My first ridealong with the police happened in early November. Officer Carla Sias had me sign an agreement promising, among other things, that I would do what she said, buckle my seatbelt, and not engage with prisoners. I happily complied and then we set outside the station to her car, which was filled with traffic cones, baked goods for the senior center, and even toys to use when she had to interact with kids. Sias had to remove the items from the front seat before I could get in. She stuffed them in the trunk, which was already filled with other items and equipment.
Sias’s department-issued car is an older model squad car suffering from a defective battery problem. Sias explained that there is so much electronic equipment officers have to keep running off their batteries that it is to be expected that an older car would have trouble. The electronic equipment included a laptop computer, a radar detector, a radar-based speed checker, a printer (for printing out court dates and citations), and radio equipment. Somehow, Sias is expected to monitor some of these electronic items including a department-issued cell phone while driving. She said that police officers are excepted from the law prohibiting cell phone use while driving. This has not stopped people from pulling up alongside of her in traffic and miming various things along the lines of “I caught you; you’re not supposed to be doing that” and much ruder versions. This is why she tries to avoid using her cellphone if possible.
All the electronics usage combined with navigating a vehicle made me nervous at first until I saw that Sias was more than capable of handling it all as well as carrying on a conversation at the same time.
She had a list of tasks she wanted to accomplish on her workday, which had just started about an hour earlier at 2 p.m. and would run until 10 that evening. The list included dropping off the baked goods she had made (Sias is well-known for her baking skills) at the senior center and checking in with people there and stopping by the high school to meet with one of the newspaper editors about a regular column in the paper that would help teens and police understand one another better.
But we didn’t get to a single item on her list because as soon as we pulled up in front of the senior center, she received a radio call requesting an officer at the Casino for an arrest. So we drove the speed limit (I had been hoping for a faster response) up 305 to the bridge and then pulled into the Casino parking lot where a Suquamish Police officer and a Bainbridge detective were standing by a police car containing a man they had arrested.
I waited in the car as the two officers briefed Sias on the situation. Then they took the arrested man out of the Suquamish vehicle and brought him over to the car I was in. Sias told me it was okay for me to get out. So I stood by and waited as they worked to get the man, who was quite tall, maybe 6 foot 4 and about 225 pounds, into the car, belted, and handcuffed.
The process of getting someone, even a smaller person, situated in the back of a police car is, as I found out, quite complicated. The seats are made of a molded plastic with arm grooves in the back and bottom, so the person can sit with his or her hands handcuffed behind. Two officers, one on each side of the car, had to assist the man in and then get him arranged so he could essentially lean back and sit on his hands and arms and then buckle the seatbelt around him. It doesn’t look at all comfortable. Maybe that’s why officers refer to the backseat as “the cage.”
I learned that the man had been arrested because another Bainbridge officer, driving to work past the Casino, had spotted him walking across the parking lot and radioed Detective Mike Tovar whom he knew had been looking for him.
The officers had collected the man’s possessions, which they inspected at the trunk of the car and sorted into two piles, one he could keep and one that was confiscated as evidence. One of the items was a diamond tester, a machine that can evaluate whether a rock is indeed a diamond. The man also had a gem of some kind that he told officers was not real.
Sias told me that we were going to be escorting the man to the Kitsap County Jail. Suquamish Police are limited to tribal cases, and since this one did not fit into that category, Sias was tasked with the job. When we got back in the car, the man was already confirming what I had suspected, which is that the backseat is not at all comfortable. He requested that the cuffs be loosened. He said that he had suffered nerve damage from previous arrests. Sias immediately called out to Tovar who was about to leave. He returned to the car and the two of them made a lengthy adjustment to the man’s positioning. Because he was so large, he said he preferred to sit sideways to fit his legs in, and this made his positioning all the more complicated.
I got back in the car and, just then, a friend of mine happened to be walking out of the Casino with takeout food. She looked surprised (perhaps not quite enough) to see me in the car and asked if I had been arrested. I said no, and then she asked if we would be arresting someone, not realizing that had already happened. I gestured awkwardly toward the back seat, and my friend awkwardly waved and ran away.
Sias got back in the driver’s seat and asked the man in “the cage” what radio station he liked. He didn’t know, he said, since he was from California. But he said he liked country and classic rock. Sias turned the dial until she found something he liked and she switched the speakers to the backseat. The man thanked her several times and said that “Most officers aren’t that pleasant.”
Sias shut the window between front and back, and we began the long drive in rush hour traffic to the jail in Port Orchard. During the ride I pelted her with questions and found out that she doesn’t eat the baked goods she makes. But she knows people like them and they make people happy, so she likes baking them. Among many other things, I learned that she moved here from Portland and was hired by the BIPD about five years ago. I already knew that she was Employee of the Year in 2011, in part because of the big effort she puts out to run the Citizens Academy, a popular training program for citizens that teaches them about police work.
The arrested man in the back began to groan just about when we reached Bremerton. Sias checked in with him and opened his window a bit so he could get air. His hands had gone numb and he expressed discomfort. Sias apologized that she couldn’t stop because we were on the highway and asked him to hang on because we were getting close. Once she had shut the window again she said that sometimes people will feign discomfort as a strategy to try to get away. As a wrist pain sufferer myself, the man’s groans were affecting me.
The jail is situated on a hill in a residential neighborhood of Port Orchard. You would have no idea there was a jail there unless someone walked you up to the driveway and pointed in and told you. The building, part of which has been upgraded and expanded, is an ugly spread of masonry with small, high windows mostly hidden from the street behind trees. There is no clear entrance, and I was surprised when Sias wound around to the middle of the building and stopped in front of a small metal garage door under a roof. Sias identified herself via a speaker and said she had a prisoner and a ridealong.
The door opened and we drove in to a small parking garage. She had to back up the car beside an immense padded concrete post. Then she removed her weapon and left it in the car and we got out. The man had some trouble exiting the car and he expressed relief at being able to ease the pressure on his wrists. Sias escorted him through a set of glass doors into a narrow hallway. She instructed him to face the wall and then she patted him down for weapons. Then the three of us entered an elevator to the side. She told the man to face the back of the elevator. It occurred to me that an angry prisoner of that man’s size easily could have taken a good kick at either one of us and exacted some damage. But the man seemed quite docile and compliant.
When the elevator door opened we walked down another short hallway to a gated opening. The gate slid open and we walked into a windowless lobby, kind of like an ER admitting room. The gate slid shut behind us and an officer appeared. He removed the man’s handcuffs and asked him to take off his shoes and socks. The prisoner complied and then, as if he had done this many times before, he turned to face the wall and spread his legs and placed his arms wide on the wall. The officer began a quite thorough patdown, checking the man’s small, front jean’s pockets, even unrolling his sleeves to make sure there was nothing hidden there. The man had to remove his jacket and flannel shirt as well. When the search was completed, he was taken off to a windowless room. I heard the officer say he would get the man some food.
Sias had to complete extensive paperwork on the transfer of the man from her custody to that of the Kitsap County Jail. Then another officer showed me the strapped chair and padded room reserved for temporarily holding people who are out of control. I’ve never been so happy to leave a place and hear the door close with me on the outside.
Photos by Sarah Lane.