Ride-alongs are good for all of us

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By Alice Du Pont

Periodically I participate in a ride-along with an officer from law enforcement. It's something that reporters who cover crime do to get a better insight into what officers are facing and what perpetrators are doing.

There have been some changes in the kinds of calls officers are handling and in the types of people who allegedly commit these crimes.

My plan was to attend church New Year's Eve but I was talking with a deputy Dec. 31 who suggested New Year's Eve might be a good time to take another ride-along with the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office. Plus, I was looking for a little excitement.

Bundled up and armed with a fresh reporter's pad and a camera, I joined officers around 6 p.m. at the GCSO for a briefing. That's when they tell you what to expect, make sure everybody is on the same page and generally discuss what problems may be encountered.

I was assigned to ride along with veteran deputy John "Johnny" Dolan from Chattahoochee. I knew him from seeing him around but not very well. After introductions, we got into his car but he warned me that might be a bumpy ride since a coil that has something to do with the tires was on its last leg.

Coil aside, the ride wasn't bad throughout the night. I was expecting action immediately but I was wrong. The first two hours we rode through the rural roads of the county criss-crossing between Chattahoochee, Greensboro and Gretna. Dolan and I talked about his job and mine. We discussed the political scene in the county with neither of us letting on how we really expect the upcoming elections to turn out and we talked abut out families.

During the ride his wife called and he talked to his 4-year-old son "JJ" and told him to be a good boy, have a good night and the last thing he told him was "I love you” before hanging up.

I thought about that statement for a minute and realized, again, how much these individuals give up for our safety. He could have been warm at home, protecting his own family. Instead he was on the road, driving for hours across the county so that if something came up, he could get there as quickly as possible. And believe me, they don't do it for the money.

The first call we answered came shortly after 9 p.m. Ot was a traffic accident on the Hardaway Road just outside of Gretna and were were near the Bonnie Hill Community. Through a series of shortcuts we arrived at the scene about 20 minutes later. The Florida Highway Patrol was already there and things were under control. The driver and both children in the vehicle were out of the car and standing on the shoulder of the road with family and friends around for support.

It was cold standing on that road and the girl in me finally gave up and I sought the warmth of the car. Dolan, unlike me, had to stay outside until everything was over, including the wrecker hauling the car off and washing the oil off the roadway.

If you want to see what these dedicated men and women do while we sleep or go about our business, any citizen can participate in a ride-along. It's worth it to see the other side.