SUBURBAN MOM TAKES RIDE-ALONGNov 18, 2016 07:53AM ● By Sophie Johnson
The arrest was not part of my plan for the morning. I
figured following a school drop off and before meeting my Mom for lunch, I’d squeeze
in a police ride-along to see Walnut Creek through the eyes of our law
enforcement officials. I expected the daylight hours would be a good time to
chat and if nothing else, I’d get a tour around the new Orchards and Encino
Grande shopping areas.
With a few restrictions, any citizen can apply to accompany a police officer on a ride-along and observe a typical workday. I was assigned to a day shift with Officer Gonzales on the Ygnacio Valley Road beat. At the station, Officer Gonzales showed me the SUV that would be our fortress. Complete with an Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR), it reminded me of an airplane cockpit. “I can drive down Locust Street at 10 pm and the ALPR takes rapid pictures and stores them so they can be scanned for matching crime data. Those alerts show up on my computer, and I can look into them.” Clearly a police officer needs to excel at multi-tasking—driving, listening to radio operators while scanning the streets for suspicious circumstances.
“We’ll probably just fly the flag this morning, essentially proactive law enforcement. Sound good?” said Officer Gonzales. That was just what I was hoping for! “We like to drive in neighborhoods and make criminals uncomfortable, but also assure the community we are here and they are safe.” Just then dispatch radioed to check out a residence identified as the home of a suspect with two outstanding warrants. As images of a reality cop show flooded my head, I thought, ‘Can’t we just circle the new Whole Foods parking lot and discuss the politics of homelessness?’
At the house, another officer joined us. From the outside, it looked like any other Northgate rancher. While the officers stood at the door, I tried to distract myself by reading the vehicle’s computer screen, which logged the constant stream of incoming calls from the station. (The department received over 80,000 calls in 2015.) About 15 minutes later, as I mopped my soaked hands on Lululemon leggings, Officer Gonzales returned. “The suspect wouldn’t come out, and the situation was not worth entry, but the grandparents were very nice. Shall we head back to the station?” he said. ‘Yes, please!’ I said to myself. Mabey most police work was pretty routine after all.
As we rolled through traffic and chatted about the positive culture of the W.C.P.D., the radio suddenly came alive spitting out rapid-fire dialog. There had been a minor theft at a gas station and the suspect was on foot heading towards Heather Farm Park in a black hoody. We turned in pursuit. As I processed our detour, a man was spotted sitting at a picnic table. He peeped over his shoulder, then looked straight ahead, with his back to us. “See how every other person is looking at us? The ones who don’t are usually the ones we want,” said Officer Gonzales.
Sure enough, as we spun onto the goose poop-laden grass, every nanny and toddler was staring in our direction, while the suspect appeared to be in a trance. Again Gonzales’ colleague arrived and the two calmly approached the suspect. Conversing all the while with the dispatcher, the officers gently put on handcuffs. I could hear the details of the theft coming over the radio—mini wine bottles had been stolen but none were open. The officers appeared to be debating about bringing the man in when the background check revealed he was suspicious on other grounds. The suspect was placed in the back seat of the other police vehicle while we returned to the suddenly calming congestion on Ygnacio Valley Road.
“Are you ever scared with something like that?” I asked Officer Gonzales. “No, I’m always hopeful and I’m a pretty relaxed guy by nature. You know, since moving here a year ago, there has never been a day in Walnut Creek when I haven’t been smiled at with a friendly wave. At least a dozen times since I’ve been here, I’ve gone up to pay for my lunch and an anonymous person has unknowingly already paid. That kind of thing means a lot to me.” I thought to myself, ‘Lunch is a nominal gesture compared to the roller coaster you ride every day.’