Posted April 1, 2024

TUDPS launches ride-along program for prospective police officers and students

A new ride-along initiative at Temple University’s Department of Public Safety connects students interested in law enforcement with those who protect and serve the Temple community.

Photography By: 
Matt Petrillo
Temple University junior psychology major Lucas Burke (right) rides along in a patrol car with Temple Police Sergeant Elijah Lewis.

Lucas Burke’s eyes widened with eagerness as he was handed a police-issued vest—with the word ‘observer’ written across it in bold—on a recent Thursday inside Temple University’s Department of Public Safety (TUDPS) headquarters.  

“I always wanted to go into law enforcement,” Burke said. “So I thought the ride-along would give me a practical look into the routine day of what a police officer looks like.”

Burke was the first Temple student to take part in TUDPS’ new ride-along initiative, which connects students who are interested in law enforcement directly with Temple University police officers. The goal of the ride-along is to offer students a firsthand account of the duties of a Temple police officer.

“This is a chance to give students an up close and personal look at the daily tasks and issues that our men and women in blue face every day to protect the Temple community,” said Michael Smith, TUDPS’ deputy director of organizational affairs. 

The ride-along runs about an hour and requires individuals to sign a waiver and to wear a police-issued vest. Then, the student is introduced to an officer who will bring them on the ride-along. Burke was paired with Temple Police Sergeant Elijas Lewis. 

“I hope he gets an understanding of policing on and off campus,” Lewis said.

The pair’s ride-along began with a drive through Main Campus before traveling off campus, but within the university’s patrol zone, which is about a one-mile radius. 

“What’s a regular day like for you?” Burke asked during the ride-along.

“It depends on the day,” Lewis responded. “I have to make sure to get my building checks done, make sure I do business checks and also respond to calls.”

On average, TUDP officers handle about one to 1.5 calls an hour across all three campuses, spread among all officers working. In addition to TUPD Police Officers working, the department also pays the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) for supplemental patrols from 4pm - 12pm.

“What this means is TUPD Police Officers are given more time to provide more community engagement,” said Jennifer Griffin, Vice President for Public Safety. “That makes working at TUDPS very unique. There is a balance between handling calls for service and having the time to deeply engage with the community.” 

Lewis also parked his patrol car and showed Burke the tools that police officers carry in their vehicles, including a medical bag, riot helmet and more. He also said wearing a police badge has taught him to have a lot more empathy for people.

“Several years ago, I arrested a guy for stealing a bicycle. And after he did his time, I saw him and he walked up to me,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t expecting him to recognize me, but he introduced himself and said, ‘You were doing your job and treated me fairly.’ And that meant a lot to me because it meant I was doing something right.”

Burke said the ride-along was an eye-opening experience. 

“Becoming a Temple University police officer is absolutely a job I’d like to do,” Burke said. “It was really great to ask questions and learn what a police officer does on a daily basis.” 

The ride-along initiative also allows non-students who are interested in becoming Temple police officers to go on a ride-along, said Griffin.

“Working at Temple means the ability to make an instant impact,” Griffin said. “The Temple community is a close-knit community and working here at the university offers numerous great benefits above and beyond what a non-university police agency offers, like free tuition for yourself, spouse, and children.” 

Griffin added that TUDPS is hoping to use the ride-along initiative as a recruiting tool for law enforcement, in addition to increased pay and bonuses. 

Last year, TUDPS increased the starting salary of Temple police officers to $70,969 following a probationary period. They also receive at least a $2,000 signing bonus after their first year. Laterals get a $2,500 signing bonus.

TUDPS is also working on a plan that would allow master of social work students to ride along with Temple police officers.