A ride along is the accompaniment of an on duty officer by a civilian. Road patrol, detectives, command and special assignment officers offer ride alongs: opportunities to see law enforcement up close. Most jurisdictions offer ride alongs and signing up can be advantageous.
Seek the Lord about signing up for a ride along.
Chaplains use an officer's passenger seat to deepen understanding and rapport. Normally, a duty bag full of forms, snacks, rubber gloves, paperwork and cop stuff will rest on the empty passenger seat. Conveniently located, the bag and front seat serve as a kind of desk. Between the seats, a keyboard, printer, monitor round out the office space. During a ride along, the officer moves the duty bag to the trunk and rearranges the computer for the passenger's comfort; an inconvenience on the scale of moving the coffee pot and hiding your favorite mug. You can still figure it out but, really?
Talk to your family or friends about doing a ride along.
Most officers mention nothing of the disruption of a ride along. A good first impression can be made by saying, "Thank you for letting me mess up your office today," while pointing to the passenger seat. Chaplains are trained to be assets by also preparing a duty bag. If a uniform is provided by the department, the chaplain is encouraged to wear it. Subtleties in adjusting the uniform are tossed by sworn officers, to a chaplain, like alms to the poor. Placement of the badge, whistle chain and name plate are easy but easy to miss. Pens, a flashlight, first aid kit, Bible, snacks and a notepad are minimal points of preparation. Extra water bottles for victims, officers and bystanders come in handy.
When you ride along, bring disposable water bottles to give away.
Water bottles break the ice, especially if they've been chilled and embedded in a cooler. On a ten hour shift, in summer heat, a cold bottle will soften the grumpiest constable. Hysterical parents and frightened children can be centered with a chilled bottle. Directing traffic sometimes includes the use of a whistle: one blow to stop and two quick blows to go. A dozen stop and go instructions can leave the greatest hero parched. Water at the ready is an asset.
Shift work includes a lunch break but sometimes the 911 calls come in so quickly, there is no time. Prepackaged trail mix, baby carrots (kept cool by the chilled water) or jerky are gestures, declined if untimely offered. Waiting for the kryptonite of lights, sirens and adrenal dumps to kick in before offering refreshments increases the likelihood of acceptance. Having something ready to give makes the person riding along an asset.
When you ride along, prepare a bag of snacks.
To be able to give effectively may require riding deeper into the shift. A seeming, "OK, I get what they do and can go home now," can roll over someone riding along. If such confidence rolls over said civilian, a review of motivations is in order. If a research paper requires a two hour ride along, then yes, meeting the minimal standard allows the afore mentioned. If however there is an interest in serving as an asset, a lengthier ride may be warranted. Snacks will probably be rejected until hunger has a chance to gnaw; water rejected until thirst appears; opinions withheld until trust is established. Trust takes time.
Often an officer on a ride along will say, "Take as much or as little time as you need to ride along." Civilians, interested in providing a ministry of presence, should proceed carefully. Leaving too soon may heighten the officer's suspicions of any hidden intentions. Staying too long makes for a pest. There seems to be a sweet spot about halfway through the shift where an officer might trust. What triggers the trust is mysterious but please know the officer is watching your every move. You may not remember what you did to earn his trust or her confidence because the truth may be that you've done nothing.
Consider journaling about your ride along.
To let your light shine among people, that they may see your good works and glorify God in heaven, remember that the sweet spot is not your doing. It most certainly is the work of the Lord. For reasons often unknown to someone committed to following Jesus into unfamiliar spaces, an officer decides to trust by telling something untold to anyone. A cop will revisit pain that's been stuffed deep down inside. A law enforcement professional will reveal a secret that has been eating away; a hope for the future; a problem that seems to have no solution; a question about God. A path, through the wilderness of suspicion, can be hacked with a machete of preparation to a meadow of trust. On good days, an officer trusts because the Lord moved.
Pray for the officer with whom you ride.
A ride along, front-loaded with the best intentions and tastiest treats, can however be hours of polite and mutual, "I can't wait for this to be over." An officer's unwillingness to trust anyone - at anytime under any circumstance - might wrap around your machete of preparation, swallowing hopeful optimism like a snake consumes mice. Wanting to do good and doing good are not the same things. When we want to do good, we sign up for things. When we do good, we lift our hands to the Lord before signing.
Pause and ask the Lord what you are to do after reading this post.
The chaplaincy is the result of a prayer and financial team lifting their hands to the Lord. When a department makes room for a Christ-centered ministry, the power of prayer is confirmed. When a chaplain can attend a training on how to be an asset, generosity is afoot. A duty bag is emptied but readily refilled by regular, generous givers. A full-time focus on first responders is the result of hundreds of people's obedient responses to Jesus' command to, "...make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded."
May the Lord Jesus strengthen you toward glorious ends.