Bringing my mother on a ride along was a way for her to understand my work.
A police ride along provides a front row opportunity to be a spectator to the law enforcement profession. Ride alongs were created to make the inner-workings of police work accessible to civilians. Bringing my mother on a night shift was a way for her to understand my work and how it contributed to my personality. It was supposed to help. I was largely misunderstood or thought of as too cynical by some of my family and friends. This was a time to parade my police life and give first-hand accounts of procedures to my mother.
Law enforcement officers must manage internal and or external influences while performing their duties. They are bound by policies, laws, and other expectations and regulations. At the same time, they must cope with the daily human misery and bombardments to their psyche.
To maintain their objectiveness, act in fairness, enforce the laws, and deploy reasoning to problem solving, their mental clarity should be above reproach. Police are largely misunderstood by those not familiar with the profession, including spouses and other family members. The effects from the cannonade becomes evident in who we become after being on the job for some time.
Our jaded personality and coping skills become misinterpreted many times by family and friends. At times, the public views our profession by stories and through the media when they capture a moment. The pictures do not always tell the entire tale nor include all the emotions. The feelings are often suppressed by officers to deflect the reality of some of the human suffering and graphic images. We develop a hardened outer shell.
Although there are many publications and literature on the issues, police stress and the duties of the profession are difficult for many persons to grasp. The perception versus reality problems do extend to other citizens and groups, not just family and friends. The imbalance may always be present, but it behooves us all to improve the divide. Likewise, there are many seminars and programs to bring families and police spouses together by shoring up the gaps of misunderstanding and educating both police and civilians on misperceptions.
Programs, seminars, and literature are designed to bring family, community, and police officers to the table to clear up misconceptions and to see one another’s perspectives.
As many law enforcement organizations have ride-along programs, my former department does as well. Some departments also allow family members to ride with an officer. These programs are a great community bridge for law enforcement to connect with citizens. In turn, the public can view the world from inside a cruiser and witness firsthand how the police work. Additionally, community members can build coalitions with law enforcement when each side shares information and perspectives with each other.
I found the program very valuable in closing the great divide between the citizens and police while also bringing awareness of the profession to others. Furthermore, it can be a benefit for spouses, family, friends, and aspiring officers to understand the dynamic career. My family always appreciated law enforcement, but never really established a clear appreciation of what an officer encounters with regularity. This sometimes added stress and distance to the subject of my career in conversations.
After umpteen years I finally convinced my non-felon mom into riding along with me. She only wanted to ride for an hour. Maybe she thought an hour with her daughter was more than enough. I don’t know.
Picture a cute little old lady who is a classy dresser and acts a tinge like Betty White: that’s my mom. She is also a lady and very proper. Much to her chagrin, I did not pick up those habits, although I could act the part if forced. My jaded police side often clashes with her refinement.
She seemed very nervous for the adventure. I considered it payback. It was the only chance I was going to get. Ever. She lived in Minnesota and was traveling around the state of Wyoming to visit friends and family. Naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to intrigue her with the idea because her Friday night was free. I had longed for this day. Finally, I would be able to show her how effective my command presence and emotional intelligence was in my community and give her a portrayal of the job I loved.
Briefing commenced, and my mother got to absorb the daily announcements. After the sergeant was finished, I introduced her to my shift. Shortly after, I took her to the basement to my patrol car and gave a hurried instruction on the ride along rules. Mom strapped her seatbelt on and off we went. It was quite boring for the first hour in the crime world, but we had good chit chat as I explained the uniqueness of my area where I patrolled.
Not long after my preface and short rendition of police 101, a report of a drunk driver appeared on the mobile data screen. This was my chance to have some sort of action for my mother on the ride along. The call came into my area but was given to another officer. The responding officer located the subject. To showcase great teamwork to my mother, I answered the call for another unit as backup was expected. I was far away and since it was dark, I drove somewhat like a madman, (but not against policy), to get there.
You know as mothers are at home, so they are in your patrol car.
“You’re going to kill us, Kathryn Ann! Watch out! Look over there! Don’t hit the! Kathryn Ann, you can’t drive like this! What are you doing? The cars! My neck!”
I very calmly stated to my dear mother, “Mom, I do this every day. I’m the Popo. It will be fine. Enjoy the carnival ride.” Sweat beads began to form on my mother’s forehead at this point because I was going 5 miles or so over the speed limit.
The lessons were not being clearly portrayed in the ride along as I had hoped.
Upon arrival, the officer informed me of the situation. I offered to take the call. The driver, a man named David, refused to do field sobriety tests and would not answer any questions. He just turned around and put his hands behind his back stating, “Arrest me. I will fail all your tests.” I told him the processes of a DUI and he agreed to oblige. Indeed, the field work showed he was impaired and he was placed under arrest.
David got me by surprise as I steered him to my back seat, “You must be a rookie.” Little did he know, at that time in my career I had over 13 years on the force.
“Yep. Why do you say that?”
“You got your supervisor in the car next to you.” David was a total rocket scientist disguised as a drunk.
“You are absolutely right about that!” I giggled along with my mom.
“Well, you are the nicest police officer I’ve ever met.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said as I drove David to jail.
Mom patted me on the leg and beamed a proud look at me. Like that was a compliment! I had worked so hard to be tough and strong in front of my mother. I did not want people to shout from the tree tops that I was the “nicest” officer on the block.
“Yep, you are a rookie. But nice. Thank you for being so nice. And professional. I’m drunk. But you’re the nicest cop ever.”
We arrived safely at the jail. When we exited the patrol car, David had a revelation when I said, “Mom, we’re going into the jail. You need to get out of the car now.” You could see it in his eyes.
“Honey, do I need to take my purse?”
“What? Uh, no, mom. We don’t take our purses into the jail. I don’t think anyone will steal it”. I rolled my eyes. Could you imagine if we came strolling into book-in with our purses slung over our shoulders? I would never have lived it down.
David piped up, “THAT is your mom? No way!” He looked at my mom, then looked at me. “That IS your mom. You ain’t no rookie. How long you been a cop?” Then he turned to my mother, “Your daughter is a nice cop.”
The world was crashing down on me. I had this image of “wowing” my mom with my experience and calm edge. Luck would have it I had picked up a sappy nice non-cussing drunk. I needed a raging jackass so my mom could see I was in danger every day. And that I risked my life in this job. Plus, I needed to highlight my skills as she raised a tough kid so she could tell people about my strength. Now she was going to brag about how “nice” I had been. Yuck!
If I can handle anything dealt to me as an officer, surely I could master the show and tell I gave my mother so she could understand me. Ride alongs were a front row seat to police life.
Walking into the book-in area through the iron doors, my mom was in awe. She had never been in jail or visited her kids in jail. Ever. Not even to pick me up after bailing me out. Why? Because her daughter had never been arrested. I could tell Mom was taking all this in. She was very quiet.
David sat down in a chair upon my order to do so and I started to fill out paperwork while I waited for the process to begin at the jail’s speed. This depended on what was happening on the other side of the doors. It could be slow or it could be fast.
As I was informing David of the next processes, he decided he did not want to blow into the intoximeter. So, this derailed my paper train to a different set of documents. While I was working, my mother turned to David and looked him square in the eyes, “Thank you for saying my daughter is nice.”
What the? No! No! No! Now we thank the criminals? What has the world come to?
I gritted my teeth and remained silent. I did not want to embarrass myself or my mother with my thoughts spoken out loud. David was booked in. The detention officers took his belongings and put him in holding after removing his handcuffs.
A detention officer remained in the holding area with us. He happened to be one of my favorite characters and started to jest with me as was usual practice among cops. “Jeez, you didn’t even bring in a crazy one this time? The guy is nice?” Apparently, I had quite a reputation.
David turned to my mother and said, “It was real nice to meet you, ma’am.” He then looked at me, “And thank you for being so nice, officer.” I smiled weakly.
“What the? Are you kidding me?” He said while patting me on the back, “Sir, she is a flaming royal…bi..”
With a firm, but non-punishing jab, I punched the detention officer on the arm.
“That’s my mom. Shut up.”
“That’s your mom. Well, HELLLLOOOOO, Mom! Nice to meet you!”
My mom grinned like a huge Cheshire cat so proud that her daughter was thought of as “nice”. She extended her hand to the detention officer, “Hi. It is very nice to meet you.”
All the detention officers heard my mom was with me through the camera monitoring and audio system, so they came out to meet her. We are all family in my county. After introductions were made, the detention officer escorted David to the next location to sit on the bench to await his cell assignment.
“Once again, it was really nice to meet you, ma’am, but I hope I don’t run into you like this again.”
“Likewise, David.” I responded.
All of a sudden, my mom disappeared from behind me. She went up to David and shook his hand before I could intervene. “It was very nice to meet you, sir.” He shook her hand and smiled.
I drug her back out to the garage. Well, figuratively speaking anyway, because children should not drag their parents. It was a valient effort to maintain my dignity and showcase my cop strength during this ride along. While I retrieved my firearm and holstered it, I thought I should give some advice to my mother about etiquette. “Mom, we really do not go up to prisoners and shake their hand while telling them it is nice to meet them.”
“Well, he was really nice, honey.”
Be careful of ever-lasting impacts to riders which can haunt an officer in perpetuity.
Two days later, I drove my mother to church. The ride was pretty quiet. About 10 miles down the road, she asked me, “Honey, how do you suppose David is doing?”
“David. The man you arrested for drunk driving.”
No! No! No! We were not bringing David “Whatshisname” into my day off. She referred to him by first name like he was family.
“Mom, who cares? He’s probably into a six pack by now.”
“Was that lady who asked him all those health questions a nurse?”
“Do they do that with everyone?”
“What will happen to David now?”
“I don’t know. I hope he is crossing the street when I’m going to church. Then you can wave to him and invite him into the service.” She brushed off my sarcasm.
“Why would you hope that, dear? Is he out of jail?”
“Yes, he is out of jail.”
“Can he drive?”
“Yes. He can. But his license is suspended. He’s not supposed to drive. He will go to jail if he is caught driving. Can we talk about something else?”
That really made my mother mad because my tone was a little brash. I had had no sleep after the 12-hour shift but it was tradition to go to Easter church service. It was silent in my truck for the next 15 miles.
Church went without a hitch except for my mother’s cell phone ringing in the middle of the sermon and my 9-year-old spouting off, “When is that bread thingy going to happen?” During the offering she also declared, “Mommy, did you see that guy put a lot of money in there?” My family were truly imposters and I wanted my old family back pronto. I was certain the congregation was wondering what kind of family raised a police officer and this impression was not the one I imagined.
On the way home from church, mom asked, “So, did David blow really high on that test?”
“Mom, David did not want to take the test, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. You should really not drive so fast.”
The rest of the visit was uneventful and my mother left for a vacation west of my town on the next day. Six days later my mother returned from her adventures in Rock Springs, Wyoming. She came into the house toting a new cake pan because mine was “old and yucky”, therefore no good. She was proud of her purchase.
“Very nice. Don’t you like your new pan?”
“Yes, Mom. Thank you very much.”
“So how is David? Did he go to court? What ever happened to him?”
My head hit the kitchen table like 30 times because I was trying to get an ambulance ride so I could avoid talking about David. I have no idea why there was this fixation with a transported drunk, but she was greatly concerned about his well-being.
She eventually left to go back home to Minnesota. On Mother’s Day, she called me to wish me a happy day. After we exchanged pleasantries her chatter went on and on. She blindsided me with a question, “How’s David?”
What. The. Hell.
Mom asked me occasionally about David for the next year until he faded from her memory like Roy Rogers into the sunset riding Trigger. (Yes, that was Roy’s horse. Gene rode Champion. Get it? That was my life. The wrong horse.) I was so grateful for that moment. In all fairness, it was a joy to have my mom ride along with me. She did get a new appreciation for police officers. I do not know what became of David, but I would not be surprised if he ever so often toasted a drink to my mother.
My ride along experience may have been an exception to the concept of connecting family with their law enforcement kin. Family relationships are often strained with our absences from planned events and holidays. Moreover, the risk of the job leaves loved ones in angst and worry over our well-being.
Our families will never truly know the hypervigilance we have or all the elements of public safety. However, we can include them in some facets to give them insight to our struggles with connections because of the demands of police work. Ride alongs are just one form. With the fluctuating attitudes toward law enforceent, these programs may not be as liberal with family members as they were when I had riders. Most departments have additional ways to connect with citizens and families to share some interior mechanics of law enforcement.
Family and friends make up some of our support system and increase our sense of societal normalcy. Creating awareness and bridging gaps between police and their family relationships are essential factors in combatting some of the aftermath of police stress. We need their support and it is an added benefit when they understand us somewhat. Their requests from us are often minimal. Mostly, they want us to attend family functions and be well. We cannot change the impacts of police work because it is the nature of the beast, but we can try to comprehend both perspectives.