For the past three months, I’ve been taking a Citizens Police Academy course in a neighboring town. Once a week for ten weeks, officers have met with our class to explain a different aspect of their work. It’s been a fascinating peek behind the badge.
Of course, as a writer, I wanted to learn about police procedure so I can depict it accurately in my books. But as a citizen, I also wanted to see how police do what they do. We see so much on the news – with every newscast there is Monday morning quarterbacking about what police do and how they do it. Sometimes police deserve their bad press. But I know that news is “Man bites dog” and not “Dog bites man” -- most of the time, police serve their communities admirably and newscasts show us the exceptions.
The classes have been eye-opening and many of my preconceived notions went out the window.
1. The first thing I learned? My major assumption about police training was wrong. I’d assumed that all police are trained according to a national standard but I learned that every state trains officers differently. In Connecticut, officers go through an intense training program at the Police Academy before they can start working, and then only under the direct supervision of a veteran police officer. They have ongoing training to keep their skills sharp. One of the most sobering things I learned was that some states offer minimal training for their officers before they are handed a badge and a gun.
2. Police, especially school resource officers, feel the same way about social media that parents do – it’s too much, at too impressionable an age. In our session about juvenile crime, I learned that lots of bullying takes place through social media apps. The calculator on your kid’s phone may be an app commonly called a “nudie locker,” where young people stash photos they don’t want you to see.
3. One assumption that was correct? K9s are incredible. We watched a K9 go through his paces and I was amazed not only at his abilities, but also at the strong relationship he had with his officer. Police prize the hard working dogs for all they can do – searching for drugs, missing persons, explosives – plus their usefulness in apprehending criminals.
4. Police chafe at the depiction of their work on television. Mention the “forensics” on shows like NCIS and they roll their eyes. Good police work takes time and most labs are backed up to an alarming rate.
5. Police officers have to be good communicators. One concern for the police is that new recruits are from a generation that would rather look at their phones than talk with other people – they have a steep learning curve in working with the public.
A few weeks of classes and I’ve only skimmed the surface of what the officers in my community do. I have more questions, but now I feel that I have a better grasp of what officers face every day.
Have you ever taken a citizens police class?