Police Ride-Alongs, A Legal Question
November 13, 2012 11:08 AM   Subscribe

How much privilege do regular citizens on a Ride-Along have?

I think this question is better posed as a hypothetical. Most police departments, unless I'm uninformed, allow regular citizens to schedule something widely referred to as "Ride-Alongs," where they are given a short brief and then allowed to accompany a police officer on his/her shift (or a portion thereof). This scenario naturally puts the person in a position to gain intimate knowledge into the lives of others, some of whom probably live and work in the very same neighborhood. Which got me thinking...

Imagine some bad people have broken into your home, assaulted & robbed you and your family and made a successful getaway. The police are there now taking a report, asking questions and so forth, and so too is some person in plain clothes who just happens to be on a Ride-Along.

Now, assuming your nosy neighbor from across the street isn't allowed to just wander into the house while the police are there, and start listening to the interview while looking around at you and your family and your private home...to what degree does this other person (who could very well be the same nosy neighbor) have the right to do the same?

I suppose what I'm interested to know is:

What would typically occur if you expressed your desire to have only the necessary personnel present for the initial investigation, citing the desire for privacy?

What are the technical limitations/rights/privileges of a citizen on a Police Ride-Along, if it has been addressed by the legal system?

Same in the case of a television crew or other non-standard citizen.

and trivially, would it be any different if you happened to be a celebrity?
posted by mousepad to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Policies differ by department, but most require the citizen to remain in the vehicle during any stops, so citizens would not be "present" for any investigations/interviews. IANAL, so can't speak to the legal questions.

Re: celebrities: things are often different for celebrities in all facets of life, and this usually entails contravention of some policy or other.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:20 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having been on a ride-along (and therefore having participated in the fairly involved educational process which my local department requires before allowing ride-alongs), I can address what expectations are given to civilians who are granted ride-alongs: It was made clear to me that, while at a scene, we are to be seen and not heard. Questions should be asked of our accompanying officer only after all his/her interactions with victims or other subjects is complete. I was in fact in a home that had been burglarized, walking through the various rooms and generally shadowing the cop and observing. I was even asked to explain my presence by the homeowner, who did not object after learning I was "on a ride-along." I understood without being told that if any objections had been raised, I would have been asked to return to the car to wait. In fact I would have volunteered to leave without being asked, not that that matters for the purposes of your question.

Ride-alongs (again, in my city) are given written standards of dress and behavior. We are there as a courtesy to ourselves to observe and learn, and the second our presence might interfere with the cop's relationship with whatever subjects he's dealing with, we are relegated to the car to wait. In fact, I waited in the car through several traffic stops rather than join the cop carside as he questioned the drivers. Most of the restrictions are equal parts for the ride-along's safety and to keep us from making the cops' job harder. I guess my point is, I would expect the cops being accompanied to restrict the ride-along's involvement on grounds of practicality long before constitutional issues are invoked.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 11:31 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

In Wilson v Layne, the Supreme Court held that the police generally cannot bring third parties along to execute a warrant in a house, unless those third parties are somehow helping with the investigation or have consent. The case itself doesn't deal with warrantless investigations, but you can read the opinion if you want to get a sense of some of the principles.
posted by willbaude at 11:45 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your nosy neighbor might well wander over and start sticking his nose into your business while the police investigate your robbery and assault, but you and/or the police would be free to instruct the neighbor to leave if he doesn't have any reason to be present. Similarly, you're free to ask the ride-along to leave if you don't want that person there. For that matter, you may well be free to ask the police to leave your house too, as they are only there with your consent to investigate a crime (subject to the usual exceptions that allow the police to enter your house without your consent and the possibility that they come back with a warrant and/or consider you awfully suspicious if you're clearly trying to hide something).

In the hypothetical you give, it sounds like the police are in your home with your consent, and so is the citizen who is on a ride-along. You're free to revoke that consent as it extends to the ride-along and/or the police. In the case willbaude cites above, the police were serving a warrant (i.e. without the homeowner's consent) and brought along the media to observe and take pictures. I think there's a pretty significant distinction.

As I understand it, most police departments with ride-along programs only allow residents to participate on an occasional basis, which limits the potential for a local busybody to spend their time shadowing the police and catching up on everyone's dirty laundry.
posted by zachlipton at 12:00 PM on November 13, 2012

citizens would not be "present" for any investigations/interviews

Canadian here, but after my ride-along, once we apprehended two suspects (after a completely insane car chase the wrong way down a one-way street, and briefly the sidewalk, in heavy traffic), I was present for interviews back at the station. Though I believe had the suspects or their lawyers asked for me not to be present, I would have been removed.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:34 PM on November 13, 2012

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