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Ride Along ~

  The Vice-president (non-sworn) of the IPOC saddles up with the
men and women of professional law enforcement,
Riverside Sheriff’s Office (RSO) ~ Elsinore Station


       After many years commenting and writing on Police/civilian relations and interacting with the men and women of professional law enforcement, the subject of me being on a "ride along," shadowing an active duty peace officer during a patrol shift, was intimated numerous times. Many law enforcement and support people were surprised that I had never been.

       The last time the subject was broached, I put out a query on the LE lists I’m on, asking what are the policies and procedures for the local agencies to initiate just such an event.

       After a few generous offers from out of state officers, extending an invitation should I ever find myself in their jurisdictions, Sergeant John Lopotosky of the Riverside Sheriff’s Office (RSO) wrote, "Mike, I can set you up in Lake Elsinore any time you like."

       After a few notes back and forth concerning shift hours, personnel available, and viable dates to work around both our schedules, I was directed to report on 21 February, 0700 sharp, at the Lake Elsinore Station of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office.

       That Wednesday morning was cold and a little overcast, but I left early for the forty minute drive, to make ready for any contingency. I hadn’t been in the city of Lake Elsinore for many, many years, so didn’t want to spend time lost on unfamiliar streets. Pulling up Main Street of the town, I was a little surprised at the changes that had taken place over the years. Back then Elsinore was a little backwater built around the lake and catering to the tourists who came to utilize the lake and its facilities for various water sports.

       The Main Street had been renovated and converted into a strip of collectors and antique shops modeling the same development trends that had transpired in upscale Temecula further down Interstate 15. Following the Sergeant’s printed directions, I was even more surprised as I pulled around the Police station.

        Formerly housed in a small older building and a few trailers, the Elsinore Police Department, a contract agency working under the auspices of the RSO, was a brand new facility covering almost a city block and top of the line. I pulled into the public parking lot and waited a few minutes for the top of the hour to roll around.

       A few minutes before 0700, I let dispatch know, at the direct line at the door, that I was on board to report for a ride along. The station was still buttoned down for the night. Sergeant Lopotosky came to the door and let me in. Walking down the hall, we turned into the patrol operations room, I met Sergeant Bruce Smith, the supervisor for the next shift, and Sergeant Lopotosky had me pull up a chair.

        I really like the RSO uniforms. Green and tan, gold insignia, and with a tan stripe down the seam of the pants, it made for a sharp presentation. Especially with the chevrons at these guy’s shoulders. In the environment of the posh, new structure, the overall scenario was definitely not the preconceived notions I had of a typical rural LE agency.

       Sergeant Lopotosky put me in the custody of Sergeant Smith. The tone of the day was tempered with the news that a small baby had stopped breathing and Sergeant Lopotosky was going to have to leave to the residential site. Unfortunately, the baby had not survived the episode.

        After Sergeant Lopotosky had left, Sergeant Smith than directed me to follow him to the roll call room. We walked across the hall and entered the good sized room, which already had a dozen or so Deputies and Community Service Officers seated at the lined up tables preparing for the debriefing of the night shift’s activity and the up and coming shift change. Most eyed me quickly and turned back to the front of the room and the Sergeant.


        Sergeant Smith had immediately struck me as a quiet, composed, professional individual. Qualities I respect in any individual in leadership. That same quiet composure was distinct as he addressed his subordinates. He had informed me that roll call was an informal affair, and I was quickly appreciative of the open, casual atmosphere that prevailed as he bantered back and forth with the Deputies. Personally, I feel that supervisors, before anything, should be "approachable" by their subordinates. The interaction between this man and his patrol and support staff set a tone and mood that would prevail throughout their day. In their high profile, high stress day, this was critical. Although the interaction was relaxed and easy going; conversation between friends for all intents and purposes; his adamant "Okay?" and "Understood?" on critical points maintained a delicate command balance.

       "Mike, this is Deputy Kathie Perry. She’s the Deputy you’ll be riding with."

        I was startled back from my musings, to see a face lean forward from front and center of the room, past the deputy between there and where I was against the wall. A big, gracious smile said, "Hi!" and I waved back.

       The morning briefing concluded and the Deputies gathered their paperwork and started leaving, whether to their patrol cars to hit the streets, to various support positions throughout the station, or to the report writing room to the rear of the roll call room to finish up reports and paperwork that was needed. Sergeant Smith informed me that Deputy Perry was going to have to attend a closed door meeting in an hour, so I would have to cool my heels in the break room till she was free. We would be on the streets for a short time till the meeting.

       As I stood in the report writing room with the Sergeant and a few other Deputies, he forewarned that the bulk of the Deputies’ time was spent right there, writing about what they did "out there," and not to expect too much excitement. I told him I understood. It was funny in a way, his comments mirrored much of the same perceptions of the many LE people and supporters I have contact with when I informed them of this ride along. Sure, the idea of getting personally involved in a high speed pursuit or major Police action has some elements of intrigue, but as a student of cop culture, I was more interested in what happens "in there," when the cops where gathered together in their secluded, exclusive community; what I was experiencing in a small way right then and in the previous hour.

        Deputy Perry retrieved me and we went out to the car. I had mentioned to Sergeant Lopotosky I was leaning towards rolling on a night shift when we talked on the phone. He mentioned that he had a Deputy in mind, an individual he had a lot of respect for who was on duty on the day shift, but. . . .

        I quickly deferred to his choice. I know only a few female officers. The thought of spending some time with an active duty female cop would definitely present a whole different aspect of modern day law enforcement. I was quickly discerning the wisdom of the reasoning behind the Sergeant’s choice.

       Deputy Perry wields an infectious smile that lights up a room—or the cramped confines of a police cruiser. Sandy blond hair pulled back in a bun, a steady gaze, and the ruddy complexion most fair skinned citizens of Riverside County develop after working a few summers in our area’s notorious, blistering heat, her easy laugh had me immediately at ease. It was stressed enough for me, a civilian, an outsider, being in the company of cops on the job, but also trying to mentally record as much of the next ten hours as possible in the middle of it. Deputy Perry’s demeanor was friendly, altogether disarming, and removed a major distraction to me focusing on the events of the day.


        We pulled out of the station yard, then headed for the city gas station. An array of people is going through my mind at this point. Myriad active duty and retired officers from many different backgrounds and parts of the country I correspond with and know. If they could only see me now.

       Yes sir, Mister Horn! I certainly do feel right at home in this here radio car.


        We engaged in idle conversation as she tapped away on the unit’s computer terminal and we plied the still quiet city streets. After the unit service, we pulled into a residential area to check on an abandoned vehicle next to a wash. In an open area between the street and the wash, a beat up and faded Honda four door with no plates sat in the mud. We pulled up behind it and got out. Deputy Perry checked the VIN and I peered inside. The vehicle came back not in the system, so if it was stolen, it wasn’t reported yet. The last time it had been registered was four years previous. She began to fill out the paperwork to have it towed and we waited for the tow truck to pull up. An area on the towing report requires a determination on if the vehicle is operable or not. Is it "wrecked" or "stripped?" She decided to wait until the tow truck driver gets there and we’ll pop the hood.

       The flatbed pulled up and as I was putting my jacket in the car, I hear her and the driver laugh.

        "What happened?"

       I walk over to the front of the vehicle where they have the hood up. We’re all looking through the engine compartment down to the ground. No guts to this car. The engine compartment is picked clean.

        Check: Stripped.

       Deputy Perry says procedure dictates we have to wait until the driver has the car on the truck, to provide security on the off chance the owner comes along to stop the impoundment of their vehicle. Still, four years worth of tags in liability, one temporary spare on the front, and no guts in the car, guarantees this little pile of rusted tin an unopposed trip to the wrecking yard.

       Afterwards, we cruised through the surrounding neighborhood, and stopped and talked to another Deputy for a moment. Deputy Gibson. Her partner. Tall, tough, sporting a little gray in his regulation high and tight, a veteran of the streets and lake patrol and enforcement. We’d run into him again later. After a short exchange, we then proceeded on a silent alarm call.

       "It’s more than likely false," Deputy Perry mentions. "Merchants are generally opening up this time of morning and have problems shutting them off." The computer terminal ID’d the business as a smoke shop. We drove over to another side of town and pull into one of the town’s newer shopping centers, anchored with a nationally known chain store. The smoke shop is on the east side of the lot, and we pulled up to the side of the building, which was hidden from view.

        "Can I get out on this one?"

        "Sure, just wait at the corner of the building until I check it out."

        I watch as Deputy Perry walks down to the other corner of the building, then cautiously peers around the corner to the face of the smoke shop which is set further back on the strip mall. Although the Deputy mentioned that the alarm was probably false, her actions are SOP for approaching a genuine burglary in progress—which it very well could be. She disappears, then momentarily comes back. With a smile and a wave of her hands, it’s a given it’s a false alarm. Four store staff members are inside, with one merchant prattling he couldn’t remember the password or something.

       We saddle back up and it’s time to return to the station for Deputy Perry’s meeting. Back inside, she went to take me into the station break room. The Lt. intercepts us and shepherds us back out the door. I notice a small group of people sitting at a table in the middle of the room.

        The family of the baby who had died in the early morning. Wrong place to be parking me in the morning for an hour.

        Deputy Perry takes me back to the roll call room and turns on the TV and hands me the controller. "Sorry we don’t have an easy chair!" She leaves me to CNN and Comedy Central till she’s done. An hour stretches into an hour and forty-five minutes. But I get a chance to grab a private moment with Sergeant Lopotosky. He’s still working on the infant death case. At one point the Lt. came through and seeing me watching the news, asks about the weather. I respond, then he asks me if I’m waiting for somebody. I guess he didn’t remember me.

        "Yes, sir. Deputy Perry."

        "Oh. . . Okay." Turning and leaving, he doesn’t look too convinced.

       I read that as saying, "What’s an unescorted civilian doing in my roll call room?!"


       After a while longer, Deputy Perry came up behind me.

        "Hey, am I interrupting a commercial?" It’s time to get back out on street patrol.

        Deputy Perry pulled into a coffee shop parking lot to get some coffee. I decline. Too much coffee and we’ll be looking for a restroom every thirty minutes. Back in the cruiser, the next call is a fraud call. A local big chain grocery store has a bogus check—stolen—to turn in. On the way over, Deputy Perry runs me through “something I tell all my ride alongs,” and goes through the procedures on how I am to respond if she is hurt or incapacitated. I know deep down that nothing radical like that will happen. Still, roaming the streets in a marked Police car these days, when hostility towards professional law enforcement is at an all time high, at least being informed on how to react in just such a scenario is a smart thing to do.

        But that "nastiness" is quickly dealt with and stuffed back away into the recesses of our minds. Whether Deputy Perry having to deal with that sometimes remote, yet always feasible possibility on a daily basis, or me as a private citizen facing it constantly in my correspondence with LE professionals both young and old, it’s something that’s uncomfortably shouldered and on the whole familiar in a strange sort of way.

        Driving back down a main street in the town, we’re discussing spouses and kids, and raising kids to be responsible adults. One of her kids has had major medical challenges; we’ve been fortunate up to now, having escaped any major trials with our own.

        Deputy Perry started pushing my buttons right away. She detailed her foundational efforts, along with her associate, Criminal Information Technician Willi Simmons, in initiating the popular area "Cops for Kids" program. Simmons and Perry work closely with local businesses and organizations to not only assist needy families during the holidays but also to provide funds for medical care and summer camp. In 2000 alone, the organization raised more than $50,000. Deputy Perry and Willi Simmons were recently awarded commendations by their station Captain, Bill Walsh, for their years of work on the program. For me, a seasoned Sunday School teacher at our sizable church’s ample Children’s Ministry, as well as a Security Ministry volunteer for many years, our joint efforts in working with kids immediately established another unstated bond.

       The weather is comfortably cool and clouds fill the sunlit sky. Real nice day. I can’t remember where we are heading next; something related to the conversation between Perry and Gibson earlier on; but it’s another innocuous destination, "forty-five percent of police work" as another Deputy mentioned in the report writing room earlier with Sergeant Smith.

        Suddenly there’s radio traffic that I didn’t catch, and Deputy Perry pulls the cruiser over to the side of the road. I’m trying to interpret the radio jargon coming through, without much luck, but there’s a definite tension in the air.

        "They’re saying a robbery just took place back at (a well known convenience store/gas station). It’s right down the road from us." It’s about 1200 hours.

       High noon.


        Checking for incoming vehicle traffic, Deputy Perry executes a U-turn and we quickly head back in the direction we came. She’s communicating with Deputy Gibson and dispatch, giving her location and getting the info on the suspect’s description and the get away car. We pull into the convenience store parking lot, and Deputy Perry communicates with dispatch that if the victim is okay, she’ll proceed. The situation at the convenience store is secure so we pull out onto the other street to the rear of the business and head west. We’re looking for a primer gray Mazda, vehicle make unknown. For some reason, I immediately thing it’s a mini-truck. I don’t know why.

        Deputy Perry keeps the radio in her hand as we patrol along, looking for a primer gray vehicle. Cruising by a car dealer, she remarks it would be a good place to hide a car. We’re both visually sifting through the sea of vehicles, new and the ones on the sides of the streets. She decides to pull into a residential area further down, thinking they may have pulled into the area and hid on one of the side streets. We’re still scanning the side streets. Up and down, the seconds are ticking away. It’s only been scant minutes since the robbery, but I’m thinking they’re long gone. I’m still becoming extremely alert and focused, the tension clouding the air. We pull out of the side street in the residential area and back onto the quiet main street leading into the area. Suddenly, I hear Deputy Gibson on the radio,

        ". . . Okay, I got ‘em. I’m right on his tail. . . ."

        They’re turning right—right onto the same street we’re heading down. Less than a quarter mile down, I see the gray mini-truck turning the corner, away from our direction, with Deputy Gibson’s unit trailing them like he’s being towed by their truck.

        "I have you in sight! We’re right behind you!"

        "Okay. . . I’m gonna light ‘em up. . . ."

        I see the light bar on Gibson’s unit sparkle to life, like a miniature Match-Box car.

       "We’re right behind you. . . ."

        Deputy Perry hits the switch for our own lights, then digs the spurs in. We roar down the street and in seconds are on Gibson’s six. The two RSO units pull in tandem onto the dirt shoulder behind the yielding gray mini-truck carrying two male passengers. We’re on a curved slope in the road fronting the 15 freeway. It’s a high risk stop and time’s passing in nano-seconds now.

        Deputys' Gibson and Perry are deployed behind their swung open doors, sidearms drawn down on the mini-truck, shouting clear commands in unison,


       The driver is complying. The passenger door swings open,


        The passenger gets out of the truck. He’s has his hands out, but he’s running his mouth. It’s incoherent, insubordinate.


        He makes like he’s going to sit back in the truck. He’s incoherently running his mouth. He’s perfectly aware of what’s going on and what they are directing him to do.


       He moves back towards the truck and reaches down to retrieve something! I’m in utter amazement! Is this guy nuts?!

       At this second, I’m cringing at the thought of three quick rounds sounding off from Perry’s gun, if he comes up with anything that even looks like a weapon, the spent casings from the Deputy’s automatic bouncing across the hood of the unit in front of where I’m sitting. This dummy is staring down two law enforcement professionals authorized to wield deadly force at this very moment—and totally justified at this second if they did.

       He grabs a baseball hat, slaps it on his head, then starts moving away from the truck. The seated driver has both hands out the window waving them frantically, looking back at the Deputies with a terrified look in his face. In the next second, focusing on the passenger, I’m thinking, "This clown is going to run. . . ."

        Then the dummy bolts for the fence along the freeway, and then is up and over!

        Deputy Perry is on her radio,

       ". . . The suspects heading for the freeway. . . Notify the CHP. . . !"

        Deputy Gibson is still covering the driver, and Deputy Perry moves up and into the passenger side of the vehicle. Deputy Gibson moves up, gets the driver out, then handcuffs him. The passenger is running along the freeway.

        Another RSO unit pulls up behind the two lead units. Deputy Perry runs back to our unit and orders me, dead serious,

        "I need you out and in the front seat of that Deputy’s car."

       I’m piling out before she’s finishing the sentence, around, and in the front seat of the other Deputy’s car. Radio traffic is staccato and frequent now. Deputy Gibson disappears after his prisoner is secured in the cage of the third Deputy’s car. Deputy Perry peels up a rutted dirt road fronting the freeway, as the paved road swings away to our left flank from here. I can see her standing out on high ground, hearing her radio traffic directing the incoming, multi-agency resources converging on the scene. Somewhere, in response to the call, there’s a CHP unit rocketing code 3 down the freeway.

        RSO units litter the scene now, coming and going. I can’t see where the passenger is from where I’m sitting. Suddenly, the RSO helo, Star 80, banks in tight over the containment scene and the tightening noose. The thump, thump, thump, of the big helo’s blades reverberate in the air and echoes on the radio as various Deputy’s are communicating back and forth. I’m amazed that there is a helo in the air so fast, but find out a few minutes later from the Deputy I’m with they were in operation over the city of Perris, just to the north of our position. I’m straining to decipher the radio traffic as the operation unfolds.

        "Sir, hey sir? These cuffs are kinda’ tight."

        Gibson’s prisoner is complaining from the back. He thinks I’m somebody who can help him. I’m not going to start chatting it up with this guy, as I’m trying to follow the action on the ground. The passenger is across the freeway now.

        "Sir, these cuffs are really bothering me."

        "Tell it to the Deputy when he returns to the car." The third Deputy is searching the gray mini-truck. I see Deputy Perry’s unit crawling up the crest of the hill in front of me. Radio traffic is from many different people now and I’ve lost track of her voice.

        "Hey, sir? Tell that Deputy that guy put something under the front seat."

        I’m trying to ignore him. He starts calling out to the Deputy searching his truck.

        "Hey—he’ll find it," I say, trying to get this guy to shut-up.

       Slowly, as time passes, the passenger is collected by RSO Deputies and a CHP officer across the freeway and taken into custody. The helo pilot confirms the arrest. I guess the runner didn’t feel like leading a foot pursuit into the isolated foothills surrounding the area. The Deputy whose custody I’m in says I can get out of the unit now, as he attends to the driver of the truck in back. I’m glad to be away from the prisoner sitting in back. Somewhere the transfer of the prisoner across the freeway takes place between the cooperating LE agencies.

       Deputy Perry rolls back up to our position on the slope, and as our eyes meet, we both let out a laugh. Having spent only the morning hours together in the car, we both interpret what the other is thinking. What was sailing along as a pretty subdued and uneventful day had just generated a pretty broad police action in which we found ourselves center stage. More than one Deputy had mentioned something when the Lt. himself drove slowly by in his unmarked car, surveying the scene.

        "Well, better take my ride along back," Deputy Perry says, smiling. "Sorry for the musical cars. We had to have the suspect in custody."

       Oh, ah, no problem, ma’am, no problem.

        Sergeant Smith is receiving a field debriefing, quietly comments, "Good work, people!" and is gone. Various Deputies come and go; Deputy Gibson and another walk slowly down the side of the freeway looking for the hundred dollar bill that was snatched from the clerk, which is missing. Deputy Perry’s prisoner is brought on scene and placed in the back of our unit. The clerk from the convenience store, a bleach-blond, spikey-haired, kid, is rolled up to positively ID the prisoner. The primer gray mini-truck is picked through again as evidence is collected before the tow truck pulls up to haul it away.

        Finally, it’s just us again, me, Perry, and Gibson, with the two mini-truck passengers on board. The gray mini-truck disappears with the flatbed tow truck. I’m estimating the time now, but it’s well after 1400 hours when we finally roll down the slope and head back to the station.

        Perry’s prisoner is going to prove to be a real pill, as if he wasn’t one already. He’s complaining of medical problems and that he’s going to have a seizure. As we’re driving into the area of the station, he begins a pretty elaborate act, trying to mimic that seizure. Deputy Perry glances into the back. Then I do. I have a family member who has a mild seizure disorder, controlled with medication. The prisoner’s performance, although not without some effort, doesn’t even come close. Unless he can mimic foaming at the mouth and losing complete control of all bodily functions. I guess he doesn’t feel the abhorrent condition of soiling and wetting his shorts is worth the sacrifice to achieve his furtive goal—whatever that is. Delusions of escape and evasion? Stalling the inevitable? Deputy Perry and I look at each other and grin and roll our eyes at each other. I know he’s faking it. Deputy Perry knows he’s faking it. And what’s more, the prisoner knows he’s faking it. But he continues anyway.

       "I give it a three," she states quietly with a grin, grading the performance of our friend shaking and twitching around in back.

       Deputy Perry is too generous.


        Regardless, Deputy Perry gets on the radio and transmits the circumstances. We rolled back into the station yard and park at the back of the building. Two individuals working off their community service are washing patrol cars and peer inquisitively at the incoming units. Momentarily, EMS and an ambulance pull up. The prisoner is still laying in the back of the unit, feigning medical distress. After some conferencing between Police and medical officials, the prisoner is shackled, loaded into the ambulance, and escorted to the hospital—only to receive a clean bill of health. All at the expense of the California tax payer. I’m constantly annoyed by those who criticize the "brutality" of the American law enforcement community, quoting extremely rare Police misconduct incidents nationwide that always receive broad disclosure in the media, making them seem somehow "common," without the context of the majority of the whole to balance those skewed perceptions. In another country, the prisoner’s transparent antics would have won him a response quite different from that which he received. In this situation, these Deputies went well out of their way to attend to this prisoner.

        Deputy Perry’s prisoner is back from the hospital in a short time.

        That afternoon, I was unprepared for what followed. The driver of the mini-truck was secured in one of the holding cells off from the report writing room. Deputy Gibson was back and starting the reports. Deputy Perry and Gibson were negotiating who would do what. Because it was extensive. Very extensive. I was quickly overwhelmed at the blizzard of paperwork that followed such an event as this. I realize now why most of the cops I know are such good writers. Gibson was crafting the re-creation of the action for the records. Sergeant Smith came in and interviewed both Deputies; the event being recreated again for the official press release. The event was pretty high profile in the community and would necessitate an explanation for a citizenry that holds their law enforcement community responsible and accountable for their actions. Deputy Perry was checking priors on the prisoners—another extensive list—and the report writing room printer was generating page after page after page after page—and then more.

       Good. . .gosh. And there was more to follow tomorrow I’m told!

        "Yeah, we’re gonna’ kill a tree with this one," Deputy Perry laughed.

       The three of us were alone in the report writing room, when Deputy Perry went to interview Gibson’s prisoner, the driver of the truck. After she re-informed him of his rights, she queried him for an explanation concerning his part in the caper. Turns out he had just picked the passenger up and was, by and large, caught up in the event. I sat at the end of the bank of computer monitors, with Gibson in the middle, and Perry, with the door open, in the holding cell with the prisoner.

        The prisoner was a registered sex offender. He was required to register in whatever community he was living. He was asked why he had been moving so much in recent months. He was asked to detail the restrictions of his probation.

        No child pornography. No Internet access. No cameras. No children’s toys or video cassette games (to use as lures). I was beginning to understand why my skin was crawling, sitting in the unit with this guy in back.

        "Are you listening to this?" Deputy Gibson asked me quietly. I nod my head. Yeah, I’m listening. I’m wondering what Deputy Perry is thinking, for some reason. She articulated clearly in our conversations in the morning the objectivity and impartiality the peace officer has to always model in their dealings with people out on the street, regardless of what or how you think of them. This is another quality I have never found lacking in any cop I have met or dealt with. But I always wonder about the responses of LE people to some of the worst that society parades past them.


        Perry’s prisoner was back, bellowing and complaining from the other holding cell. The Deputies’ patience was wearing thin with him. I know mine was. It was amazing that one individual could cause so many people so much trouble. He seemed to have recovered quite well from his medical "difficulties." Their pictures were taken, the driver, after his probation officer was contacted, was cited for driving without a license. The prisoners was later transported by the incoming shift to the RSO Southwest jail facility. Perry and Gibson continued the arduous paperwork task, as well as numerous phone calls. At one point, the three of us walk across the building to the administrative area and the Lt. sets us up in a video viewing room where we have a chance to review the security tape from the convenience store. Frame by frame, Gibson walks through the tape to the exact moment the robbery took place. The last frame we see shows the private citizen who had just handed the hundred dollar bill over to the clerk looking towards the door with a startled expression on his face.

       As the day shift was winding down, Deputies began drifting in and out, finishing up reports, dropping off and picking up equipment, and preparing for the next shift. From time to time, a half dozen were in the room, talking, receiving a short recount of Perry’s and Gibson’s day, glancing in at the prisoners.

       The mood was light and relaxed, at least for the three of us. Deputies were engaging in good natured ribbing, mocking, and jocular antics back and forth. Laughter erupted again and again, mainly from me. These people are a riot! In the midst, Perry and Gibson expressed intermittent self-effacing commentary and self-critiquing of their performance during the high-noon stop. As usual, I was impressed and grateful. This quality is one I have, up to this time in my position with the IPOC, not found lacking in any active duty officer I have come in contact with. Action after action, event by event, these responsible people of caliber we task to protect us and society, don’t relay on anybody else but their peers and their own high personal standards to police themselves in their performance on the streets. Personal standards I have found higher than that required of them by the recorded standards of their field. This is always a wonderful thing to see. This keeps people alive in the field, in high stress scenarios, whether cops or civilians.

       Watching as an observer of this particular agency’s street staffs’ interaction with each other, the trust and good natured verbal ribbing, indicated a platoon of officers possessing mutual trust, respect, devotion, and confidence. Confidence in each other and themselves. Qualities each of them fall back on when things "go sideways" out on the mean lake-shore streets or in the isolated rural hills. What was going on in that report writing room at the end of the day was what I ultimately came on this ride along to find. It was neat to be a part of it for a short time. Those who daily shoulder this great responsibility they have taken upon themselves, hazarding their lives on a daily basis, an isolated group of people tasked to maintain our society’s law and order on our streets.

        In stark contrast to much of the political turmoil now scarring and undermining moral in some Police agencies nationwide, the RSO Lake Elsinore station impacted me as an oasis in the midst of that storm. There is some great things going on in here as well as on the outside within the context of their interaction with the community.


        I would like to take a moment to interject some observations and insights concerning the high risk stop scenario on the slope of the frontage road, especially for the benefit of the civilian readers of this account. I craft this free of embellishments and exaggeration.

        This stop was a classic and pristine example of the type of situation law enforcement people find themselves in every day, all across this nation. We hear much commentary on the "split-second decisions" that Police officers have to make concerning the implementation of deadly force; the decision to fire or to give the suspect the benefit of the doubt, all within a very fluid and multi-variable environment.

        I saw this scenario in this high risk stop. I saw it in real time. I saw this arena ten feet away from me. This wasn’t a slit-second proposition. This was worse.

        Sergeant Lopotosky comments, "It takes the human mind .75 seconds to perceive a threat, and another .75 seconds to react to it. If a gunman has a weapon in his waistband, he’s already decided what he’s going to do. He’s going to pull that gun out and use it. He’s already decided. The law enforcement officer still has to decide to react to it, whether to retreat, stand their ground, or look for cover. It takes about a second and a half to fire six rounds from a standard revolver. By the time the officer sees the threat, they have incoming rounds coming at them."

        This scenario unfolded in mere seconds; nano-seconds as I mentioned earlier. If that suspect’s demeanor had been a little more aggressive, if his body language had been a little more combative, if his movements had been even a little more violent and quick as he ignored and defied the Deputies’ commands—and he reached back into the cab of that truck, he would probably have been carried off that slope in an ambulance, or worse, a coroner’s wagon, instead of in the back of Deputy Perry’s car.

        The Deputies would not have made that decision. The suspect’s willful actions would have made that decision for them. I am still subdued in having seen this potentiality displayed in such a graphic and dynamic way while witnessing this stop, and whose fault is whose. I thought I had a good grasp on the dynamics of just such a scenario, but seeing it in real life, being there, was like getting hit with a fist in the face.


        Deputy Perry and I returned for the final time to the car. Deputy Gibson, in his civilian attire, met Deputy Perry at the unit and bid his farewells. Deputy Perry pulled the car around to her personal vehicle and started unloading her gear into the trunk. An officer’s office place is their unit. Deputy Perry’s gear filled her trunk, as would mine if I had to unload my own work vehicle every day. The patrol unit was then parked and the shotgun unloaded, car secured, and the shotgun locked up inside the station. Deputy Perry then escorted me to the front door of the station. It was getting dark. We shook hands and I thanked her for the experience, and I left into the darkening night.

        I wanted to say so much more before I left. But people who know me personally know my public persona is nothing like the persona presented from behind the keyboard. Besides, I was still reeling from the jolt of witnessing in person the high risk stop at noon. I knew once I was out on the road working the next day, lost in the anonymity and quiet freedom of the highway, the events of this day would start to crystallize and set.

        Even driving home that night I thought about Deputy Perry, a level-headed and impeccable representative and ambassador to the civilian community of the American law enforcement community nationwide. When manipulative politicians, exploitive political activist groups, and the biased media, paint the men and women of the American LE community with a broad brush of slander, mischaracterization, anecdotal evidence, and plain and simple lies and falsehoods, it both infuriates me and breaks my heart. Innocent people like this officer are the only ones who get hurt. Deputy Kathie Perry and her graciousness, professionalism, service, and heart, stands as one among many in her field, in stark, unassailable defiance against that storm. An insurmountable standard.

        There is a quote that says, "We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them."—Livy. I believe a lot of the conflict in our society between law enforcement and the citizenry they are sworn to protect is the lack of communication and understanding between the two camps. Law enforcement is an exclusive, isolated field, a mysterious, dangerous career choice that many civilians don't fully understand. That mystery leaves a vacuum of understanding in the minds of many people when law enforcement is thrust into the national media spotlight during controversial times and events, a vacuum that exploiters and special interest groups are more than willing to fill up with fear-mongering and lies.

       I have found that to understand any culture that is different from our own, the best thing to do is get right in the middle of it, keep your mouth shut, observe, and learn their ways. "Cop culture" is no different. Over the years that I have kept company with the men and women of professional law enforcement, I have always been welcomed; have always found people ready to answer my relentless interrogation of their motives, intents, purposes, and way of life.

        Arm-chair patriots and keyboard commandos are always quick to criticize the American LE field from the safety and comfort of their secure homes. I would encourage these individuals sometime to do what I did. Make a friend in law enforcement, go down to your local law enforcement agency or Sheriffs office, take the risk and sign that discharge form releasing them from all liability should you get hurt or killed—and walk that long mile in a Deputy’s boots. Stand for a moment on that Thin Blue Line with them. If you’re lucky, you can stare right at the specter of death that they encounter every day, feel the threat and see and face the split-second decision yourself, and find a whole new perspective about being a street cop.

        Saddle up sometime with professional law enforcement and go on a ride along.



       Personally, and on behalf of the Inland Police Officers Coalition (IPOC), I would like to offer my heartfelt and sincere thanks to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, the RSO Lake Elsinore Station command and supervisory staff, Sgt. John Lopotosky and Sgt. Bruce Smith, and the day shift patrol staff, for letting me ride with your posse. Your gracious hospitality and cordiality is deeply appreciated!

       And Deputy Kathie Perry, God bless your heart! Thanks for hauling my silly hide around your beat. (Geez, maybe next time we can get in a screamer high speed pursuit or interdict a bank robbery or something?) I have no doubts you will continue to prevail within the career field providence has placed you in. May your friends and peers continually watch your six with extreme prejudice, that you may do so. (Including that tough ol’ guard dog Gibson!)



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“Ride Along” Copyright © 2001 Michael A. Baker
Michael A. Baker is a free-lance writer and the (former) Vice-president (non-sworn) of the Inland Police Officers Coalition (IPOC), a Redlands, Calif., based Conservative law enforcement advocacy group. This organization is not endorsed by, or affiliated in any way with, any particular local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. Contact at:

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