Wearing a bulletproof vest, I was ready for my ride-along with the 107 Precinct.
“The Ride-Along Program enables community leaders and residents to experience firsthand the everyday work that police officers do,” according to the NYPD Community Affairs Programs website.
For nearly three hours on the morning of Monday, December 5, I shadowed Police Officer Sakina Thompson – who has seven years of experience, all with the 107 Precinct – and Police Officer Shaniqua Pennycooke – who has five years of experience, all with the 107 Precinct.
They were designated Response 1 for the day, so they were patrolling the entire area the 107 Precinct covers. Kew Gardens Hills, Hillcrest, and Jamaica Estates are some of those neighborhoods.
I stayed in the back seat of their SUV squad car, checked beforehand by Officer Pennycooke for any drugs or weapons left by prior suspects.
We waited nearly 20 minutes “at an accident-prone site,” said Officer Thompson, Main Street and the eastbound service road of the Grand Central Parkway. Cars go straight from the left lane despite 12 signs saying cars must turn left. In a split second, Officer Thompson flashes the lights, whoops the siren, and punches the gas pedal. A woman with a child in the back seat of a white Honda CR-V SUV is pulled over at 9:08 a.m.
Officer Thomson goes to the passenger side while Officer Pennycooke goes to the driver’s side with her hands on her waist.
Back into the squad car, Officer Thompson checks the driver license for prior summonses, while Officer Pennycooke checks the license plate to see if the car is stolen or suspended.
The driver speaks Spanish only. Officer Thompson calls an interpreter service from her work cell phone to explain the summons given to her.
“Another accident-prone location is Goethals Avenue and 168th Street, near St. John’s University and the Grand Central Parkway,” says Officer Thompson. There are stop signs on all four corners, and still drivers go through without stopping.
At 9:29 a.m., Officer Thompson flashes the lights, whoops the siren, and punches the gas. A woman and her daughter are stopped in front of the security gate at St. John’s University.
The young woman gets out of the passenger side of the white Nissan minivan. “Occupants have to stay in the car,” Officer Pennycooke says to me afterward. Pennycooke was “not alarmed” because she figured the passenger “was going to school” at St. John’s University.
The driver admits to going through the stop sign and is given a ticket. The summons can be written by the officers or printed out from inside their police cars. An Electronic Vehicle Stop Report is filed each time.
A final disposition is always given to the 911 dispatcher. All of their electronic reports go straight to the precinct.
Police officers get calls from 911 dispatchers on the radio, but also have a video screen in their car with a GPS, detailing the call and the location.
Police officer body cameras go on as soon as they get out of their police vehicles and are turned off after their assignment. Officers check for any “orders of protection” using their work cell phones.
The memo books on their cell phones, computer entries, and notes all need to be approved by a supervisor before being put into a computer.
A burglar alarm went off at the pharmacy at 71-07 Kissena Boulevard. The pharmacy workers said everything was fine. Many times, people trip the alarm without knowing it.
Both officers said that they often respond to home invasion alarms. They check all the doors, windows, and back and front yards, and they canvass the area.
The officers receive a call to “investigate a possible crime” in front of the Queens Hospital Center on 164th Street. After waiting and looking around, nothing was seen. The officers asked for the dispatcher to call the claimant back, but no one picked up after several attempts.
The last call is of a possible wandering woman. We pull up to a woman in a hijab holding a cardboard with pictures of a family and a handwritten note asking for money for food. The officers ask the woman to stay on the sidewalk so as not to endanger herself. The woman thanks and blesses the officers.
The 107 Precinct is responsible for responding to incidents on the northbound Van Wyck Expressway, so we didn’t respond to a southbound accident.
“There are not many bicycle lanes” within their precinct, said Officer Thompson, mostly on Utopia Parkway and Parsons Boulevard, so both officers have not had to respond to those accidents.
Officers Thompson and Pennycooke have not had to respond to hate crimes. They did see Rite Aid and Walgreens pharmacies suffer from theft.
Both of the officers had several days of training about what police call “emotionally disturbed people.” The officers got to hear from people who deal with mental health issues, in order “to hear their side,” and from professionals.
Both officers had cultural training before working the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn this year. The NYPD generally doesn’t give training about cultures. Both Officers agreed they should. Both had six months of training by the Police Academy before becoming Officers.
Both officers cited loving and helping the community they serve as their biggest reward. The community is friendly and says thank you for their service. “They don’t curse you out. A lot of people in this area are cop-friendly,” said Officer Thompson.
Both officers have sweet voices but were quick, cool, and professional in all situations.
People wanting to go on a ride-along with a local precinct need to fill out an application beforehand. The ride-along is for two-to-four hours during weekdays, starting at either 8 a.m. or 4 p.m. To view an application, visit the NYPD website and look for Community Affairs Programs.
By David Schneier