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Riding in cars with cops

Editor's Note: Each month I visit with Portland Police Officers Mark Friedman and Brian Hughes and they tell me stories of crimes that happened throughout Southwest to fill this paper's police blotter. The anecdotes they tell me are interesting, funny, sad or maddening and I find myself asking a lot of questions to try to understand the nature of law and order in this city.

When Friedman offered to take me on a ride-along last month I thought it would be an interesting change of pace to go from writing about criminals to actually chasing them down.

My ride-along took place downtown because that's where Friedman was scheduled that day. Friedman, like Hughes, is a member of the Neighborhood Response Team and usually handles reoccurring livability issues in Southwest. The team has tackled drug and party houses, repeat car prowlers and other ongoing nuisances. That day Friedman was on patrol, covering for officers who are in an additional week of mandatory training.

Friedman, who has been an officer for almost 9 years, worked nights downtown for many years before moving to his current Southwest beat.

He guesses he has done 30 or 40 ride-alongs in his career.

'It's a great chance to interface with people,' he says. 'It's good for them to see what we do because a lot of them have no idea.'

What follows is a day-in-the-life account of my ride-along with Officer Mark Friedman on March 9:

7 a.m.: At Central Precinct, it's time for the day shift's roll call, a briefing before the officer's set out to cover their beats. The officers pass around fliers about suspects, announce some officer promotions (including Officer Steve Andrusko, former Southwest NRT), and give an update about a victim who was shot in a robbery on Belmont Street. There are 18 people in the room; two are female.

7:17 a.m.: In the parking garage underneath Central Precinct there are undercover cars and unmarked cars as well as the typical white squad cars. Officers check their cars for necessary equipment like orange parking cones and spare tires, and also check to make sure all the car's lights are working. With him, Friedman has a shotgun and a less lethal shotgun, which is orange in color, with the words 'Less Lethal' on the stock. It fires Kevlar bullets. 'It's like being hit by a major league baseball,' Friedman says.

7:38 a.m.: Inside the squad car Friedman logs into the Mobile Data Computer. In the system, officers can pull a person's criminal history, check on the status of service calls, look at mug shots and communicate with other officers. The computer beeps and the radio buzzes often and it's hard to get the hang of knowing when to stop and listen and when to ignore it. Friedman says that it is overwhelming at first, but you get used to it.

8:02 a.m.: Friedman pulls over and approaches a young man sleeping in the archway of a business that had repeatedly complained of homeless people leaving garbage, including drug needles. Friedman wakes the man up and recognizes him immediately because he has been arrested many times for drugs. He asks if he can search the man's bag, which he refuses, though he lets the officer pat him down. Friedman finds nothing but offers the man help anyway. 'I'd like to see you get clean,' he tells him.

8:28 a.m.: Friedman sees a heroin user who has a warrant for his arrest. The man is on foot, and as Friedman circles the block, the one-way streets and construction become obstacles. He loses sight of the man, who may have ducked into a business.

9:02 a.m.: Friedman is called to a car accident in an intersection near the entrance to I-405. He arrives and positions his car to protect the stranded vehicle, then places safety cones to divert traffic. Friedman orders a tow truck and helps the drivers exchange information by filling out paperwork with all the necessary information. This is the 525th call for service in Multnomah County since midnight. That's a little less than usual, Friedman says.

10:25 a.m.: Friedman goes to the Portland Police Museum on the 16th floor of Central Precinct to meet with three third graders from the Franciscan Montessori Earth School in Southeast Portland. One of the students organized the trip because he wants to become an officer someday. The children ask questions like: 'How fast does a police car go?' (Top speeds are about 130 mph) and 'How long does it take to learn to be a police officer? (There's about two years of training, but you also need a two-year degree.) After answering all their questions, Friedman gives them a quick tour of the office and then lets them sit in the squad car and take pictures.

11:37 a.m.: Friedman responds to a two-car accident on the entrance ramp to the Hawthorne Bridge. After checking to make sure no one is hurt, he checks the drivers' identifications and their license plates. After the information is exchanged, one driver leaves while the other waits for a tow truck. Friedman must wait with the car and driver to ensure he isn't hit again from behind. It is almost an hour before the tow truck arrives.

12:47 p.m.: In the Portland State University Parking Structure, Friedman responds to a call of a car prowl. A student reports that when he came back to his car, the door, trunk and hood were all open. The owner had installed a custom-built stereo system worth more than $2,000. 'This is not your run-of-the-mill operation,' Friedman says because the system was removed from the trunk where it was not visible. Friedman inspects the vehicle and looks for blood or fingerprints. Fingerprints will be nearly impossible to collect because of the textured surfaces on the dash and seats. The victim says this is the second time his sound system has been stolen.

1:25 p.m.: Friedman breaks for lunch at his desk in Central Precinct while he catches up on the day's news on the Internet.

1:36 p.m.: Lunch is interrupted when another officer needs backup to respond to a disturbance at a restaurant. Upon arrival, restaurant employees meet the officers outside and report that a 6-foot tall man wearing sweatpants had just left but had been yelling, cursing and refusing to leave the restaurant. The manager said the man was 'quite intimidating.' Citizens waiting at the bus stop just outside said the man had gone into the camera store across the street. The officers found the man in the store who was now calm and trying to buy a camera bag. They talked to the man outside the shop and determined he was no longer being a disturbance.

2:28 p.m.: Back on patrol, Friedman has been driving his area when he finds two transients laying in the doorway of the same church he removed a man from earlier. One of the homeless men is drinking alcohol in a paper sack. The man pours out his beer out while Friedman checks to make sure the men aren't wanted. He asks them to move along.

2:40 p.m.: An employee from a hair salon reports that someone had stashed a large bag in an underground utility vault on the corner outside. Friedman climbs down into the vault to retrieve the bag, which he immediately recognizes as the bag the homeless man wouldn't let him search earlier that morning. Other than personal items, Friedman finds white powder at the bottom of the bag and residue left in small baggies. There is also a syringe bottle, some needles and a brass glass punch, often used for breaking into cars.

3:20 p.m.: Friedman takes the bag back to Central Precinct's property room. He puts the drug paraphernalia into a bag to be destroyed. The bag, with the rest of its contents, will be stored. The property room has lockers for items, an area to discard things and a refrigerator for fluids that need to be stored like urine and blood.

3:59 p.m.: Friedman is needed to assist Project Respond, an agency that works with people in mental health crises. They meet with a woman who claims someone was doing things to her clothes and that her skin was on fire. The woman agreed to go to the hospital for help. This was the 1,263rd call of the day.

4:25 p.m.: Friedman takes a police report from a man in a wheelchair who said he was hit by a stranger while waiting in line at a grocery store.

4:45 p.m.: Friedman returns his squad car to the parking garage, logs out of the computer system and heads back to the office for about an hour of paper work before leaving for the day.

Jessie Kirk