Ride-alongs let citizens experience ‘a day in the life’ of Hyattsville cops
By ROXANNE READY — Hyattsville residents who want to know what it’s like to be a police officer can join one on patrol in a “ride along” to see law enforcement from a different perspective.
“We want people to know what we do and have an appreciation for the work,” Lt. Chris Purvis, a patrol commander and the department’s public information officer, said. “Most people are happy when the fire department comes, but they’re not too happy when the police come.”
Purvis said most people who ride along are students, city council members or people who want to become police officers. But the program is open to anyone, and Purvis said the department appreciates when people who are “negative toward police” are willing to ride along.
“We try to get them into walking with us and riding with us and walking in our shoes, and it sometimes opens their eyes,” said Purvis. “More often than not it does.”
When I rode along with Officer Jeff Kraus at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, I saw what Hyattsville officers do on a typical, quiet weekday morning.
Kraus said he never knows what to expect when he arrives for one of his 12-hour shifts, but he likes it that way. His team, Squad 4, keeps busy patrolling by car and on foot and answering calls from the community.
Including Kraus, four officers were on patrol that morning, with the fifth, a K-9 unit, out for training. Each officer patrols an area of about 1 mile and provides backup for the others.
Three calls came in almost on top of each other as we left the station, and dispatch settled on sending Kraus to take the statement of a man who had called about a hit-and-run that had damaged his car mirror.
Later, Kraus turned on his sirens and raced down the road in response to a suicide watch.
The entire squad responded to the call, which was from a Hyattsville resident with mental disabilities who has called often enough that the officers know him by name. They waited with him until an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital, though in the end his caretakers decided to bring him to the hospital themselves.
Kraus said getting to know people in the community is an advantage of working a small area like Hyattsville, which is about 3.5 square miles.
“Not just the department, but the officers, the culture [of the department] is community oriented,” Kraus said.
Police Chief Amal Awad said it’s important that the department build relationships with the community, noting the department’s ride-along program and community events like Coffee with a Cop, when residents can visit with police at local venues.
Officer Scott Hall, with whom I also rode for an hour and a half later that Wednesday evening, participates in the programs but has some skepticism about them.
“It’s a good idea, [but] some people, you’re never going to reach,” Hall said. “What helps the most is how you treat people.”
Despite the time of day, which Purvis said is usually busier since people are off work, there was even less action during my evening ride.
“You just can’t predict it,” said Purvis. “Crime happens when crime happens.”
To schedule a ride-along, email firstname.lastname@example.org.