Along for the Ride

I was recently sworn-in as a chaplain for our local Police department. I’d been asked to join the program in 2015, but at the time I couldn’t add anything else to my plate. When the invitation came back around this year I felt compelled to accept it. Central’s church council agreed, and so I joined three other clergy members from the area for some basic chaplain training.

With the holidays passed it’s time for me to become more actively involved as a chaplain, and so I’ve begun doing ride alongs. This way the chaplains get to meet the different officers on the force and build up a relationships. These are essential for when we are out on a call, or if an officer comes to a point they feel like they need someone with whom to talk.

Thus far I’ve been privileged to be on two ride alongs, and wanted to share a couple of thoughts on my observations thus far. I can’t speak about every police officer on duty in the country, but I can reflect on my interactions with the department in my town 1.

Body Cameras

Palmyra has recently purchased body cameras for the department, and the officers with whom I’ve spoken in the department are really fond of them. In their experience the cameras keep a record of their conduct which reveals a lot of complaints as mis-remembering or outright fabrications. Instead of “citizen says vs. officer says” the body camera footage becomes a third witness which is pretty hard to refute. Prior to the arrival of body cameras the department had been recording audio of all incidents, which accomplished a similar end — but pictures do tend to tell a more compelling tale.

Civil Rights

It’s interesting to hear conversations between the officers about civil rights, and to know they are every bit as concerned about them as some of my most progressive friends. They’re genuinely concerned with seeing people’s rights preserved and protected.

The language of civil rights is often publicly portrayed as being language specifically reserved for people protesting something, but it makes sense for the police to be as concerned about them as any other citizen. After all their work is, in the end, governed by the Constitution.

Keeping busy

In the two ride alongs I’ve done, what has amazed me is how busy the on duty officers are kept. Between checking in with citizens, responding to calls, keeping track of suspects, or instituting arrests these folks don’t stop. And when they do get a chance to stop, the paperwork waits for them 2. Everything is logged, tracked, and reported. I’ve heard it said modern policing is mostly paperwork, now I’ve a glimpse into the lives of our officers I can say it might be an understatement.

Keeping peace

One of the things which has come out of both my ride alongs is just how much Palmyra’s officers don’t want to make people’s lives miserable. They’d much rather give a warning to someone over a ticket if at all possible. Why? Because if they went around writing ticket after ticket after ticket all they’ll do is antagonize people. They’d really rather been seen as people you want to encounter. They still have a job to do to keep us all safe, hence the need to give official warnings when people aren’t behaving as they should, but lining the department’s coffers with ticket money is not their agenda 3.

They will write tickets when they deem it necessary, and will certainly step in when there is an obvious danger to the general public or the citizens with whom they are interacting, but they have a great deal of discretion and will use it. So many people think of police as people who are gung-ho to cite everyone for everything as often as they can. I may not be able to speak for every police force in the country, but in Palmyra this certainly isn’t case.

They’re just people

I’m part of a vocation which will often have odd, or dehumanizing, assumptions tossed it’s way 4. Because of this, similar assumptions made about other people is something on which I tend to focus. I don’t want someone’s organization, or uniform, or rank to keep me from seeing folks as people just like anyone else. In the case of the Police uniforms and ranks and organizations are important, because they help create the structure one which the relationships between the officers hang, but they don’t erase their personhood — they color it a certain way.

So it’s good to be with the officers and see them kid around, joke about football 5, and even razz the boss. I even got to compliment one officer on a particular geeky desktop wallpaper 6.

Yes, they wear a uniform. Yes, they drive the official cars and have official duties to perform. But really, they’re just folks.

I’m looking forward to getting to know them more.

  1. I find “all police are awesome, and how dare you critique them” statements every bit as helpful as “all cops are lazy bullies and who needs them” statements. Both come from the flip sides of the same basic mentality, and I have no time for either. 
  2. Digital paperwork, but paperwork, nevertheless. 
  3. I’m not even sure that’s a thing 
  4. Like, “Pastors only work on Sundays.” Or, “All you’re interested in is getting other people’s money. 
  5. One members of the force is a Dolphin’s fan. I have no idea how that happened. 
  6. You shall not pass! Don’t worry if you don’t get that, he will.