Just walking into the police station was an experience from the start.
From speaking with dispatchers to getting my driver’s license checked to make sure I don’t have a warrant out for my arrest (I didn’t), I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary day.
The newly renovated, sleek Westminster Police Department building was more contemporary than I had imagined from watching police-oriented TV shows and movies growing up. Seeing the office in real time with 20 different screens on the wall was exhilarating.
I was assigned to ride with Officer Engelberto Delgado.
While we were riding in the patrol car, I peppered him with questions and he answered without missing a beat. I set out to get the first-hand experience of a police officer during my 4.5-hour ridealong.
One of my first questions was asking why his car was still running in the parking lot while I was waiting for him. He said they keep the cars running in case they need to race to another call and also because their computer system will take a long time to reload if it has been restarted.
Delgado said getting to know community members is of upmost importance. That’s why he starts his shift driving through different Westminster neighborhoods, waving and chatting with residents.
Delgado said he and other Westminster officers are trying to change people’s perceptions of police. One neighbor even gestured for him to sit with him on their porch, and that’s exactly what we did. You could tell Delgado cares deeply for the community and its citizens.
For our first bit of excitement, we went on the lookout for a man suspected of stealing something and running across a crowded freeway overpass. The man then made a run for it in a local neighborhood. The man was wearing a blue shirt, black shorts and a blue hat.
No need to fear, Officer Delgado and I were on the case! He told me “you look right and I’ll look left.” Cue the best action movie music because we were officially in search mode.
This was exhilarating. We discussed how the man could have been hiding underneath a car or in a storage unit next to a house, which made the hunt especially tricky. Delgado explained how someone could have a backpack on and change into an entirely different outfit. After our initial search, several other police cars joined us in searching the area.
When we were done with that call, I got the privileged position of calling out different phrases on the radio. We had a couple of practice runs and thankfully, I succeeded in that capacity, but the dispatcher was confused to hear a woman’s voice instead of Delgado’s saying “10-8.”
Next, I was given a lesson on the Westminster Police Department’s computer system, called an MDC. Officers use it to see incoming call information and share information with dispatchers. It’s similar to Uber in the way the officers can see all the available calls and choose which to take. The computer system is huge, bulky, and sits above the drink holders.
Next, we saw two older men – one pushing the other in a wheelchair – headed across the street passing whiskey to each other, thus making it an open-container situation. We pulled up to them as they were sitting by a storefront and Delgado checked their licenses. He radioed to the dispatchers. They were given the all-clear with no warrants, so the two men were sent off with a warning.
To end the night, we visited the indoor Westminster police shooting range. The officers have to come in each month for qualifications, where they shoot 37 times at a target and can only miss three in order to pass. Talk about pressure!
All in all, it was a great experience being able to step into the shoes of an officer for an evening. It made me realize all of the different hats that police officers put on and what they sacrifice every day to keep me and all of us safe.
Five more takeaways from my experience:
- As a woman in my 20s, I asked Delgado’s advice to stay safe. He recommended not parking in dark areas because someone could be hiding underneath your car or to the side and you would not be able to see them. He recommended walking in pairs in well-lit areas and to stay away from certain establishments at night where crime is more common, such as gas stations.
- I’ve always wondered what instigates someone being pulled over while driving. Delgado said he doesn’t try to pull people over who are going a little over or under the speed limit. He’s looking for people who are going overwhelmingly fast or slow. He also said “officers look for things that are ‘out of the ordinary,’” like someone fixing their car at 2 a.m., or a sense that something is off.
- Have you ever seen a “CA Exempt” license plate tag? This signifies a state department vehicle.
- Police officers struggle to quit working even when they aren’t on duty. When he is technically “off duty,” Delgado is still looking around to make sure that everyone is safe. Whether he’s at a mall, a restaurant, or a movie, he’s always ready to protect and it’s difficult to flip that switch.
- Police officers have their own gas station for filling their patrol vehicles. Where do I sign up?