The Times called me last week and asked if I’d be interested in doing a ride-along with law enforcement. I didn’t have to think about it … of course I would. Crime was one of my beats when I started out as a reporter for The Moultrie (Ga.) Observer in 2001, and it has remained something I love to cover. But this assignment was different than previous law enforcement stories. For one, I was one of several journalists dispatched by the Times across the country to do ride-alongs on the same day. We were covering one shift of law-enforcement, from as many officers’ perspectives as possible.
And secondly, given the recent violence against police, especially the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, this assignment had a darker tone. What’s it like to patrol a community at a time when police are all too often ambush targets? We set out to find out. I was assigned to the Paulding County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office about 40 miles from downtown Atlanta. Myself and reporter Alan Blinder rode along with different deputies on Thursday, July 21. I was assigned to Deputy Matt Stachowicz, a 30-year-old father of two who grew up in upstate New York.
Overall, it was a quiet night for officers in Paulding County. But the highlight for me came when a pastor pulled over and prayed over Deputy Stachowicz (above photo). We were sitting on the side of the road waiting on speeders or other law breakers when Dwayne Hewett, pastor of Ridge Road Baptist Church, whipped his SUV beside us, handed us Bibles and asked if he could say a prayer for the deputy. It only lasted 15 or so seconds, and I’m lucky I was able to make a frame. It was insanely dark outside, and there was (barely) enough light bouncing on the two men to illuminate them. For the photo nerds out there, it was shot at 1/13th of a second @ f/2.8 @ 6400 ISO (Canon 5d MkIII + 24-70mm).
Below is my photo report from that night, in chronological order. You can read the full story and see photos from other ride-alongs here: http://nyti.ms/29XvmFw
Our first call was about a stolen four-wheeler: A man drove off on one during a test drive in a local AutoZone parking lot. We checked out a couple residences (above), but came up with nothing.
Between calls, deputies Stachowicz (left car) and Josh Keener talk about where they will be patrolling during their shift.
Next, we went to the scene of accident (with another deputy) and waited for a wrecker to show up, which took close to an hour.
Dinner was the next order of business: We meet with three other deputies at Asian Express in Hiram. Deputy Stachowicz said there are only a couple of places he will eat while on duty — places where the food is prepared in plain view. It’s a common fear of law enforcement that their food could be tampered with.
It wasn’t long before another call came over the radio, this time it was for reports of a man running towards and approaching cars at intersections asking for money. Deputy Stachowicz said the guy is a regular in the local jail and was commonly causing disturbances in the county. Stachowicz and Keener talked with him without any problems and asked that he stay inside the rest of the night. Here, the deputies are shine a light on his chained-up dog.
Here, a man who Deputy Stachowicz pulled over shakes his hand. The man was pulled over for having a taillight out and was given a warning. Stachowicz said he has receive a lot more thank-yous and acts of kindness from strangers in the past few weeks. “The only problem is that these are the same folks who have always been our side,” he said. “It’s the other side I’m worried about.”Deputy Stachowicz locks up a local park after having to ask some teenagers (who were playing Pokéman Go) to leave.
Times reporter Alan Blinder rode along with Heather White (above), who finishes some reports in the parking lot before heading in to finish her shift.