BC student’s eye-opening BPD ride-along

Zach Sullivan, Reporter

On March 3 I had the opportunity to go on a ride-along with the Bakersfield Police Department. Coming into it, I was not too sure what to expect. My mom told me growing up all police officers were “jerks” and that the less interaction I had with police officers, the better. I grew up with the impression police officers were mean, power-abusing enforcers of the law.

That, combined with all the negative media and publicity police officers have been receiving for the past two plus years throughout the U.S., I wanted to put myself in a police officer’s shoes for a day. I wanted to see first-hand if what I had been told was really true. That’s why when the opportunity to do a ride-along presented itself, I was more than willing to do it. I was curious to learn about how officers think, interact, and what exactly goes into keeping our streets safe on a day-to-day basis.

In order to go on the ridealong, I had to submit a digital application form with my date of birth, social security number, reason for wanting to come, and so on to Deanna Frausto, who is in charge of scheduling people for BPD’s ride-along program. My application took roughly a week to be processed before I heard back from Frausto. She scheduled me for a half-shift from 8 a.m. to noon at the west substation, located at 1301 Buena Vista Road.

I arrived at the substation at roughly 8 a.m. with not a single inkling of what to expect. I was nervous to spend four hours in a police car with a police officer, but I was excited to learn about the tactics and approaches the police officers in town use. I sat inside the substation for about an hour before officer Mark Rice walked in the door and told me I was to ride with him. Rice called me behind the employee doors and began to explain to me what we were going to do for the next three plus hours. I had no previous law enforcement experience, no family ties to law enforcement, nothing like that. I felt more out of place than a snowman on a beach. Once officer Rice finished filling out his side of the paperwork necessary before departure, we walked out to his squad car and left the substation.

Rice asked what made me want to come on the ride along, and I told him my reasoning. He was really understanding of my explanation, and seemed to be very easy going. I immediately began asking him questions, such as how long he had been on the force, why he got into law enforcement, what he liked about the job, etc.

Rice, an 11-year veteran, explained that when he was 13 years old, his house was broken into and robbed. As a result, he said he knew right then that he wanted to catch “bad guys”, as he called them. He was going to go into corrections originally, but said he did not like the idea of being locked inside of a prison with inmates, preferring to be on the streets where he felt he could have a larger impact on the community. He signed up to take the police department test, and passed. Rice said he likes being a police officer for the fulfillment the job brings him, something he said was important to him while deciding his career path.

As time passed, Rice began explaining to me that the local police force is transitioning to a new community based approach which will encourage law enforcement to interact with those inside of the community in friendlier settings and environments. For example, “Coffee with a Cop,” “Shopping with a Cop” and “Dinner with a Cop” are all programs currently in place so people can interact with their local law enforcement officers outside of them being on the job to show them that police officers, just like them, are human beings just like them and do in fact care about the community. This made me realize that police officers are making more of a push to be more involved in the community and make people see they are there to protect them, not arrest them.

Rice also explained that BPD is seeing an increase in younger officers joining the force, further allowing for a change of culture as he explained it to take place within our local departments. This, coupled with the push to become more involved with the community, showed me that the police department in town is making a push to be more involved in the community by making people realize police are there to protect and serve them, not arrest them.

In my three hours inside Rice’s police car, the most dangerous part was when a tree fell on top of a woman’s car as she was driving. We didn’t pull anyone over, perform a drug bust or anything like that. Officer Rice pointed out that 90 percent of their calls are for domestic violence, which he said is a major problem in Bakersfield. According to Rice, on a normal day police officers will handle anywhere from eight to 12 calls.

In his 11 years on the job, Rice said he had never felt threatened or unsafe, something which I found to be surprising amidst widespread displeasure with law enforcement nationwide. I asked him if he had ever been shot at, had a knife pulled on him or anything like that, to which he responded no.

As silly as it sounds, I was under the impression that was a daily part of the job. Boy, was I wrong.

I figured he would tell wild stories about being shot at or having weapons pulled on him, but he didn’t. Instead he talked about having to use a variety of communication skills, such as interpersonal and intercultural, to effectively do his job. Rice said it’s not all about being the police officer who shows off their power and arrests people, but being empathetic and understanding of people and their situations. He pointed out that a police officer’s job is to protect and serve, which requires using a plethora of skills learned throughout the police academy, high school and any other education officers have. This made me realize that police officers are not jacks of one trade, but have to wear many faces during a shift to do their jobs effectively.

What I took away from my ride along was much different than I expected.

I wasn’t sure how much the officer would want to talk to me during our ride, but Rice was extremely courteous and answered all of the my questions I asked. He was nice, relatable, and seemed like an all-around good guy. He talked about having young children at home that he feels blessed to go home to everyday, as well as about his childhood growing up.

I realized in my three hours sitting in the front of Rice’s police car that the majority of police officers are good people who are just trying to do their job.

Rice showed me through his words and actions that what I had been taught growing up about cops was an incorrect stereotype that didn’t represent the majority of all police officers. Rice taught me that the videos and posts we see of police officers abusing their power is not widespread throughout every department.

Are there bad cops? Yes, there are. There are also bad teachers, barbers, politicians, the list goes on and on. What I learned from my ride along is that the videos you see of officers assaulting someone or anything of that manner does not represent the entire police force as a whole, instead exposing small portion of a large community that needs to be eradicated, in my opinion. Just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you should never assume a police officer is there to hurt you, throw you in jail, or harm you in any way. Instead, I believe my ride along showed me that police officers are an extremely important part of our community, as they are the people who ensure our freedoms are protected and that we can sleep safely at night knowing it is them who keep our streets safe.