I changed my outfit 7 times. What to wear for an evening of patrolling the streets, keeping the peace, and securing the city until the wee hours of the morning? I was going on a ride-along with the LAPD and wanted to be prepared for anything.
I settled on jeans, a black top, and of course, my cowboy boots. After all, I needed to let the criminals know there was a new sheriff in town. Ok, a new ride-alonger in town.
I’ve wanted to do a ride-along with the police for as long as I can remember. So when the opportunity presented itself, I was more than ready to go.
I met my partner, Sergeant Brian, hopped into the front seat of the patrol car, and off we went into the mean streets of Van Nuys. It took everything in me not to pelt him with questions. What does this button do? Where do we go first? Can I turn on the siren? When do I get a weapon? Should I wear a badge? Can we get donuts just for the irony of it? Am I allowed to Mirandize someone? (I’ve watched plenty of episodes of Law & Order. I know the speech.)
I contained myself and let him ask the questions. After getting to know one another a bit, he asked me, “What do you think you can handle tonight?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t know what will happen tonight. It might be really boring. But if something happens and things get rough, I need to know if you are prepared for that or if you’d prefer to be dropped off at the station first.”
I had to think about that one. I knew the evening could hold anything. But could I handle it? After some thought, I told him that I believed I could and that I am not entirely naive to what might occur. (At this point, I was relieved I’d kept the siren question to myself.)
Since he is a Sergeant, we did not go out on a lot of calls. Most get handled by patrol officers. He only goes to the ones that require a supervisor by law or by the request of the officers, which meant we drove around quite a bit before getting our first call. We had a lot of time to talk. I found the Sergeant to be conversational and informative throughout the night.
At one point, I asked him if he had any funny or fantastic stories to share. He hesitated and I saw something flicker across his face–and then he told me that most of the stories he had were probably more sad or bloody. He wasn’t being dramatic or unkind. I believe he was being protective.
“To protect and serve” is emblazoned on every LAPD vehicle. I see those words and it makes me feel safe; like someone is standing between me and the bad guys. It feels good. They are willing to bring peace where there is strife and protection where there is none for people they have never met, knowing they may be disrespected, or criticized by the same citizens they’ve sworn to serve.
Sergeant Brian knew that if we came upon a scene of violence, I wasn’t going to be able to “unsee” what I’d witness. I imagine that in his hesitation before he answered me, he pictured people and situations that were permanently embedded in his memory.
We may hear stories on the news or online where a police officer protected or rescued someone from imminent danger. We marvel at their bravery. That is the “protecting and serving” we see.
But what have we been protected from that we will never understand? There are people who see terrible things so we don’t have to. They stand in the line of fire and take on the mantle of protection so we can live undaunted by some of the complexities of this world.
I am not suggesting we all are living in a bubble. We have all faced agonizing aspects of life and seen difficult things. But if we are lucky, those things are not a normal part of our lives.
How many things are we protected from in this life? God only knows. He tried to prevent Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they gave in to the temptation, their souls could not “unsee” those things. In this life, we are all exposed to more than we should be. But I suspect we are protected from more than we know.
I believe I live a grateful life. I love my husband and kids and friends and hopefully don’t take for granted that I live in a house with running water, insulation, and air conditioning. But I’m reminded today about all the things I’ll never know. All the blessings I’ve received but never recognized. All the ways I’ve been protected that amount to a flicker on the face of a Sergeant for me and a host of memories for him.
We went out on a couple of (non-violent) calls that night and I loved every minute. I inquired if there were openings for a professional “ride alonger” but I was politely declined. I never did get to wear a badge or Mirandize anyone. But I have the feeling that’s just fine for my soul. And I am grateful.
MELISSA MAIMONE brings encouragement to her audiences with a blend of insight, transparency, and theology. Affected by depression and anxiety from a young age, she shares with vulnerability (and plenty of humor!) that a hopeful, joyous life is possible no matter what your circumstance.