Last night, I did a ride along with the Cincinnati Police Department’s District 5 in Clifton. We started at 9 p.m. and I finished up at 2 a.m. The shift goes to 7 a.m., but I thought five hours — half way — would be a solid representation of police work and I didn’t want to screw up my already wonky sleep schedule. It’s also worth prefacing that the police work is somewhat altered because they weren’t going to send my cop to high-risk calls due to my presence, i.e., they didn’t want to put me in danger. At traffic stops, like when we came up on a car with expired tags that looked more like a potential drug deal, I had to stay in the car. Or when we rolled up on a man that heard voices in his head at his house, I had to stay in the car. But in other situations, I was allowed to accompany the officer during the incidents.
Now, as a passionate and open writer about police brutality and the need for police reforms, I get a lot of mud slung my way that I’m just a cop hater, a cop basher and a keyboard warrior. I don’t have anything to prove to these types and I don’t have to defend myself on this because I know what I believe and where I stand. However, I will, anyway. A cop hater, a cop basher and a keyboard warrior wouldn’t volunteer to spend five hours in a police cruiser talking to a cop.
And the cop was nothing but gracious and patient with me as I peppered him with questions and I knew my presence meant he couldn’t go to more high-risk calls. I’d recommend anyone of any preconceived beliefs to do it, just to see what it’s like.
My officer, Greg Marsh, with the Cincinnati Police Department for a little over a year after transferring from the small-town of Amelia (where he was for over eight years), has a wife and two kids, ages 2 and 1, respectively.
Marsh’s route to being a police officer is quite extraordinary: his wife, a bank teller, was held up at gunpoint during a bank robbery. Prior to being a police officer, Marsh was a warehouse manager for an appliances company, as well as working his way through Cincinnati State for computer engineering. When this situation went down and he saw first-hand how it affected his wife, he knew he had to be a police officer.
It wasn’t about revenge or trying to catch the guy who did it — he went to jail and has since been released — but about how eye-opening it was to see a side of crime he had never seen. He recounted how he saw his wife for months afterward afraid to go out of the house. The face of crime had rebounded in a personal way and influenced his path forward.
“There’s no substitute for situational awareness,” Marsh said.
When I arrived at District 5, I met Marsh and then roll call was taken, which I had to step away. During which, the sergeant checked that their Tasers worked and their guns were loaded. The Tasers made quite the loud noise when being tested out.
Once Marsh loaded his rifle in the trunk, we took off to get gas at the city pumps and then onto the streets of Clifton.
Our first call was a third party call about a man assaulted by an unknown man, which the third party ended up being the victim’s father. We caught up with the man at a gas station, where he was clearly drunk and recounted his story to us multiple times. He had gone to his sister’s house and then was confronted by a man wielding a baton, so he said. He had a nice cut above his right eye.
Officer Marsh asked if the man wanted a ride home and that he’d write a felonious assault report to try to figure out who the assailant was. The man obliged, although he said he really wanted to go track this guy down and retaliate. Fortunately, he went home instead.
The beat here in Cincinnati is much different than back in Amelia, a population of slightly less than 5,000; it’s the classic small town vs. big town ethos and vibe. The streets tell their own tales within each context.
“I’d walk in [to Amelia’s police department] and be he only guy there,” Marsh said.
Now, he has anywhere between eight to 15 guys on the same shift backing him up, in case something goes down.
“At the end of the day, if I need help, I know they’re coming,” Marsh said.
He has ambitions of working in plain clothes and before he finishes his career, being a lieutenant. But right now, he’s just trying to earn his due on the patrol beat.
I had to ask him when we were parked, as he wrote his report about the assault, the most cliche cop question: Have you ever fired your weapon or used your Taser?
Like most cops, he hasn’t.
“Never needed to — verbal judo,” Marsh said.
Which he put into action to dissuade the assault victim from seeking retribution and getting into his patrol car to be taken back home.
Of course, policing is in the public eye at the moment due to many high-profile police shootings since Ferguson in 2014 and issues around body cameras and the like.
“Nobody wants to walk a mile in our shoes,” Marsh said. “Before, when I was a warehouse manager, I was just a guy on the street. Once I became a cop, you see the two extremes. Those who love us and those who hate us.”
One such person that at least loved the protection afforded by the police was an old black woman that requested Marsh escort her to her apartment building because the area was dimly lit and she was scared. Of course, Marsh obliged, happy to do so.
He said he gets people that walk up to him, shake his hand and thank him. I also saw this on the bulletin board in the police department:
One of our next stops was a single car accident where the car was on fire. At first, Marsh was going to try to put it out with the fire extinguisher in the trunk, but the fire stated growing, so the fire department came to put it out. It turned out that the driver was drunk. A field sobriety test was done to confirm as such and he was arrested.
Even though it’s a 40-minute commute from his home in Clermont, Marsh is used to the third shift because that’s all he’s ever done.
“It’s a decent call [on third shift, usually], someone that needs help,” Marsh said.
Marsh dropped me back off at my car at approximately 2:00 a.m. Quite the punctual officer.
So, yes, the ride along was informative and interesting for many reasons, one of which being the obvious: getting to see up close and personal the “man” behind the badge. However, believe it or not, it’s possible to hold these two thoughts in your head: 1.) That there is a human being behind the badge, a person that, like anyone, wants to go back home to, in this case, wife and two small children and 2.) That police reforms are urgently, badly needed in the United States and that it’s not a mere case of “bad apples,” but a need for systemic changes to how policing is done.
When we went to the gas station to interview the victim of assault, we had numerous people walk behind us. There were two other officers present at the scene, but I could feel the intensity and the fear of the situation. My eyes were on a swivel. Likewise, I felt that same visceral, “Anything could happen,” feeling when the officer left me in the car to go knock on a man’s door in a neighborhood.
I get that fear now, more than I would have had I remained behind this keyboard. I get it. I get that desire where police officers want to make sure they get back home. I get that feeling that they feel like being in a police uniform presents them as targets.
However, I also know our streets are not a literal war zone and that officer fatalities are the lowest they’ve been in decades, even though the relatively small number killed a year are nevertheless tragic. It’s not us vs. them, it’s not police vs. those on the streets and in the low-income houses.
I also know that, despite that fear I felt and the desire I know they have to get back home to their families, that they signed up for this. They took on this responsibility and Marsh admitted to as much, acknowledging the power police have to take a life or liberties, but that society demands law and order of some sort.
And that’s the balance, right? Between law and order and liberty. And shocker, this is a complex issue. There’s no black-and-white here. It’s time for both sides to stop demonizing the other and standing in their entrenched demagogue spaces.
Moreover, respect the fact that, as I said, it’s possible to hold both views in one’s head at the same time. That Marsh is a normal man behind the badge, but that what that badge represents is sorely in need of reform.
We can do this, but it’s going to take going beyond preconceived notions and narrow minds from both sides.