Just as Lt. David Martin of the Richmond Police Department pulls his unmarked car from a side street onto Jefferson Davis Highway, a shabbily dressed man in a nearly vacant parking lot grabs some cash sticking out of a closing BMW window.
He notices Martin's blue Crown Victoria and quickly stashes the cash away, then casually walks off as if there had been no white BMW.
The white Beamer stands still in the vacant lot. It's nearly 9 in the evening, but the driver doesn't dare flip on his headlights.
Even though the scene looks pretty fishy, Martin, a homicide detective, won't try to make a drug bust tonight. Yes, probable cause is always sketchy, but there's another reason for his reluctance. Tonight, Martin's more tour guide than police officer.
He's the driver for a ride-along of the Cops & Docs program. Medical College of Virginia doctors Rutherfoord Rose and Jim McKeith are riding the beat with him and with Cops & Docs creator, Colleen McCue. McCue, also a physician, now is supervisor of the crime analysis unit for the Richmond Police Department.
Cops & Docs started in 1998 as a multidisciplinary effort between area criminal justice and medical professionals in the Richmond Police Department and Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia. McCue says the goal of the program is to bring doctors, police officers and other members of the community together to remedy drug-related violent crime in Richmond.
With ride-alongs such as this one, lectures and emergency-room tours, participants share information that's beneficial to both crime fighters and medical professionals.
In its two years of existence Cops & Docs has grown even more multidisciplinary: EMS officials, the Commonwealth Attorney's Office, and even A.D. Price Funeral Home have jumped aboard.
Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks says the program has made his life a little easier. He says the relationships formed in the program have helped secure doctors as witnesses in court and have helped with the preservation of evidence. For instance, the program is teaching ER docs and others how to maintain the integrity of evidence by cutting around gunshot wounds or saving clothing.
"It's a very good program and it's really visionary," Hicks says. "It's one of those things that's community-building."
And Cops & Docs is even grabbing some national attention. McCue says officials in Philadelphia and Charlotte have interest in the program. Cops & Docs will be highlighted in a manual about unique community partnerships, produced by the Office of Justice Programs under the U.S. Department of Justice.
Cops & Docs, the brainchild of McCue, is unusual in that it doesn't have a sponsor, so it can't be called MCV's program or the police department's program. There's no Cops & Docs office to call or eye-catching T-shirt to wear. The program has not cost a cent: Even program dinners have been donated by caterers. Also, participants are doing this, voluntarily, on their own time.
McCue, an adjunct professor of surgery at MCV, worked for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services when the first seeds of the program were planted. In 1995, Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver sent some homicide detectives to an MCV lecture on violence as a public health problem, which McCue also attended.
"The meeting after the meeting was phenomenal to watch," McCue says. Physicians and police started talking and realizing they were treating the same people. It was exactly what McCue has found in her research on youth violence the same people tend to be the perpetrators, victims and the witnesses.
McCue says both sides started raising questions, so she brokered some basic information between MCV and the police.
"We started doing things informally, and we realized that the potential to share and work together was just tremendous," McCue says.
The most important thing officers and doctors have gained in the program may be trust. It has allowed them to share in confidence important drug trend information. Now police can tell emergency-room physicians if a new drug is hitting the streets, and doctors can look for it, says Rose, director of MCV's Virginia Poison Center.
ER docs can provide critical information to police as well. If Rose sees a number of a certain type of drug overdose, he can alert police. Before, he would not know what to do with that kind of information.
"This is a really good change," Rose says. "We wouldn't be sharing this information if we hadn't known each other through Cops & Docs."
ER visits and ride-alongs are the most visible aspects of the program. Instead of only getting the frantic glimpse of the emergency room in the late evening hours, officers spend time in the ER during downtime to learn its workings. Emergency-room doctors go on police ride-alongs through crime-ridden areas of the city with both patrol officers and detectives.
Not only does it help doctors better understand the police officer's role, but it also allows them to see the neighborhood many ER patients return to after being treated. Rose says he has been to these neighborhoods when he worked with EMS crews in the past. But he didn't realize until the ride-alongs how open the drug markets are in the neighborhoods and how prevalent drug use is among children.
McCue hopes Cops & Docs will spread further into the community and, along with Rose, hopes eventually, it will grow to involve more hospitals in Richmond.
Also, there are plans to educate everyone in the system, from EMS personnel to funeral home directors, about the collection of forensic evidence, McCue says. Eventually, Rose hopes to see residents and ER nurses participate in the police ride-alongs.
Back on the ride-along, Martin turns away from the man walking away with the cash and turns the Crown Vic around to see if he can follow the BMW. He smirks and, referring to the driver of the BMW, says to the doctors, "He's probably gonna eat [the drugs] and you're going to see him
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