I have a great deal of respect for members of the Police Departments, here locally and across our country. They get to work interesting hours, and although they know what time their shift starts, depending on what might be happening several hours later, they aren’t always sure of what time they might get to sign out and head home.
Recently I thought it might be interesting to spend a few hours on patrol in the neighborhood of the church where I’m a pastor, so I reached out to the local Police Department. Diana Lopez, the Community Outreach Coordinator, was able to make the arrangements. Thanks, Diana! Last weekend, Officer Ken Huckaby was kind enough to let me spend a few hours riding with him. And a couple of hours into the shift, we realized that we work in the same area of Ogden, and we’re also neighbors where we live.
I’m not a big believer in coincidences, but there are a lot of “God-Moments” in my life. Shortly after Diana had arranged this ride-along, a blog post appeared in my inbox. The author listed 14 ways to better understand the community in which you’re doing ministry, and one of those 14 things was “Ride with a Police Officer or Firefighter”. Police officers and firefighters tend to be great resources when it comes to learning about the community. And Officer Ken was no exception—more later on that.
There are always some conditions: you have to agree to some things ahead of time…nothing out of the ordinary, just things to keep you safe. And signing that waiver was just the first of the paperwork I saw that evening. And by the way, that was the only paper work actually done on paper. Computers can make life easier, help with a quicker response—and save trees.
When I walked into the Francom Public Safety Building, there was a man in a wheelchair on my side of the window. He said something to me, but he was looking down, and I couldn’t hear him very well, so I assumed that he was talking on the phone. It was only when I sat down to wait for someone to escort me back to fill out the waiver, that I realized that he was talking to me. His motorized chair needed to be charged and he couldn’t get home, so he stopped in to use an outlet. I don’t know if that’s the norm, but it was gratifying to see that this man’s needs were being met. His appearance and mumbling might have made him a persona non-grata in many places. He wasn’t hurting anything, or bothering anyone, he just needed enough charge on his battery to get home. And as we talked, the discussion turned to faith. An answer to prayer: “Lord, bring me to people who want to hear about Jesus”. A friend of mine qualifies that when he says that he can make small talk all day long, but he’d rather talk about God's Kingdom.
It was a slow start as my Ride had paperwork to finish from calls during the first part of his shift. As he worked, we chatted about a number of things happening in the community. Some of the biggest problems were no surprise. Mental health issues, gangs, and overcrowding in the jail system all contribute to the problems on the streets. Add in drugs and alcohol, and it’s no surprise that the Police Department keeps busy. (Except on this shift. Officer Ken said it was a boring evening, and I should try again some other time. Note to self: try to get a repeat ride)
How long does it take to become so aware of what’s going on? I thought that I was pretty observant, but it didn’t take long to figure out that situational awareness is a strong point for those who patrol our streets. I could barely make out what the dispatcher was saying, and Ken was responding. After one call in particular we left Ken’s area, and there were several other patrol cars heading the same way. I was pretty amazed at how, without any obvious coordination, each of the responding officers could determine in which direction he needed to head. Ken recognized the person who had called in for assistance, and stopped her to get some more information about her call. It’s interesting how some people who have a lot of contact with the police have a lot of contact with the police!
Has your car been reported stolen? The oncoming shift is told about it, and as they patrol, they’re looking for it. Concerned about loved ones with whom you can’t get in touch? Someone might be dispatched to check on them. Something suspicious going on in the neighborhood? The patrol officer might just be driving by, see it, and stop to make sure everything is all right. Something missing and presumed stolen from your apartment? You guessed it, the officer on shift will be sent to investigate and take your statement.
Of course, there’s a shortage of officers in most departments across the country, there’s a shortage of jail beds, a shortage of funding, and even though mental health issues rank high on the list of problems that an officer might see during any given shift, there aren’t enough Psych hospitals or beds to handle the magnitude of the problem. There is a lot of latitude given when it comes to dealing with issues. Sometimes, usually, a ticket is a much better option than a trip to the 12th street jail.
What did I learn about police? If Officer Huckaby is any indicator, most police officers are a lot more like Jamie Reagan on Blue Bloods than they are like Hank Voight on Chicago PD. Ogden is lucky to have officers on the job who care about the community and the people they serve. And a lot of those serving the community have also served their country by spending time in the Armed Forces. I’m retired from the Air Force, and frequently people tell me “thank you for your service”. It’s about time members of our Police Departments (and Fire Departments) get the same measure of respect.
So, what did I learn about my community? A lot had to do with the people. Seems like the people who show up at homeless shelters and churches aren’t always strangers to the police. And then there are the gangs. I’ve heard of a few of them, but the list is longer than I thought. There are also some places in the neighborhood that are more prone to trouble than others. Interestingly enough a couple of the areas which were pointed out to me, are areas where I’ve recently done prayer walks. Some people might think they should stay away from those areas. I’m thinking I should up my Situational Awareness quotient, and spend more time in those dark areas, praying for God's light to shine there even more brightly.
And I’m off to pray for a couple of streets in my neighborhood, and for the officers that patrol those streets!