Jon Smith Spent the Night on Patrol with The Salt Lake City Police Dept. “Pioneer Division”.

My night starts as I pull into the gated parking lot where I’m met by Officer Mike Ruff,

A veteran officer whose passion for his job is as obvious as the lights on his car.  He really enjoys what he does.   He’s also an X96 listener, and a new friend I met at a wedding I was DJing a couple of months ago.  He was kind enough to invite me along, and ride shotgun for the night.  But first, we need to go in and do the “lineup”.   The graveyard shift is about to begin, and the officers going on duty meet and go over the events of the previous night.   They welcome the DJ and instantly get to work “A body was found here, we arrested this person, we need to follow up here, here, and here”.  Already I’m getting a much bigger view of what goes on in my city at night.

“Dude, you know what you’re going to see right?”

A few jokes about obtaining office supplies and friendly jabs at each other add to the comradery these guys have.  They are a team.  No doubt about it.

You know it’s a tough job these guys have based on the first reactions I was getting from people when I told them I was coming out for a ride.  “Don’t get stuck with a needle”, “Oh man, be safe..”, “Dude, you know what you’re going to see right?”  Keep in mind, I’m coming out for one night.  These cats do this s#&% every day.

In my mind, I keep trying to draw comparisons to my time as a Combat Journalist in Iraq.  Only then I was 10 years younger, armed, and surrounded by armor.  Tonight, I’m in a new Ford Explorer (Which was RAD), I’m out of shape, and I’m wearing a Mickey Mouse tee shirt under a jacket.  But SLC is not Baghdad, so the comparison is dumb.  But I can’t help but feel that there is some sort of similarity.

One of us is in peak physical condition.  The other ate Panda Express 15 minutes before this photo was taken.

As we grab Officer Ruff’s body camera, we get word that there was a foot chase nearby which ended in a suicide.  Already I’m surprised by how much is happening around me.  There is a team attached to that mess, so we take a quick look, and we’re off to protect and serve.  Officer Ruff is alert, and at the same time relaxed.  This is obviously a neighborhood he knows better than most of us know our own streets.  He points out a couple of known hangouts, places we’ll “hit later” when the prostitutes and drug addicts show up.  He catches little things that would simply be invisible to anyone else I know.  Fluid marks on the pavement, cars parked in certain areas, the bags people are carrying.

I’d seen assaults, prostitutes, drug deals, and more, all in an area that would be filled with daily commuters and shoppers in less than 4 hours.

Our first interaction is a 19-year-old girl with a learners permit.  She panicked when a cop was behind her, so she stopped in the middle of the street.  It was a teaching moment, she did not get a ticket.  I know I sound like a fanboy here, but these guys are the “good guys”.  After a recent encounter with officers from a neighboring department, I’m aware that some cops are dicks.  Ruff is aware of this fact as well. He and the officers he shares his beat with are being kind.  They treat even those that are being arrested with respect.

We pay a visit to a domestic violence call which SLCPD has been to several times before.  The demeanor changes slightly.  The officers are frustrated with the couple.  They have kids in the home, and can’t seem to get their $%^# worked out, and yet, they also can’t seem to stay apart.  The offending individual is cited, given a court date, and told not to come back tonight. There are rarely winners in these sorts of calls, and the officers know there is little they can do.  I guess we’ll see.

I spent a total of 5 hours in Officer Ruff’s car.  I was actually worried I would fall asleep since I’d been up all day, and it was nearing 2 am!  But I was wide awake. I’d seen assaults, prostitutes, drug deals, and more, all in an area that would be filled with daily commuters and shoppers in less than 4 hours.

Five hours in a car, and not one bathroom break.  NOT.ONE.

My night was coming to an end, but as we’re heading back to my car, notebook in hand, Ruff sees a car in a parking lot of a closed business with two women standing at the window.  “That looks suspicious, and he’s trespassing… Let’s go look” he says.  As we’re waiting to flip a U-Turn, a dropped down Honda Civic runs the light at high speed heading into the city.  I can tell by Ruff’s voice that he’s torn.  He wants to be in two places at once.  This is how a cop should act.  He wants to stop them both, regardless of how much paperwork it would entail, danger, or practicality.  He wants to stop the crime from taking place.

He opts for the nearest offender.  The suspicious vehicle makes a brief attempt to flee but quickly pulls over.   The driver has no license and is from out of state.  The passenger has warrants out for his arrest and must be taken in.  He pleads and attempts to bargain.  But it’s gotta happen.  He’s searched, and placed in the back of our Explorer.  All the while the 40 people loitering nearby have all scattered – save for one girl in shorts dancing, and yelling into the street while drinking a bottle of beer.

This is about to get a LOT more interesting.

The only jail in Salt Lake County is the facility on 3300 South.  We pull into the “Sally Port” which is a sort of covered parking lot shared by other police agencies.  Tonight there are a couple of UHP vehicles, some Unified, West Valley, Sandy, and SL County Sheriff vans waiting patiently to book their perps into Intake and get back to their beat.

There are police officers like those in Pioneer Division willing to put up with more bulls#&t and well… ACTUAL s#%t than most.

Ironically, the safest part of the night is the one time I’m not supposed to get out of the car.  We find out our passenger has been hiding a film canister of crack and pills in his poop chute the entire time.  This guy REALLY did not want his loot found.  But they found it. They always do.

It’s during this time that I reflect on the last several hours and realizes how gosh damn lucky I am to live in my bubble.  There are police officers like those in Pioneer Division willing to put up with more bulls#&t and well… ACTUAL s#%t than most.

I think EVERYONE should do a ride along at least once.  It’s a cliché, but holy s#@t was it an eye-opening experience.  I for one will never see SLC in the same light again, and I sure as hell am going to appreciate my life a LOT more.

To my new homies in the SLC Police Dept, THANK YOU for putting up with a foul-mouthed DJ, and my ill-timed humor for the night.  I can’t wait to do it again!


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