Opinion: My ride along: on the road with area law enforcement


Through the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) Citizens’ Academy (CA) program, I found myself on the road recently with one of the department’s night shift patrol deputies.  In accordance with CA policies, I took no pictures, and will not reveal any potentially sensitive details about cases or suspects I encountered; law enforcement officers will not be identified.  I will, though, offer a few observations about my experience

Just before sunset, I met my host deputy (who will be “Dep. A”) at the County Detention Center, where a suspect had just been delivered.  We had been advised at the CA to go slowly, that deputies might be hesitant to talk about what they do.  Mine, though, was gracious and open from the beginning, striking up an interesting conversation about the hours of duty he had already put in that day.

We stopped for gas as we reached Dep. A’s patrol area.  My host was looking forward to getting supper soon, but advised me to use the restroom at the gas station if I needed to, because “out here, you never know.” Thanks for the warning!

Sure enough: while making what should have been a quick sweep through the patrol area before tying on the feed bag, we discovered that supper was not nearly as close as we hoped.  First off, on a lonely back road through ranch country, we (I say “we;” Dep. A worked hard, and I did a commendable job of not getting in his way.) got to be cowboys, helping a farmer wrangle up a couple of stray cows that were wandering close to the road.  If that seems a little Barney Fife to you, check YouTube for what happens when a car meets one of those things the wrong way.  We made Cullman County a safer place to drive!

Now we eat?  Way too easy.  We got to start that way, but then a few words crackled over the radio, and we were on our way to back up other officers on a 100-plus mile per hour highway pursuit.  My host seemed as calm at 100 as he was in the CCSO parking lot.  After the suspect gave up to lead pursuing officers, and upon our arrival, Dep. A set about assisting others in processing the scene and preparing the suspect’s vehicle to be towed.  And our suspect was completely inconsiderate: from his point of surrender, not a single restaurant was in sight (ha!).

Once we got back on the road, another sweep through the patrol area.  Then, about two hours behind the original announcement of intent, it was supper time.  Our server–a face in a drive-through window; our dining room–a parking lot overlooking a highway intersection where Dep. A could keep an eye on things while he ate.  A quick bite, a call to wish a loved one good night, and we were back on the prowl.

It’s impressive just how much of Cullman County a patrol deputy can cover in a short amount of time.  I won’t name specific locations, but we saw a lot of places.  Along the way, we got to talk.

My host seemed passionate about his job.  He got into law enforcement after seeing people close to him in his youth fall victim to alcohol and drugs.  He really feels like getting drugs off the street can make at least his corner of the world a better place.  Early in the morning, he got his chance. 

After midnight, CCSO and Hanceville Police Department personnel teamed up for a joint operation at a spot where the two agencies’ jurisdictions overlap.  It didn’t take too long for the prey to come to the trap: two cars, six people, and stories that didn’t add up.  A K-9 unit was called for a sniff-around, but would take a while to arrive.  Deputies and police secured the scene, and the waiting began.

Then something remarkable happened.  Officers conversed, even joked and laughed at times with the suspects; speaking firmly but politely and treating them like, well…people.  One driver consented to a car search, and found himself in handcuffs when evidence turned up quickly.  Even he was treated decently as he was interrogated.  Contrary to a popular TV scenario, this round of questioning involved no “bad cops.”

All suspects are innocent until proven guilty, but enough evidence was found to hold five of the six suspects, at least for the time being.  Even in custody, the interaction between officers and suspects remained respectful.  The fact that no one resisted arrest or became belligerent helped a lot, but the officers conducted themselves in a professional manner all the way through a drawn-out process.  They didn’t try to be the suspects’ buddies; they maintained firm control of the situation, but did so without threats, insults or bullying.

One suspect’s last words to officers as she was loaded in a patrol vehicle for transport told its own story: she said, “Thank you.”  She wasn’t thankful for being arrested, to be sure, but for the way she was treated through the process.

Now, the officers with whom I interacted that night all knew that a ride-along was there, and at least two knew I was a reporter; so “best behavior” rules may have been in play.  But I can say that the patrol officers of the CCSO and Hanceville Police Department with whom I had contact conducted themselves in a manner that was professional, and at the same time courteous and compassionate–to me, to local businesses, and even to suspects.  For one night, and I suspect for many others, they lived up to the CCSO’s watchwords: Honor, Courage and Integrity.

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