ATWATER -- The Atwater Police Department suspended its ride-along program last week for further review and possible policy changes.
The department is in the process of performing an investigation and evaluation of the ride-along policy, said Chief Richard Hawthorne. Police officials want to ensure the department is legally secure and promoting safety.
"We are currently looking at the issues that have come about because of the ride-along policy," he said.
Section 410 of the Atwater Police Department's policy manual includes details on ride-along etiquette and process.
According to the document, civilians are allowed to ride no more than once every six months, with the exception of police applicants, Cadets, Explorers, RSVP, chaplains, reserves and others with the approval of the watch commander.
The policy also goes into control of the ride-along, explaining that the person riding along will follow directions of the officer and not become involved with any investigation, handling of evidence, discussions with victims or suspects, or the handling of police equipment.
Officers are also directed to not jeopardize the safety of the person riding along.
The police department is investigating all of section 410, Hawthorne said.
"The goal here is to look at the safety of both the officer and the citizens that are riding along," he said. "As the chief, you always worry about issues that may arise when you have a citizen riding in the car."
The program is beneficial for the city, Hawthorne added.
"It allows the citizen ride-along to actually see what our officers are doing," he said. "They get a chance to catch a glimpse of what the officers do while they're working."
City Manager Greg Wellman agrees the ride-along program is beneficial, having been on about three himself.
"I think the ride-along program is essential in getting the police department a further connection to the community so our residents, both old and young, understand the pressures and the work environment of our police officers," he said.
Not all cities have ride-along programs because there are some risks, Wellman said. However, the professional nature of the Atwater Police Department makes the program possible there.
"I think the rewards far outweigh the risks in terms of being open and transparent to the public," he said.
Wellman's grandchildren even went on a specialized ride-along, he said.
"They'll just never forget it," Wellman said. "It gives a very good orientation to them of what the officers do."
There is no definitive date on when the program will resume, Hawthorne said. The policy review could take several weeks.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.