The Friday night shift on October 23, 2009 started at 7:00 PM. The North Carolina State fair was attracting about 90,000 people to the fair grounds in west Raleigh. Numerous law enforcement officials from different agencies were working at the fair. Tabitha Groelle, President of Pleasant Ridge & Ramsgate Community Watch, joined me to ride the beats of District 26 in south west Raleigh. We arrived at the Raleigh Police Department (RPD) substation off of Blue Ridge Road a little after 6:00 PM. While we waited for roll call, we signed a wavier and secured our bullet proof vests. Then we were each assigned to an officer and took the streets in a patrol car. This is where my adventure begins.
Before I tell you about the eye-opening evening, I’d like to share some of the take-aways from my experience. I’ve summarized this into five tips that I hope will help you be a better crime fighting citizen.
5 Crime Fighting Tips
- Be observant. Too many people don’t pay attention to their surroundings. As I listened to the calls coming in and the lackluster descriptions, I learned that, in general, people aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on around them. We are too focused on our gadgets, our to-do lists, and other things. When you’re in your neighborhood, out shopping, or out and about, pay attention to what’s happening around you. Take special notice of things that look out of place and take a snapshot in your head.
- Be descriptive. As I hinted in the first tip, the descriptions coming in on calls are very generic. A male with a dark hoodie and dark pants is too vague. Again, take that snapshot in your mind and try to remember as much detail as you can. When cars are involved, the license plate is critical. Vehicle make, model, color, and passenger information are just as important.
- Respect our officers. I have a new found respect for RPD and all law enforcement officers. Riding the beat showed me first hand the intense multi-tasking that these officers need to do in order to perform their job. They have Raleigh dispatch on one channel, their district on another, a laptop with incoming calls & instant messenger, and cell phones. To add to that, they’re driving too. Every interaction I had during the ride along was professional. Some of the calls they deal with are unreal. Respect your police officers, they have a tough job which they are very passionate about.
- Community watch is key. Both officers I rode with said the community watch groups are the eyes and ears for beat officers. The more information we can get to officers on crimes and the more precautions we take to prevent crime help them more than you think. If you’re not already involved in your local community watch, what are you waiting for? If you are, it may be time to sharpen your observation skills.
- Do your part. Too many people hesitate to call 9-1-1. Suspicious persons, suspicious vehicles, and things that are out of place can link other crimes together. When you call 9-1-1 to report something, give as much information as you can. Make your observations, write things down if you need to, and be as descriptive as possible. Be ready to follow-up with an officer if you can. If you are witnessing a crime in progress, stay on the line with the 9-1-1 operator to provide real-time intelligence and updates.
The Ride Along
I starting off riding with Officer Notch. We began the shift by checking the current calls and drove towards his beat area. We were on the 2604 beat which is south of Western Blvd and west of Kent Road / Kaplan Drive / Merrie Road / Avent Ferry Road / Lake Dam Road, and North of Tryon Road. We were over on Dillard Drive when we got our first call. The call came in as a shots fired on a CAT bus window, but it was suspicious because there was a similar call that came in from another district a short while ago. We zoomed down Tryon Road to assist other officers that were on the scene near the Raleigh Oaks shopping center on at Lake Wheeler Road and Tryon Road. There were no indications of gunshots, it appears the bus driver ran into something. The CAT bus supervisor arrived and most officers went out to take other calls.
Our next call took us to Mission Valley. There was a vague report of three suspicious males looking into several cars. By the time we arrived, we did not observe any abnormal activity. We even drove around a little bit to make observations. It appeared to be business as usual. Officer Notch caught up on the calls and it was time for us to relieve another officer who was at the Wake County Mental Health Center.
We drove over to the Wake Medical complex off of New Bern Avenue. Officer Karcher was at the Wake County Mental Health Center where he was waiting for the detainee. The beat officers decided to do two hour shifts shortly after roll call. There were a number of officers at the health center from around the city. One played a little joke and handed Officer Nutch a print out of a suspect. After Nutch looked at it, the other officer said, now look at your ride along (hinting that I favored the suspect). Everyone got a good chuckle out of that. For me, it’s great to see that officers are able to take their job seriously, and have a sense of humor.
Officer Karcher is assigned the 2606 beat which includes Cameron Village, West Morgan, and the Pullen Park area. While we were checking the call queue and getting up to speed on the current calls, we were watching for red light runners on Ashe Avenue. No takers tonight. We responded to an attempted residential break-in on Avent Ferry Road. I stayed in the patrol car while the officers investigated the home and surroundings.
Next on tap was to help out at a recent robbery at Plaza West. Once we arrived on the scene, we patrolled the surrounding area for the suspect. We drove through the apartment complex behind the shopping center and talked to some girls who were outside. They didn’t notice anything suspicious. We then continued to look for the vehicle, fitting a description that came from a witness, and expanded the search area to the Western Boulevard corridor.
The scene at Plaza West looked like a Hollywood movie. There was law enforcement from numerous agencies. Over the last few months, robberies have been on the rise, but RPD has been doing a good job of managing the situations. It is believed that the increase in robberies are due to the down economy and increased loss in jobs.
After assisting with the robbery at Plaza West we were on our way to an assist call on Peace Street, but were re-routed to a hit and run on Glenwood Avenue. Once we arrived at the hit and run, we talked with the victim. There wasn’t a lot of damage, but the lady that left the scene of the accident had damage to the front end of her vehicle. The victim was unable to provide a detailed description and did not get a tag. No one else stopped to help this person or provide details on the accident. It really sucks that someone damaged both their car and the victims and just left the scene. I find this very disrespectful.
When it rains it pours. After the Glenwood hit and run, we went to another hit and run on Chappell Drive. This one was very interesting. A car was parked on Chappell when a large truck came screeching down Broadwell Drive, blew the stop sign while making a left, and hopped the curb, damaging the parked car. Then the truck went on it’s way. Unlike the last call, we had a good set of witnesses. We interviewed the main witness and went to talk to another, who had already left their residence for the night. The officer left his contact details and will follow-up for this investigation.
Five hours goes by really fast when you’re answering beat calls. Officer Karcher and I headed back to the substation. My shift was ending, but Officer Archer’s shift was far from over. I was ready to ride for a few more hours, but decided that this was a good time to say thank you. I called Tabitha who was at the jail downtown. She said she was going to keep going for a few more calls.
I was very appreciative to have the opportunity to go on a ride along with RPD. I learned a lot and saw first hand the challenging job of a police officer. I’m now tasked with sharing this experience with others, particularly my community watch, to help educate them on the work of beat officers and RPD.