I spent last Wednesday patrolling the streets of Charlotte in a squad car alongside a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer. We rushed to the scene of a convenience store robbery, investigated some hit-and-runs and checked out residential burglary alarms.
Turns out most every resident of Charlotte can do this, too. CMPD has an incredibly accessible ride-along program and it’s open to just about everyone older than 18.
Here are some things you need to know about doing a ride-along.
You get to pick your shift and location. Morning shift is 6:15 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Afternoon is 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ish). You’re not necessarily locked into the whole shift, but once things get going, the hours can fall away pretty quickly. You can also choose the division you’d like to patrol.
Wear something nice. You don’t want to be the guy in the squad car looking like a slob. Everyone will think you’re getting arrested. Put on a dress shirt (or something equivalent for women).\
You’ll start off at roll-call. This will be at the police station at the start of the shift, where all the officers report before checking out a squad car and heading out. The supervisor will choose an officer for you to ride with. It’s going to be somebody who won’t mind that you’re around.
Sometimes the car will go fast. On a priority one call, CMPD officers need to get to the scene ASAP, with lights and sirens going. You’re not going to be used to going that fast on city streets (hopefully).
Not everything is exciting. Sometimes you’ll go check out a tripped alarm and it’s not that great.
You’re going to sit in the car during all the good stuff. It’s not like an episode of COPS. For your safety and the officers’ safety, they’re going to ask you to hang tight while they figure out what’s going on.
You’re going to come away with a whole new perspective. And not just a whole lot of respect for law enforcement.