Tara in the backseat of a police car

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No, I wasn't arrested, I was invited into the back of the police car. One of my most memorable assignments in journalism school, wasn't trying to get a quote from bikers on the Williamsburg Bridge during rush hour, or the many other topics that I had to quickly turn into articles, it was the police ride-a-long that I still talk about.

Each student had the same assignment, we were to do a ride-a-long with the NYPD and write an article about a call we witnessed and a profile on one of the police officers we shadowed. We then drew from a hat which precinct and shift we would have. My classmates drew West Village, which is where I lived, and then they'd select the afternoon shift, yet I ended up picking Washington Heights and the late late night shift ending at 2 a.m. For those not familiar, Washington Heights is above Harlem, but as one of the policeman tried to console me had said, "It's an ok area, they police their own up here because of the drug trafficking that goes on." I was like "oh, OK, much better now." 

I wasn't really scared though, my friend lived up there and I would visit and it wasn't that bad, but a night shift with the po po was a different story. I arrived at the precinct and was told to put on a bullet proof vest. The thing was sooo heavy and there's no way the female cops on TV and film are that skinny in their uniforms, because the metal jacket was so bulky and heavy that it squished my chest and I couldn't even zip up my winter coat.

I sat in the back like a criminal (there weren't any seat belts so I kept sliding and hitting the doors with a metal thud) while accompanying the policemen on patrol, which mainly consisted of domestic abuse calls (seeing little kids cry) and a guy claiming he gave a store clerk 50 dollars instead of a $10 bill (yet the register didn't even have a fifty in it). Stuff like that, until that is, a call came on the radio saying a homeless guy was waving a gun around on the street. Then, the sirens went on and we went barreling down the streets faster than any crazy New York City cab that I've been in. It was intense watching them detain the armed mad man and although I was taking mental notes, I was also trying to figure out where would be a safe place for me to stand if shots were indeed fired.  

The hardest part was trying to get the police officers to talk in order to write my profile, no matter what I would ask they would answer "It's alright," or give a simple "yeah." Four hours with them, this is what I could come up with:

NYPD officer Billy Buchanan has the handsome, clean-cut looks that would make him a perfect candidate to play a TV cop in shows like Third Watch or NYPD Blue, but he is not just playing cop--he is the real thing. 

The 27-year-old, originally from Long Island isn’t a rookie either; he has been in the force for five years and expects to be promoted to sergeant by this time next year.

A little under six-feet tall, Buchanan’s face is marred by a scar over his right eye, which cuts into his eyebrow giving his pretty looks a darker edge. He is Dominican, but only understands a little bit of Spanish, which he says still comes in handy on the job.

He lives in the Bronx with his wife and 15-month-old son, who he says has been busy tearing up his house already.

His shift is from 3-11:30 p.m., five days a week, but he says he does not mind the late time slot.

“I’ve been doing it forever, it makes it difficult if you have a family, but not really since I’m home during the day,” said Buchanan. 

When on patrol duty with a fellow officer, Buchanan insists on being the driver, “I’m the driver,” he states flatly. “I like to drive. I’ve probably driven the equivalent of driving around the world, just circling these blocks on patrol.”

Yet, in reality he has never been to California or driven further than Virginia (Read more)

PS: I made it to the second round in the Blog-off, today's keyword was, can you guess? Police. Feel free to donate for the cause! 

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