Although the UT Police Department uses various initiatives to promote community outreach, one of the lesser-known options is the department’s Ride Along Program.
The Ride Along program allows students to shadow a senior police officer as they go about their patrols. These ride alongs are available almost any time and are beneficial to the community for a number of reasons, said Cpl. Joseph Bishop, who has been on the force for three years.
Bishop said Ride Along participants encounter many different kinds of scenarios depending on the time and call.
“We wear a lot of different hats,” Bishop said. “On some calls we’re there for a criminal reason … a lot of us are trained as mental health officers. We do a lot of that … we’re kind of like a mix of counselor and police.”
Ride Along participants may also be on foot at the discretion of the officer. Bishop said that walking around is one of the best ways to learn about problems within the community.
“We (talk) a lot with the businesses,” Bishop said. “Sometimes the (Austin Police Department) is backed up and we can show up a lot quicker. We show up, we try to solve the problem. Stopping and talking to people and having some community relations helps a lot.”
Physics and astronomy senior Dray Luckadoo said the program could be a way to prevent tension between students and campus police.
“It sounds like a PR thing,” Luckadoo said. “I can see why they would perceive the inevitability of some sort of conflict between students and the police just because it’s sort of a nationwide thing going on.”
The program is open to anyone but would be beneficial to anybody who wants to become a lawyer, future police officer or go into public administration, Bishop said.
Kinesiology freshman Enebong Ephraim said the Ride Along program makes the department more transparent.
“It helps enhance the community connection to the police,” Ephraim said. “They don’t always have to look like the big guy trying to keep the law, but they look like someone actually trying to relate to the kids.”
Anyone interested in the program can set up an appointment with the UTPD office. Participants are required to sign a liability waiver and undergo a criminal background check prior to the ride, according to the UTPD policy manual.