The repetitious rhythm of the left-hand turn signal reminded me of the grandfather clock in my aunt’s living room, acting as background noise as we waited in the middle of the intersection. The integrated computer database was the topic of conversation. I thought to myself, ‘this clunky laptop diffuses more power and influence than most humans.’ The gunmetal gray casing and thick waistline was a nice disguise.
And just like that, the tone switched. “Man down.”
In the same amount of time it took Officer Hopkins to rotate the swivel mount to his line of sight, his demeanor shifted.
Lights on, sirens up, we were on our way to respond to the man-down call on my first police ride along with the Fort Collins Police Department.
When we arrived at the scene, we weren’t alone. Accompanied by paramedics and the fire department, Officer Hopkins began to approach a visibility disgruntled and intoxicated man. While he took a calculated back seat to the scene to allow the team of paramedics to work, he remained in total control of the situation.
As the paramedics removed the man’s jacket to take his blood pressure, Officer Hopkins casually intercepted it, removing a large knife from what I am assuming was an interior pocket. He knew exactly what to look for before he even saw it.
After evaluating the man’s physical health and mental state, the man — and the paramedics — decided it was best to take a trip to the hospital.
As it turns out, a mechanic at a local car shop saw the man lying in the road, clearly under the influence, and called 911. I am happy to report that was the only call we had to respond to that day. Officer Hopkins joked about ‘the curse of the ride along,’ but I knew he was pleased, and maybe even proud, to be watching over a safe, well-behaved community.
While this particular situation turned out to be calm and nonthreatening, the sheer feeling of not knowing what was going to happen as we approached the scene was overwhelming. And to think, police officers must feel this every single time they approach a situation. They never know when a routine traffic stop will turn violent or even fatal. They never know when the wandering pedestrian will become indignant. They always have to be aware. They always have to been on.
While officers are encouraged, and oftentimes expected, to be non-militant, friendly and approachable, they must also be vigilant, cautious and unyielding. How incredibly thin that line must feel while attempting to balance on it.
There were even a few encounters during my ride along that made me really think about this balancing act as Officer Hopkins greeted community members throughout the day. I was genuinely surprised by the immediate sense of defensiveness and hostility toward him — “What could I have possibly done for you to say hello to me? How dare you.” This body language and general attitude was displayed repeatedly.
Yes, I am well aware that there is so much more to the topic of civilian and police officer interactions as of late. And yes, I have my own opinions. I am also aware that at the end of the day, I’m no expert or authority on this subject. But after spending time with Officer Hopkins, I can say with 100% certainty that this man cares. He cares about people. People he’s never met. He cares about our home. So much that he’s sworn to serve and protect it. And his outward expression of care is rooted from a deep love and passion for people. There’s no arguing with that.
At the beginning of this, I wasn’t sure what I expected to get out of my ride along experience. Working for a ballistic protection company, I knew I wanted to gain insight of the current threats and climate that my local police officers experience. As it turns out, the most valuable thing I gained from this police ride along experience was so much deeper than that.
At a very high level, here are a few key things I took with me from my ride along experience:
- It’s difficult to understand the weight and magnitude of law enforcement decisions unless you’ve been in their shoes.
- There is an extraordinary amount of courage and integrity necessary to uphold the tremendous responsibility of protecting and serving.
- Police officers are people, too. At the end of their shift, they want to go home. They want to help their kids with homework. They want to hug their spouse. They love. They hurt. They feel — just like us. But the overwhelming difference? These men and women put their lives on the line every single day to keep you and I safe. And when it comes time, they put their personal lives on hold, and on the line, to protect us.
- Every single day I take my safety for granted. My safety and peace of mind is a direct result of the work our police officers do on a daily basis.
- I do not acknowledge and celebrate my freedom to live, work and play — free from threat — as I should.
- Police officers are some of the most selfless human beings I’ve ever met. And real, raw selflessness is a virtue only true warriors hold.
At the end of the day, this is what I know — everyday I wake up, and I walk my dog. On Friday evenings, I ride my bicycle to my favorite spots around town. I hike in secluded areas, sometimes alone. And I do all of these things with confidence and ease because I feel safe in my town. After my ride along experience, it is overwhelmingly clear who to thank for that.
Emily, Content Manager — Angel Armor