Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
Expectations vs. Deliverables
I recently had a very pleasant conversation in my office with two UMW students who wanted to ask me questions about the police response to a frightening incident involving four of their classmates.
Early in October, four female students left a downtown bar around 2:00 am and walked from there to a home on Charlotte Street, where one of the four lived. While walking to this residence, the four students were joined by a young man who asked them for a cigarette. They spoke to this young man enough to know that he was 28 years old, a Marine, and from South Carolina. When they arrived at the Charlotte Street house, the young man apparently attempted to get in through the front door after the ladies entered through a back door. One of the women called police, and three officers responded to the home and searched the area for the described suspect. The officers were unable to locate him.
The ladies then asked one of the officers to give them a ride back to campus, and the officer (per policy) refused. The officer suggested calling them a cab, and the students said they didn’t have any money. The officer suggested that the students stay the night at their friend’s house on Charlotte Street, and the ladies were insistent that they didn’t feel comfortable and had to get back to campus. The officer then concluded that the four adult women were safe where they were and left the scene to respond to another call.
The two young women in my office were writing an article for the UMW Bullet and specifically wanted to know why the officers failed to take the students’ concerns seriously and refused to give them a ride back to their campus apartments.
It’s not unusual for people to ask police officers for a ride somewhere. Our directive on this issue states: Citizens will be transported in police department vehicles only when necessary to accomplish a police purpose.
Such purposes include transporting a victim to the magistrate to obtain a warrant, transporting a victim in order to view and identify a suspect, or transporting a victim to our headquarters in order to conduct an interview.
But this interview with the UMW student journalists caused me to consider other common citizen requests and expectations that we do not accommodate. All of the following are real examples of things that we are asked to do but must decline.
Almost daily, we are asked to open a vehicle when the keys are locked inside. We will only perform this service if your child or pet is locked inside the car as well. Otherwise, we will happily assist in contacting a locksmith or a towing company representative who may use a tool to get into the car.
We will not provide a jump for your battery.
We are often asked to come remove a dead animal from a person’s yard. We do not pick up dead animals. (If you bag it up and place it at the curb, Public Works will remove it if they are notified.)
We are frequently asked by parents to perform drug or sobriety tests and/or polygraph exams on juveniles suspected of stepping over the line. Sorry, we will only do sobriety tests if the officer is investigating the individual for a related offense such as DUI, while polygraph exams are always voluntary and only for criminal investigative use, not to catch a teenager who is lying to a parent.
We also will not take your child to jail as a scare tactic, or threaten your child with handcuffs to get him to behave.
We will not go pick up your prescriptions, or your groceries, or your dog from the vet, even in nasty weather.
We will not deliver divorce papers to your (ex)spouse.
We will not go and get the car back from your ex-girlfriend even though you have made all the payments but it is registered in her name.
We will not kick your dead-beat roommate (or offspring) out of the basement where he has been living without paying any rent for five years. We will assist in explaining the eviction process to you.
We will not get the squirrel out of the attic or the cat out of the tree. That would be for a pest control service and the fire department, respectively.
And when your date dumps you at the movies and leaves you stranded, we will not give you a ride home. We will, however, call you a cab.
Seriously, it is very important to always have a personal safety plan in place. At a minimum, your personal safety plan should include: the means to call for help (cell phone in your pocket), the means to get a ride home (cash or credit card in hand), and someone who at the very least will miss you when you don’t turn up where you are supposed to be.