My last day of gangs class was great. We covered topics that I did not have a lot of knowledge in and I took away more than in the previous two days before. It was day three of early starts and late finishes and to be honest I am quite tired now but I was not giving up.
After class I returned to my hotel, ate and got changed ready for my final ride along of the trip which was with the Pinellas County Sheriffs Office. During the visit to their Special Operations Evening the Captain of the unit arranged for me to ride with the DUI Unit. This is a specialist task force set up to target drivers who are impaired and they work to improve general road safety.
I was collected from my hotel by one of the team in a unmarked car that to put it bluntly completely shows up anything we have in the UK. This thing was a beast! It contained some serious kit and the engine sounded mean but (as I was to experience later) I could tell it had a lot more to offer!
When I got to the office which was located within the County Jail I was shown round the processing room which consisted of evidential breath testing machines and rooms where field impairment tests are completed (walking in a straight line etc). Then it was briefing time. This briefing was like any other team briefing I have been in and was the usual mix of force updates, chatting about things that have gone on, the deployments for the shift and the usual banter that follows when something someone has dealt with hasn’t quite gone to plan. The Sergeant had brought in a tray of sandwiches and cakes so we all tucked into that before hitting the roads.
I was introduced to the Deputy I would be riding with and after a bit of admin we went out. Like the other ride alongs I had been on we had the discussion about UK cops being unarmed and how things differ between the two countries from a policing point of view. It didn’t take long before we started stopping vehicles.
At the start of every stop I could not help but being cautious. I am the same in the UK as you never know who or what is in a car. I could not help but think about the amount of guns there are in the US and you do not have to look very hard to find videos of US cops being shot at with no warning as they approach a car. Being unarmed and my warranted powers miles away in England it was very easy to feel vulnerable.
The Deputy who had collected me from the hotel had stopped a car and I was taken to his location to witness a drink drive procedure taking place. I watched as a field impairment test that in the UK we would use for drugs offences was completed. This was the walk in a straight line, touch your nose etc. I had to ask why they do not conduct road side breath screening tests like we do in the UK. It is not the process they adopt there. After several minutes the test was still taking place and I was asked how long a test takes place in the UK. When I said that I would either be letting someone on their way or handcuffing them in half the time we had been standing there we agreed that the UK way was far better.
For the next few hours we toured the streets stopping people and backing up others in the unit where we were needed. At around 11 pm I needed to head back to the hotel as had to get ready to return home in the morning. I was taken back and once there I shook hands with my new friend before parting company.
I thoroughly enjoyed my course in gangs and the investigative tactics used by US law enforcement. I was extremely grateful to the St Petersburg College, St Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department (especially Ricky from their Community Relations Dept who I had spoken with before arriving and for helping me during my visit) for allowing me come and learn from them. The local police experience on top of my class room learning was without doubt the most enjoyable learning experience of my career.
THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU!!!
This trip was made possible by membership of the International Police Association. Visit http://www.ipa-uk.org for details of IPA news and membership.