Evansville police may change their ride-along policies this summer, after an officer’s son was accused by an Evansville man of assault during a department sanctioned ride-along.
Up for discussion — should family members be allowed to ride-along with officers?
“I don’t want to be knee-jerk,” said Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin. “Many family members decide to become police officers after a ride-along.”
But a June 28 incident during which Evansville resident Brock Underwood, 21, is accused of attempting to break the cell phone of a man recording an arrest at a Southside gas station has forced the department to pause.
Underwood was riding with his father, Officer Bryan Underwood. He was not charged at the scene — his father was the only officer who witnessed the alleged assault, Bolin said.
Bolin responded immediately by banning Brock Underwood from ever participating in a ride-along. Officer Bryan Underwood will also be counseled on how he might better handle such situations in the future. But the chief has stopped short of promising radical changes to the department’s ride-along policies. Such action would be unpopular with Evansville’s police officers as a whole, he said.
“This is a very popular program,” police spokesman Sgt. Jason Cullum said. “We don’t want one bad apple to spoil it for everyone.”
Video of the encounter is available below:
Over the summer, civilian ride-alongs are a regular occurrence Cullum said.
People like Evansville resident Micas Harris take ride-alongs to see firsthand what police officers do.
“I actually did a ride-along this past Wednesday” Harris said. “It’s really, really cool. They really want you to see what they see.”
Harris, 27, has several friends on the force and he has considered for some time becoming a police officer himself. After Wednesday’s ride-along, he said he’s almost certain he’ll pursue the career.
“The ride-along definitely pushed me over the edge,” Harris said. “This wouldn’t be a job, this would be something I would want to do everyday.”
Like Harris, many people who are considering becoming police officers ride-along to help make their decision, Cullum said. The program is also popular among those who enroll in the department’s citizens’ academy. It also attracts many individuals who just want to see what law enforcement is all about.
While the majority of ride-alongs are strangers, many officers say they feel safer when they know the civilian riding with them.
“I’ve had my wife do a ride-along, and I prefer that to a stranger because I know what my wife will do in a stressful situation,” Cullum said. “When it’s a stranger, you have no idea how that person is going to react.”
Besides reviewing its policy on family ride-alongs, Bolin said the department will also discuss whether it should create more stringent rules on when ride-alongs are allowed out of the police cars.
The policies now “are very vague,” Cullum said. “A lot of it is the officer’s discretion.”
Although the Underwood incident made headlines this month, this is the first time Cullum or Bolin could recall a ride-along getting involved in a police run.
“The ride-along program is an observational program,” Bolin said. “The ride-along should never be part of the run. I’m very displeased with how (Underwood’s) ride-along went.”
Written by Jessie Higgins for Courier Press