“It’s a unique way for the public to come and be a part of the police department’s mission,” said Chief Chris Carden, who wrote the department’s policy in 1997 for then-Chief Louis Zook. “We’ve had this program in place since then. It’s a good way for us to not only build new relationships, but to protect relationships that have been in place for years,” he said.
“Ride Along” is the name of an action-comedy movie that comes out next month starring comedian Kevin Hart and hip hop artist/actor/director Ice Cube. According to the Internet Movie Database, “Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying Angela, James’ sister.”
The movie has nothing to do with Sylacauga’s program, but just as the movie characters get to know each other better, Carden said the department uses ride-alongs to get to know applicants better.
“It serves as a recruiting tool. We require all applicants to do a ride-along, which gives our officers an opportunity to get to know the applicants and gives the applicants an opportunity to see if this is really for them.”
According to a pamphlet outlining the program’s rules and regulations, to be eligible for a ride-along a person must be a resident or business owner in Sylacauga, be a spouse or other relative of a current employee of the department, or have an interest in a career with the department.
“This program is not intended to involve citizens in the actual law enforcement process, but to develop partnerships with the community through interaction,” according to the pamphlet.
Interested parties must fill out an application to participate, and applicants are subject to a records check through the National Criminal Justice Information Center. Riders must have a neat and clean appearance when they show up for their ride-along, and may not use cameras, tape recorders or any other type of electronic recording device.
Riders must comply with all directives given by the officer to whom they are assigned, and civilians must remain with their assigned officer unless otherwise directed. Civilian riders are not permitted to be armed, regardless whether they have a valid pistol permit.
After doing a ride-along, participants must wait 90 days before applying again.
Carden said many teens participate in the program.
“We have a big interest at the 16 and above age level –16 to 21. They can ride at 16 as long as their parents sign a waiver. We have a lot of repeat business at that age group. We no longer have an Explorer post, so it’s a great way for our officers to have interaction with the teenage community.
“It’s also a good way for us to be transparent, to allow the public to come in and see why police carry pepper stray, why we carry Tasers. It’s more than just ‘run and gun.’ There’s a lot of public service that you don’t see on ‘Cops’ or read in the paper. Probably 95 percent of what police do is verbal interaction with the public.”
For a complete set of rules and an application to participate, visit the department’s Records Office between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Completed applications must be submitted to the program coordinator at least 48 hours before the requested ride-along.
Contact Bill Kimber at firstname.lastname@example.org