to you," and point in her direction. Still, he yells a third
time, "Open the door or I'll kick it in." As she approaches I point her
towards my cop, and he waits till he sees her. The girl starts yelling,
"I'll open the door, I'll open the door." We still hear screaming and other
loud noises from inside the apartment, and I realize this has been going on
for at least the few minutes it took us to get here, which was probably half
a minute if not ten minutes or even twenty before the call to 911 was made.
The girl rushes up to the front door, and my cop is looking a bit frantic
himself. He's already pretty well occupied with monitoring the frenzy behind
the door, and now someone from the house comes racing at him from another
direction. But in a few moments it's clear the girl has the key to the door. My cop takes it from her and pushes her behind him. Quickly but warily he
unlocks the door and enters.
A few moments later he hurriedly escorts an older woman outside and says in
a calm voice, "Go stand with that gentleman over there," pointing at me. She
approaches me and I see there's blood on the front of her shirt. I learn
that the reason for the clawing at the drape was her trying to get the door
open and being stopped from doing so by her assailant.
The assailant, it turns out, is her own child.
My cop re-enters the apartment and only a few seconds later runs back out onto
the front lawn and says something into his radio.
Then he shouts at me, "40-year-old black male, 5 feet 4, white shirt," and
points behind me, meaning, "You go that way." (And this is
not even the first time a ride-along cop has asked me to circle a
building looking for a bad guy on the run.) My cop takes off running in one direction so I take off
running in the other. Only then do other cops start
to show up, and as they do they jump out of their cars and fan out all over.
They are not walking, they're running, and I can hear lots of radio
I enter the first building I see with an open door, walk the length of it
through the basement, find no one, and return to the scene of the brawl,
where I see the perp has been captured and is handcuffed behind the back in
the front lawn of the building.
A bit of history on the perp. Crackhead. Convicted forger. Released from
prison (not jail, mind you) only two weeks before, and already subject to
outstanding arrest warrants. A rap sheet literally longer than two of
your arms (I saw
it later at the police station). At 5 feet 4, looks to be about 200 pounds
and, according to one sergeant, "strong like a bull on crack."
As I get closer I realize the perp I'd been looking for is in fact a
female. As I said, the person who reported the crime was making little sense,
which is probably why my cop got the gender wrong, plus which I think you
tend to assume the typical domestic batterer is male.
Plus which, as it
turns out, the perpetrator is not exactly blessed with an excess of
femininely appearance characteristics. She looks like the offspring of a
bulldog and an ugly fire hydrant.
Whatever radio messages my cop sent out must have been urgent, because by
the time I get back to the scene of the crime there are three more cop cars. And a lot more neighbors scattered all over and around the parking lot. And
a few people who know the perp.
When I get close enough to hear, she is screaming at her mother, the woman
who had reported her to 911, the woman who was sent to stand next to me, calling her every ugly epithet you can think
of, including motherf****r (which if you think about would have made a lot more sense
if it had been her father). She wasn't screaming sentences, just ugly words
mixed in with "I hate you, I hate you." And I mean screaming loud. Throughout the entire episode she almost never spoke, she only
screamed. And she almost never stopped. Almost every word that left her mouth was
uttered at high volume, and I can guarantee you she is going to be really
hoarse in a few hours.
But beyond that, and much more significant, she is struggling violently to
break free from the cops who are restraining her. Within a few minutes of
her capture it becomes apparent that a "greater police presence" is needed,
not just because she is so violent but also because of the possibility the
ever-growing crowd will turn ugly. Within a few more minutes there will be
ten cops there. The last ones to arrive have to park out of sight because the parking
lot is already so full of black-and-whites.
The woman is supposed to be transported in my cop's car because he is the
"primary," meaning we got there first. So he's fighting with her, trying to
move her, and so are two other cops. She is screaming randomly at various
family members dispersed throughout the crowd.
Later more arrive.
Apparently someone in the family decided to start a phone tree about this
incident, so a lot of people the woman could scream at were present for
their share of very personal verbal abuse, almost all of it curse words. She
had an impressively large repertoire of ugly expressions, and she gave all of them a
thorough workout, most of them directed at the cops.
At one point I learn that the perp's mother
-- the one with the bloody shirt
who'd been told to stand next to me early on, if you remember -- has told the cops her daughter
is HIV positive, what these cops call "the HIV," pronounced to rhyme with
"give." My cop has not had a chance yet to put on gloves, because he's been
fighting to control her from the moment he tracked her down. The other cops eventually end up
literally taking turns wrestling with her, just like a tag team. In what
turns out to be the last time I speak to him, Stu and I are at the back of
his car so he can don some gloves. He says he couldn't get away to
glove up, and then he points to cuts on his hands and shakes his head.
Now wearing latex gloves and rested up a bit, he jumps back into the fray. The woman is still screaming at the cops and at various people she knows,
and she is still fighting against being put in the police car. It's been
maybe ten minutes at this point, which if you think about it is pretty
impressive for a five-foot four-inch woman handcuffed behind her back.
At one point someone in the crowd says something and the woman responds by
screaming, "I did not bite Nathan. I did not bite Nathan. I would never bite
my child, you [bad word], you [bad word]." Everyone in the crowd the woman
yells at yells right back, with equally coarse words and equally hateful
sentiments. The woman is making enemies and deepening enmities as fast as
Eventually the cops manage to get her into the backseat of my cop car (you'll
learn why I call it my car in a few paragraphs), with two people pushing
from the feet end and two pulling from the head end. As ferociously as she
had been fighting before, it was just as they were inserting her into the
car that she really ramped it up, becoming a veritable furball of fury. I
will also point out at this point that one of the things she was screaming
over and over was, "I can't go back," meaning she didn't want to go back
behind bars. She knew the cops knew about those arrest warrants.
Within a few seconds of the doors locking closed she begins banging her
HIV-infected, crack-infused, fear- and anger-drenched head against the
Plexiglass screen that keeps detainees separated from the front seat. She
bangs it as fast as she can, as hard as she can. And I mean she really rares
back and takes a full swing, banging it head on each time. The violence of
these self-destructive motions, and just the sheer noise of it, combined to
form a vivid image in my mind of how proud the inventor of Plexiglass would
But then the woman shifts around and starts banging her head into the left
rear window just as ferociously, and only then do the cops decide to remove
her. Not for her protection, mind you, but for the car's protection. They
didn't mind if she banged her head on the Plexiglass, because they knew she
couldn't hurt it, but they didn't want to have to replace a broken window. I
will also mention that the backseat of this particular car was well-suited
for crazy people or gross people, there being nothing more than a molded
plastic insert where you'd normally expect a package shelf and a bench seat
and a carpeted floor.
It's easy to remove her from my cop's car. They just open a door and
step back and wait for her to
spring out, which she does almost instantly, following which -- because she forgets she is
handcuffed behind her back -- she falls literally face-first onto the asphalt.
Imagine that your hands are tied behind your back and you have a choice
of several ways to exit the backseat of a vehicle. How often would
you choose the one that lands almost your entire weight of a couple
hundred pounds onto your face?
The screaming woman is not having a
She is rolled into a sitting position on the parking lot and she settles
down a bit, no doubt because she has concussed herself. She struggles
occasionally, she screams out at various people at random times, but she is
calmer than before. The cops' two goals at this point are to maintain
control of her and maintain control of the crowd, which by this time numbers
maybe thirty, a goodly portion of which seems to have a beef with the
Except this one lady named J.J. The crazy woman at one point yells, "J.J.,
help me, J.J., help me." To my surprise, J.J., who happened to be standing
right behind me, answers not with invective or foul language but with a
reasoned response delivered in a soothing voice: "There's nothing I can do." The crazy woman rises up against her captors and pleads again, in a piteous,
sobbing roar, and J.J. says in a solicitous voice, "Tell me what you want me
to do right now." The crazy woman is stumped for a good answer, so she
settles for more screamed curses, directed at J.J. and of course the cops
who are holding her firm to the ground. As before, they take turns holding
onto her and otherwise guarding her.
Unbeknownst to her, a paddy wagon has been called, and the cops are just
biding time till it arrives. The inside of a paddy wagon is invulnerable
everywhere to harm.
Another few minutes of screaming, some more occasional struggles, and the
paddy wagon pulls up, and that's when it becomes obvious to the woman that
she's going to jail after all. She rises up and starts to run, and the cops
form on her and try to gain control. She is screaming again, of course, and
now she is fighting for all she's worth. The cops try to move her towards
the paddy wagon, and she is resisting with all the violence she is capable
of, which is considerable. This fight goes on for a remarkably long time
just to move her a distance of maybe fifteen feet.
When she is within reach of the paddy wagon's door, she kicks it up another
notch, literally. She is still screaming, and she is writhing and thrashing
but now especially kicking. A lot of cops are going to wake up
tomorrow with a lot of bruises because of this one woman's ability to
kick so violently, which is impressive if you think about it. The cops on this shift of wrestling with her,
four of them, keep managing to get most of her inside and, just as they get
the door almost shut, she somehow keeps managing to fling part of herself
out. At this point she is screaming over and over, "My arm, my arm!"
A sergeant pulls out his Taser and points it at her and shouts over and
over the exact same words: "I'm going to Tase you." I can see the back of the pistol, a
distinctive diamond imprinted on a silver square. She ignores him entirely
and continues her tornadic thrashing, and eventually he holsters it. Later it
turns out one of the members of the crowd chastised the police for Tasing
the woman even though they hadn't, although I can't imagine a more likely
This wild fighting, and the wild screams from the perp, continue for long
enough that the cops are playing tag team again. One cop moves in and
another one backs away from the crazy woman. She is still screaming
and sobbing, the crowd is as impressed as I am at her power to resist such a
force, and the cops continue trying to get all of her into the paddy wagon
long enough to shut both doors. At one point a sergeant manages to get all
the way past the woman so that he's behind her, and he tries pulling her in
from the front while his buddies keep trying to push her in from the back. Between the pulling and the pushing and the kicking and the thrashing (and,
no doubt, the threat of the HIV), the sergeant backs out altogether to
I have to wonder what was going on in the screaming woman's mind at the
time. I mean, did she think to herself, "If I kick just one more time,
one more, they'll all give up and let me go"? If so, she must have been
disappointed a couple hundred times.
I should also point out that the cops have given up ordering the woman to
cooperate, because she can't hear them over her own screaming. I'm not
kidding when I say some of those cops probably suffered some temporary
hearing loss from being so close to her for so long.
After another minute of fruitless struggle against the woman, the cops at
the pushing end seize a moment and the sergeant leaps back into the wagon to
try pulling again, and this time it works. By holding onto her and quickly
making his way to the back of the wagon, he manages to escape in time for
the doors to be shut on her, at which point he straightens up his uniform
and brushes off his pants and says, "I've branded small herds of cattle with
less complications, and in less time."
That's the last time I
see the crazy woman, but not the last time I hear her. The
screaming continues, mind you. "I'll kill you! I can't go back!
Noooo!" But there's also that same loud, repetitive sound of the
woman banging something inside the wagon. I like to think it is
her feet, not her head, but the cops don't care, and several minutes
later my cop, the primary, drives the paddy wagon away with its damaged
Mission accomplished in about 45 minutes from our arrival on the scene to my
cop's departure with the perp therefrom. That was the end of the excitement,
followed by a fair bit of milling around. I can guarantee you this is one of
those episodes these cops will rehash for months and remember for years.
I figure that since my cop has left, eventually someone will track down the
fact I am a copless ride-along, or if not I am prepared to cadge a ride with
someone. Instead, that same sergeant walks up to me and says, "We seem to
have more vehicles than officers. Would you mind driving your cop car back
to the station?" and he hands me the keys, so I do, which is why earlier I
called it my car.
If the screaming-woman episode is worthy of the TV show
other story I have to tell you about this night is worthy of World's
Dumbest Criminals. A call comes in on the radio of the second cop I ride along with, about an
armed robbery in a nearby district. An armed robbery, needless
to say, is a big deal for all concerned. The masked gunman is described as
"Male, six feet, unknown race, white sleeveless shirt, black pants." We hie off in
that direction. Another radio message, and this time we learn the guy we're
looking for is named Dmitri. My new cop, Sandy Michaels, wonders aloud how
anyone managed to get the perp's name, so I do too. A minute later the radio
gives us the answer. Although the perp thought ahead well enough to wear a
mask, he forgot to cover up the huge tattoo on his arm that read "Dmitri."