The program is open to anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Mountain View. Riders must be at least 14 years old and pass a criminal background check. (For "confidentiality purposes," no photographs are allowed; the Voice was not allowed to bring a photographer on its ridealong.) In fact, applicants for Police Department jobs go on ridealongs as one of the first parts of the hiring process.
Participants are typically assigned to one of the department's 49 patrol officers and accompany police on one of the city's five "beats." Passengers agree to follow any instructions given by the officer, especially in the case of a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation.
A typical ridealong lasts about four hours, during which a passenger might see officers conduct routine traffic stops, investigative stops or, as spokesperson Liz Wylie put it, visit with "people who just need help."
On a recent afternoon, Sergeant Nowaski and a Voice reporter answered a "call for service" at an elderly woman's home, ran license plates in motel parking lots and checked on a mother who had accidentally locked her baby in the car — although the Mountain View Fire Department already had the situation under control when she arrived.
"My job as a supervisor is to monitor what's going on," Nowaski explained after calling in a "Code 7" (police speak for meal time). The sergeant on patrol oversees all the officers on duty, and is not usually the first one to respond to a call, she said. They are also in charge of more administrative work.
In her time patrolling Mountain View, Nowaski has picked up stories about nearly every park, street corner or convenience store.
Last summer, she said, her team consistently monitored a group of men who had developed a habit of drinking and urinating in Rengstorff Park.
"There are many of those names that we see often," she said. "They'll get belligerent, panhandle. A lot of times they'll get in a fight with a buddy."
The police get calls about the ubiquitous "Idea Farm" truck "almost every day," she said.
She said traffic stops are tricky for officers, because a negative interaction with the police can make a "big impact" on someone's day. Each officer has his or her own philosophy when it comes to making contact with community members, she said.
"We have a lot of discretion. People are committing violations all the time." She pointed to several jaywalkers skidding across El Camino Real. "Like those people crossing the street over there."
To sign up for a ridealong, visit the Police Department online at www.mountainview.gov or pick up a ridealong form at department headquarters, located at 1000 Villa Street in downtown Mountain View. Allow three weeks for processing. For more information, call (650) 903-6186.