Hayden Hayden residents who want to better understand the role of local law enforcement can ride along with officers of the Hayden Police Department.
The Hayden Town Board recently approved a policy that outlines the limitations and responsibilities of police officers and passengers during a civilian ride-along.
Hayden Police Chief Jody Lenahan said the policy presented a valuable opportunity to build a relationship of trust between the community and the police department.
The policy would help to boost the morale of local police officers by allowing family members to accompany them, he added.
When holidays separate officers from their wives and children, a ride-along allows them to spend a little time together, he said.
Because the presence of passengers in police cars presents risks that must be considered, the policy states, both officers and passengers must understand the ride-along is a privilege and not a right.
The policy limits passengers to town employees, which include board members, police officers and sheriff's deputies from other jurisdictions, families of Hayden police officers, and civilians older than the age of 14 and in good standing.
People can accompany officers in their patrol cars no more than twice a month.
Some area youngsters, however, might accompany officers more than twice a month as part of a job-shadowing assignment, said Town Board member Jim Haskins.
He suggested omitting the twice-a-month limitation.
"I guess I would trust you guys to not have this abused," Haskins said.
Potential riders who demonstrate behavior that could endanger themselves, the police department, the officer or the community would not be allowed to participate in a ride-along.
Straebel urged the policy be cautiously applied to officers' families.
The problem does not lie with officers occasionally dropping off their children at school or running them on occasional errands, he said, but in wrong impressions that could possibly be held by the public.
"I'm trying to predict the future, that there could be the perception that the officer could be paying more attention to family members and not doing their job," Straebel said.
He agreed with the spirit of the policy, he said, which attempts to acquaint with police officers' responsibilities.
As citizens, the family members of officers have the same right to accompany officers, he said, but caution must be used to avoid misperceptions about the policy.
"I certainly think the officers we have are responsible and use their discretion," Straebel said.
Town Board member Ken Gibbon agreed the policy could raise some questions.
"There's always the critics who are looking for an opportunity to take a shot at the police department," he said.