A Friday Night Ride-Along With UCSD Blue Brass

    Patrolling the hallways of Mandeville Auditorium, Britton looks for taggers in the act. (Jaclyn Snow/Guardian)

    There is a little-known secret in American law enforcement:
    The public is permitted to accompany officers on what’s called a ride-along,
    allowing anyone interested in law enforcement to experience a typical shift,
    and giving the public a look at where their tax dollars go. Having just watched
    “Superbad,” I was hoping to have an experience similar to McLovin’s wild night
    with his new police-officer friends, but sadly the five hours I spent with
    police officer Michael Britton on his Friday night shift went by as many things
    do at UCSD — incredibly slowly.

    3:15 p.m.: The
    Waiting Room

    Sergeant Gustafson comes out and gives me the paperwork I
    have to complete before I can legally go on my ride-along. While I sign an
    agreement requiring me to listen to Britton at all times, I can’t help but
    overhear a student trying to press battery charges on a professor who pulled
    her shirt as he was kicking her out of class during an exam.  

    3:42 p.m.: Greetings

    Britton strides in, shaking my hand before showing me around
    the department. After we make our way out to his squad car, he sits me down and
    explains that in a “worst case scenario” involving gunfire, I am to remain low
    and run away when he draws the danger from me. Britton laughs at the look of
    terror on my face and assures me he does not expect this to happen, but wants
    me prepared nonetheless.

    4:14 p.m.: The
    Arsenal

    We drive away from the police station onto campus loop and
    immediately I get a sense of power. Everyone around us is watching for our next
    move. We can stop anyone in their tracks and either ruin or make their day.

    As we go to many a campus cop’s favorite stakeout spot — the
    track parking lot at the northernmost point of campus — Britton goes over the
    armory that he has at his disposal: two rifles, a gun, a knife, pepper spray
    and an extendable baton. Despite the arsenal, he admits that he rarely has the
    need for any of it.

    “My most important weapon is my brain,” Britton tells me.

    4:28 p.m.: Stop
    Signs

    The stakeout is in plain view. Britton does not try to hide;
    any alert driver can see us. Most do, taking unusually long pauses at the
    traffic sign, but one driver pulls a California
    roll and does not notice the occupied squad car until it’s too late. He looks
    over in sheer horror; however, Britton lets him go with a shrug, explaining he
    understands that students need to get to class on time.

    “I think, ‘Is that bad enough for me to stop them?’” Britton
    says. Evidently, this instance isn’t bad enough to ruin someone’s Friday
    afternoon with a ticket.

    Without warning, we tear off after a Chevy quickly halts at
    the three-way stop before taking off again. Britton turns his lights on and
    pulls the car over on the side of North Torrey Pines Road, mentioning that the
    tags are expired before he hops out and strides over to the car. He gives the
    driver, who claims to not have known, a fix-it ticket and he thanks Britton for
    bringing the violation to his attention.

    Although Britton admits that people usually aren’t gracious
    when being pulled over, having people thank him is not entirely unheard of.
    Even so, he is visibly pleased to be appreciated for doing his job. “I don’t
    expect someone to say thanks, but it’s nice,” he says.

    Britton prepares to confront a driver with expired tags pulled over near Revelle College. (Jaclyn Snow/Guardian)

    4:58 p.m.: Laser
    Time

    Obeying all traffic laws, we drive unhurriedly over to Revelle
    College
    , where we pull into the
    loading area behind Plaza Cafe. Britton takes out his new laser gun, a more
    accurate gauge of speed than a radar gun and a tool he passed a test to use.
    With the gun poised and ready to go, he looks for speeders coming around the curve
    near the basketball courts. The speed limit is 25 and it only takes a few
    minutes to clock a Honda Civic going 35. Whether he is trying to show me how
    merciful he is or he’s simply feeling lenient, Britton lets the girl go with a
    warning. However, he mentions that if the girl gets stopped again, his verbal
    warning is on record and will most likely influence the next officer’s
    decision; maybe he’s not letting her get away with so much after all.

    5:15 p.m.:
    Hunting for Mary Jan
    e

    Since waiting for people to blow through stop signs can get
    tedious, Britton spends much of his time looking for marijuana. At sunset, we
    head to the cliffs, which he assures me is a prime spot to catch stoners.
    Although he is a UCSD police officer, his jurisdiction still extends a mile
    around campus, and he is legally allowed to pursue law breakers to anywhere in California.
    However, when we get to the cliffs, there are only a few visitors walking
    around and no paraphernalia in sight.

    5:49 p.m.: Still
    Looking

    We drive to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to make
    sure the doors are locked and that no one here is smoking marijuana, after a
    short spin around graduate student housing. Britton leads the way up some
    treacherous footpaths where we stand quietly, listening for people who might be
    up to no good. Once again, we have no luck.

    Before we can check the doors, Britton gets a call — a girl
    hurt her thumb while using the facilities at RIMAC. It’s not a car chase or a
    busted party, but it’s the highlight of the night.

    6:13 p.m.:
    Ouchies at RIMAC

    Striding into RIMAC, we find the student surrounded by four
    employees who are attending to her mildly injured thumb. Britton goes into the
    gym to examine the machine where the accident happened and to take a picture
    for his records. Even for seemingly trivial events, he meticulously documents
    the incident. If Britton ever has to go to court, he wants to be able to
    remember the details. People stare curiously at Britton as he scrutinizes the
    bench she was using. They come over to see what all the excitement is about.
    Besides a few drops of blood on the wall, there is nothing to see.

    Britton’s partner shows up; now five people are attending to
    a swollen thumb. Having nothing else to do, we walk to the squad car conveniently
    parked in front of the gym — a major perk of the job.

    6:59 p.m.: A
    Final Attempt

    By the time we approach Mandeville, Britton is still
    persistently tracking drug users. I make a note to tell everyone I now know
    that smoking on campus is a terrible idea. Although we also look for people
    tagging the newly painted stairways, Britton seems set on finding some pot
    smokers.

    As we walk down the stairwell, he points to graffiti
    referencing “Star Wars” and bursts into laughter. Suddenly it occurs to me that
    deep down inside, this police officer is a real person. In fact, Britton enjoys
    typical interests and pastimes like playing video games and basketball. By the
    time he points out the “Star Trek” tag and laughs, I know I have a bit of a
    geek on my hands.

    7:02 p.m.: Door
    Checking

    Door checking is probably the most tedious, and least
    glamorous, part of being an officer on campus. Since many on-campus crimes
    involve theft, deterring property loss is a main pursuit. We walk into the
    Natural Science Building and although it is a Friday night, we find many labs
    occupied. Britton is exasperated to find many doors wide open, mentioning that
    thefts occur because people would rather prop open the doors than carry their
    keys.

    7:57 p.m.: Panda
    Express

    After Britton calls dispatch to alert them he is on foot
    patrol, we head to Price Center
    for a quick bite. Over his dinner of chicken and rice, Britton philosophizes
    about what his career means to him. Although he has spent his time on the job
    in relatively safe areas, he still finds his work satisfying. Going into the
    county to help during the fires, he says, was one of the most rewarding things
    he has done. He also mentions that, although he has seen people at their worst,
    he has not lost faith in humanity. However, he has been let down occasionally.
    “I have been disappointed … like, ‘Did you guys really get in a fight over
    this?’” he says.

    Heading back to the police station to fill out reports,
    which Britton bemoans as being incredibly time consuming, I ask if we have just
    experienced what he would consider a typical shift. He thinks for a moment,
    trying to compare the last five hours to his past year at UCSD.

    “It varies day to day … there is no rhyme or reason to it,”
    he tells me.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal