Reporter's Notebook | Penn Police takes 'DP' for a ride
'DP' reporter finds life on the police force isn’t like in movies
February 28, 2011, 5:08 am · Updated February 28, 2011, 12:00 am·
Sergeant Andrew Malloy hands me an off-white, over-sized, bulletproof vest. I pull it over my head, and as the metal plates dig a little into my shoulders, I realize that this is probably the most legit I have ever felt.
Strapping myself into the worn cloth, I am ready for my first-ever police car ride-along — sort of. The vest is a little big and a lot awkward.
Malloy taps his own vest, tucked away under his classic, blue uniform and tells me, “You get used to it, don’t worry. Like it’s not even there.”
For the time being, though, I feel somewhat uncertain about the next hour of my life. I’m a crime reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian, but I have no idea what a Saturday night out in West Philadelphia is actually like for a cop on the Penn Police squad.
Malloy goes to get some paperwork for me to sign, and one of the other cops offers me a pretzel from the break room as I wait for the 6 p.m. shift. The salt crunches nervously in my mouth.
Malloy comes back and we head out to the car, the sleek white door opening with a click.
Inside, cop calls come over the radio, loud and grainy, while green and yellow buttons glow all over, and the car pulls smoothly out onto Chestnut Street.
Malloy answers the calls, his voice straight and direct. Then, the cop tells me the routes that his officers usually take, their policing strategies and the connections they are constantly building in the neighborhood.
After explaining all the logistics and police strategies, Malloy really starts to talk.
“I’ve been here twenty years now,” he says, turning the car down Spruce Street.
I look down the streetlights toward center city with the salty taste of pretzel still sharp in my mouth, while the officer continues, “It’s not nearly as busy as when I first started.”
Instead of big arrests or assaults, Malloy jokes about a time when a student tripped a panic cord in the Quadrangle. “He thought it was a help line or something. He was having trouble doing his laundry or something,” Malloy recounts.
He then tells me that he graduated from Penn with a degree in history, that he took his language requirement in sign language and that he knows some German, too.
We stop at a traffic light, and though the metal vest digs further into my skin, I start to realize that bullets and guns aren’t always on the police route.
“Most of it’s not about chasing people down. A lot of people think it’s kind of boring,” Malloy says. “In COPS, there’s always a car chase, a foot pursuit, two felony arrests and all their paperwork’s done in an hour.”
The middle-aged, grayish-haired man laughs with his deep Philadelphia accent, saying he’d be tired if things were actually like the movies.
I write about crime every week, about assaults and petty thefts and I think I’m starting to get it.
Malloy turns down another street with the lights heading back toward West Philadelphia.
It doesn't look like the movies, COPS, or America’s Most Wanted. It just looks like a Saturday night, a patrol zone and a Philadelphia policeman on duty for a long shift.