People who know me seemed surprised when I said I would be going on a ride-along with the Morgantown Police Department. I guess I don’t come off as the type to have an interest in law enforcement, but I’ve always wanted to be inside the cruiser looking out. I thought I might get a look at hard criminals in the back seat, perhaps following up on previous crimes committed or even going to court to see a heated shouting match play out. And then I was reminded of the words Dick Wolf had made sure I heard regularly… “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separately but equal important groups. The police who investigate crime, and the District Attorney who prosecute the offenders, these are their stories…” DUN DUN! So no court dramas for me.
What I got instead was a real look at the human behind the uniform. The guy who doesn’t actually want to write you a ticket but will if he has to, the guy who wears more uniforms than one and serves the community with kindness along with practicality. Does he know you’re going to use your phone while you’re driving? Yes, he knows. But he also knows there are ways of doing that which keep you and others on the road safe. If you’re using your phone and he catches you, it means you were so distracted that you didn’t notice his bright black and white cruiser. “I’m not hard to spot,” he points out. Hands-free technology also prevents you from getting those distracted driving tickets… or warnings, as was my case on the ride-along.
Officer Melan seemed to want to give more warnings rather than tickets, but a lot of that depends on your driving record and attitude. Officer Melan’s nonchalant attitude of “ok lets pull this car over” as he explains their infraction makes it easy to forget that he puts his life on the line every day just doing stops like this. I think other people forget that too, as they treat him as a nuisance and a waste of their time. He is, after all, making them late.
If you’d expected a ride-along to be a mix between the TV show COPS and dashcam footage you’ve seen on the internet, you’d be disappointed. Me? I wanted to bust people for not having their headlights on far before it was time to turn them on. Before climbing in that passenger seat, I had no idea what a rule-follower I am inside! I found myself saying things like “does that window tint seem too dark to you? … I don’t even know who I am anymore.
But enough about me. As we drove around, Officer Melan didn’t seem to want to talk about the dangers of his job at all. Instead we talked about the areas he patrols and the vast amount of paperwork involved. We talked about his passions which were cooking, dogs and building with his family. The only point of contention was our disagreement about paying for someone else to make grilled cheese. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a fancy grownup grilled cheese! But given that Officer Melan seems to be a wonderful cook himself, as he rattled off a few of his favorite recipes, I guess I wasn’t surprised that he refuses to buy something as easy to make as a grilled cheese.
It’s easy to forget that the person pulling you over is a person with a past, a family and places to be. They, too, have laundry to do at home, they cancel dental appointments, they count the minutes until their shift is over so they can Netflix binge on the couch. Officer Melan reminded me that. Everyone should have the opportunity to ride-along with a member of their local law enforcement, if for any reason: the view from the passenger seat is eye opening.