Recently I was invited to ride along with the Oakdale Police Department on a random shift to experience a night on patrol and the unique things that come with patrolling the Cowboy Capital of the World. I took up the offer for a Friday night shift on May 9.
The shift started in the evening with its briefing where the shift sergeant, and watch commander for the evening, Brian Shimmel, addressed the three officers with the latest information and activities from the last shift.
The shift had a retired officer, Nick McKinnon, now working as a reserve, supplementing the activities of what normally would have been a mere two officers for the city of 20,000.
As Chief Lester Jenkins has stated before, the department is fortunate to have a dedicated reserve corps, which I later saw contributed to benefit a few situations throughout the night.
During the muster, I noticed the group was a jovial bunch with a common bond that comes where a pledge of trust forms from experiencing high-stress and sometimes life threatening incidents together.
Hitting The Street
The first officer I rode with was Officer Rocky Anderson, a highly motivated, knowledgeable, seven-year veteran of the department.
After four years removed from the street, night patrol and over 26 years in a black-and-white was all brought back to me with the familiar odor of a seasoned 100,000-mile patrol car.
There’s a unique scent that can’t be adequately described inside a car that’s acquired from being operated 24/7 with a heater that’s blown over spilled coffee or stale mildewed air conditioning on hot days, the lingering odor of sweaty drunks and drug addicts in the back seat, and remnants of various bodily fluids that have discharged from handcuffed arrestees on their way to jail.
Officer Anderson laid down the rules for the ride-along. Despite being a retired officer myself, I was to remain in the car on stops and do exactly as he said, especially if a situation would go “sideways” on a call. No need for him to have to worry about some over-zealous, now-civilian rider missing his own days on the street taking some uncalled for action.
After a false-alarm call (practically an expectation on the windy night), Anderson made a traffic stop on a car that rolled through a stop sign.
After checking the driver for warrants and probation status – she was probably the only person of the evening contacted that wasn’t at least one of the two – he let her off with a warning.
“She was one of those that you can tell was telling the truth,” said Anderson. “She was squirming and had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want to delay her longer than I had to.”
Anderson told of how he uses citations as “a tool” for situations that warrant it rather than to be punitive. He expressed his frustration that misdemeanor crimes aren’t carried through by jails and courts because of funding and staffing.
“Why punish the average citizen with a fine on an infraction ticket, when criminals aren’t even held accountable for misdemeanors and their stuff is always dismissed?” Anderson said.
A little over an hour into the shift, Anderson spotted a 40-plus-year-old male on a BMX style bike dart across traffic on East F Street toward Sixth Avenue. Red lights were activated with a blast of the siren and a stop ensued.
“Hold on right there, ‘Hallis’,” Anderson called out to the bicyclist, obviously a known player of the cops and bad guys game. “Don’t make me have to chase you like last time.”
A warrants check revealed “Hallis” was on probation with a clause that allows officers to search him when contacted.
Upon hearing the stop, Sergeant Shimmel arrived to provide assistance as a cover officer.
After a pat search, Anderson moved towards Hallis’ backpack.
“The flashlight in there isn’t mine,” Hallis called out.
To the seasoned officer, this is a clue that the flashlight, or something nearby, contains some sort of contraband that the soon-to-be arrestee is trying to distance himself from.
Lo and behold, inside the flashlight battery compartment, Anderson discovered a blue cellophane wrap containing at least a half gram of methamphetamine.
Hallis again repeated that the flashlight wasn’t his, but refused to provide a name whose it was.
“I ain’t no snitch,” Hallis said as handcuffs were applied.
A Supervisor’s Perspective
Since Officer Anderson was going to be out of service processing paperwork and securing the bike, I hopped in to ride with Sgt. Shimmel to get the supervisor’s aspect for the next few hours.
“I have three arrestees in holding right now that can only stay four hours,” Shimmel informed me.
Two of the subjects were from late day shift and the clock started ticking right before the start of his shift at 6 p.m. Due to regulations, Oakdale’s facility isn’t equipped to house prisoners overnight.
After a few minutes of cruising past some of the more known gang members’ houses checking for activity, Shimmel and Officer McKinnon were sent to a transient seen earlier at an abandoned house along West F Street near the edge of town.
On prior occasions the individual was a subject known with a felony arrest warrant with a good-sized bail. The subject was gone but the search led to other vacant properties in the sector and more people on probation and with warrants.
Officer Andy Stever found a homeless female with drugs and a warrant, and with her arrest, Shimmel now has to figure how to transport her with the waiting group.
Because the female arrestee had to be booked on Crows Landing Road, and the males go to downtown Modesto, Shimmel weighed the option of losing an on-duty patrol officer, two of which were tied up completing paperwork from arrests, for up to three hours with the task or calling in an available reserve officer to make the transport for pay.
Shimmel chose the latter and got on his cell phone to go down a list of available personnel, choosing Officer Jim Smith.
“He really helps me a lot in situations like this,” said Shimmel.
When Smith was ready to leave, Shimmel had to assist with the loading because the department doesn’t have any ability to provide a secure, enclosed location when loading prisoners for transport.
In the past, the lack of a secured, controlled entryway for vehicles has resulted in prisoners briefly escaping into the surrounding neighborhood. The solution appears as simple as a 12-foot fence and controlled gate around the department’s D street back entrance, but no action as of yet has been proposed.
The Night Slows
As the night continued, more calls regarding transients in various locations came in, including one behind the Oakdale Leader office in the Oakdale Town Plaza area, and not surprisingly at this point, all the individuals contacted were on probation with some even having small misdemeanor warrants.
Other areas of the city were quiet and strong winds may have kept potential troublemakers inside. During a couple bar checks at the Battered Beaver and H-B Saloon, officers discovered there was a tractor pull in Turlock as well as the Sonora Rodeo going on, both of which may have pulled people from the city.
Not all ride-alongs can be an E-ticket Ride.
Overall, the team took care of the city’s needs and I wrapped things up near 1 a.m. while B-Squad had another five hours remaining on their tour.
The Oakdale Police Department has a Civilian Ride Along program. With the necessary legal waiver or consent forms signed, the department allows the public to ride with an officer during a shift. For more information, contact the police department at (209) 847-2231.