There are better ways to walk a mile in a police officer's boots than riding along in a squad car, said Farmington Police Chief Brian Lindquist.
Lindquist decided to end citizen ride-alongs about a year ago because of safety and liability concerns, and the issue resurfaced at a recent council workshop after a resident asked a council member why they are no longer offered.
"There's this fascination with what law enforcement does, but it's not really a spectator sport," Lindquist said in an interview. "There are so many other ways to get a taste [of what officers do]."
Both citizens and officers are put in an "unwilling position of harm and liability" in "just about everything that you could imagine we'd end up doing," he said. High-speed pursuits, catching up to a speeding driver, running to a medical call, or a traffic stop turning into a fight could all put a resident in danger when riding in the squad car, he said.
"It just made sense that it wasn't worth having to subject a civilian passenger to any of those risks, and it wasn't worth having the officer reevaluate what he would do, because now he has to worry about someone else in addition to just himself immediately in his vicinity," Lindquist said.
Farmington joins several surrounding cities that have ended ride-along programs. Burnsville hasn't offered ride-alongs for a number of years, and Lakeville reports the same, citing liability concerns. Eagan's ride-along program is temporarily suspended while new officers and interns are trained. The program will be reevaluated once training is completed.
Lindquist said the decision in Farmington was not in response to any particular incident. "If I want them to walk a mile in my boots," the chief said, he could give residents the same experience even more effectively by showing videos of police response. Some ride-alongs involve driving around for six hours without a call, and videos could show more of the action, he said.
The council asked Lindquist to put together a video that would replace ride-alongs. The video will be presented to the council in the next month or two, and discussions will continue this summer, Farmington City Administrator David McKnight said.
"If the council decided the video would be good enough, then that decision [of ending ride-alongs] would be fine," Mayor Todd Larson said. "But if not, we still need to explore the ride-along situation."
Farmington offers a citizens' police academy every other year, and in the past, the chief required ride-alongs as part of the academy — about 15 each year. The department hosted roughly 20 ride-alongs annually.
Council Member Christy Jo Fogarty said she'd like to at least allow residents interested in law enforcement the opportunity to ride along with an officer.
"I'm going to continue to push pretty hard," she said. "I really hate to see that opportunity close up."
She said that seeing the six hours of boredom followed by 10 minutes of sheer adrenaline is important for people to understand when considering the career.
"I think there's a fine line between closing yourself off from your community and opening yourself up to liability," Fogarty said.
Lindquist said he rarely gets requests from those interested in the career — maybe one or two each year at most. Even then, "I just don't think the front seat of the squad car is the best place for that experience to take place," he said.
While Fogarty and City Council Member Jason Bartholomay would like to see more flexibility, others would like to leave it at the discretion of the chief.
"I most certainly would not step over our chief of police and say, 'You're going to do these,' " Fogarty said. "He has to be comfortable, too. He doesn't want to put his guys at risk, and I don't want his guys at risk."
Lindquist said he wouldn't be surprised if the trend in the next few years is that more police departments reevaluate ride-alongs, not only out of safety concerns but because of the data that squad cars computers carry.
"If the officer has to leave the rider in the car while they go in to handle a domestic, can I guarantee the security of the computers? No, I can't," he said.