“We’re here to help you.” That’s a phrase you’ve probably heard often. You may have heard it in a grocery or a shoe store. Perhaps someone spoke those words to you on the phone when you called customer service. You may have even spoken those words yourself. If you’re lucky, you’ve never heard those words spoken by rescue workers or an emergency room doctor.
They are not words I associate with a police response. I haven’t watched television much in the last twenty years, but I most remember police yelling, “Come out with your hands up!”
Thursday night, I was privileged to meet Officer K. Prince of the Prince William County Police and go on a “Ride Along." This activity was my homework for Leadership Prince William class, as our next session deals with public safety. To participate, I had to make a request, download a form, fill it out, get it notarized and return it. PWCPD ran a check to ensure I was not a known felon and approved my request.
I arrived early the day of my ride along and I was excited and nervous in such an unfamiliar situation. Officer Prince toured me around the Garfield station. It looks much like any other office building except there were lots of locked and off limits areas.
We squeezed into his patrol car…literally squeezed, because it is packed with gear and the computer terminal leaves very little space to even bend your arm and off we went for the evening shift that begins at 4 p.m.
I don’t have enough space to relate all the calls we took, so I’m going to just relate one incident that changed my perception about police work:
We stopped in a parking lot to catch up on the reports. While Officer Prince was entering data, an older gentleman walked across the lot, perhaps a hundred yards from us. He was carrying plastic grocery bags that appeared to contain gallons of water or milk. As I watched, he turned around and began to walk toward our car. I mentioned this to Officer Prince and as the man approached, Officer Prince rolled the window part way down. I tensed, not knowing what to expect.
The gentleman put his bags down and reached into his shirt pocket. (I think it flashed through my mind, “Uh oh! Trouble!” What he pulled out of his pocket were a couple of receipts. For the next ten or twelve minutes, Officer Prince and I helped him figure out whether he had not paid enough to the store for his water. We helped him count his money, looked at a receipt from earlier in the day, did some math for him and determined, “No, you’re OK. You have exactly as much money as you should.” This fellow was greatly relieved and beamed a big smile, thanked us repeatedly and gathered his bags to continue his trek across the parking lot. The old fellow never knew that Officer Prince had un-holstered his weapon and placed it in his lap for easy access if needed.
The other calls we answered all had a common theme: People in distress, regardless of whether it is a police matter or not, request an officer and expect a solution. The police, regardless of whether it is a criminal activity or not, respond to the best of their ability. As Officer Prince stated: “We’re here to help you.”
I offer my sincere thanks to Officer Prince, Captain Smith, Patricia Clary, Chief Deane, and the entire Prince William County Police Department for making this ride along activity possible. If you’d like to get more involved consider enrolling in the Citizen’s Police Academy.