At Victim Assistance Program, our programming and the services we offer are often tied to the criminal justice system, specifically first responders and law enforcement. The partnerships we have and continue to build with Summit County police departments are so integral to the work our victim advocates do, that our leadership team set aside a full day in our new training program just for a ride-along.
What is a ride-along? It is an arrangement for a civilian to spend a shift as a passenger of an emergency vehicle, observing the workday of a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic. For the purposes of our training, we currently only require our staff to participate in a ride-along with a police officer, usually within the Akron Police Department.
We require all employees to go on a ride-along because there really is no substitute for real-life experience, and it is very important to us that all our employees, administrative and direct service, understand the Summit County law enforcement structure and what is really happening in our home base, Akron. It gives the staff that wouldn’t normally interact with police officers the chance to ask questions and build those relationships. “My ride-along gave me insight to the need for a comforting presence amidst the general work of law enforcement and how a victim advocate can be an integral component to receiving justice,” said Susan, Victim Assistance Program Grant Writer.
For our direct service staff, the benefits are limitless. “The officer that I accompanied answered all of my questions thoroughly and getting to see first-hand what a police officer does will help me do my job better,” said Christel, Victim Advocate. The ride-alongs allow advocates and officers to build a rapport outside of crime-scenes or crisis response situations and provide a chance for our advocates to get a better understanding of the roles and duties of a police officer. According to Director of Services, Larry Richard, advocates need to know where a victim’s journey starts and often, the journey starts with an interaction with a first responder, whether that is a police officer, EMS, or a firefighter.
Ride-alongs also benefit both the police department and our whole agency. They provide our staff an opportunity to share what our services are and how the officer would benefit from having an advocate present in different situations. It can lead to officers being more comfortable reaching out to us via our hotline for a “call-out” (any scenario in which an advocate is “called out” of the office to respond to a crime scene, hospital, police station, etc., to assist.)
Ride-alongs are offered by many emergency service agencies, so we encourage all who are interested to reach out to their local police station to see if that is an option. It provides valuable insight into what is going on in your community and gives you a chance to interact with your local officers!