By Brett Withers
Whether your frame of reference comes from fictional television programs, local news or personal encounters, you no doubt have formulated your own ideas about how police officers “ought” to do their jobs. But have you ever tried to understand those procedures from their perspective?
The Metro Nashville Police Department periodically hosts a program in which citizens can do just that.
The Citizen Police Academy (CPA) is a 12-week program that meets one evening per week, addresses a wide variety of topics and encourages tough questions. The CPA does not certify citizens with police authority. Rather, it fosters two-way communication and education. Participants represent a cross section of Davidson County residents and hold varying perspectives, so discussions are respectful but lively.
Topics include community oriented policing, recruitment and training, gang violence, vice/prostitution, domestic violence, and yes, DUI and traffic enforcement. At each session, Metro officers present on their area of expertise and lead candid discussions in which tough questions are asked and answered.
Many sessions include a “show and tell” section. For example, two motorcycle officers invited the class to check out their bikes, traffic enforcement officers let the class try our hands using radar guns, and drug enforcement officers allowed the class to try on bullet resistant vests and other equipment that they use.
Beyond conveying information, these demonstrations underscore how various factors make these activities physically and mentally challenging in an already chaotic and dangerous environment.
A few of the class sessions are conducted in a fieldtrip format.
One was held at the Communications (911) Center. The class learned about the exhaustive training that staff receive to process all manner of calls. Lots of calls come in to 911 for non-emergencies – including hang-ups – but staff also guide callers through situations over the phone until emergency responders can arrive. They have even delivered babies over the telephone!
In another field trip, the K-9 Unit demonstrated impressive drills and imparted many interesting facts. For example, the dogs are trained to respond to one officer only and learn commands in a foreign language to minimize confusion when people are shouting in English. The Metro K-9 Unit has won many national awards.
The mounted patrol unit also showed off their skills and let the class pet the horses. All of the horses used by the mounted patrol are donated rather than being acquired at taxpayer expense. Furthermore, the unit receives calls to place unwanted horses with other police departments across the country or in other humane homes.
Several elective activities augment scheduled class sessions.
One is to spend a day in the General Sessions Court as a judge’s guest to observe the legal system in process.
Another elective is to attend basic firearms instruction at the Metro Police Training Academy. Instruction began with the Use of Force Continuum, which outlines the 7 levels of response that police officers may be called upon to use and the criteria for each.
Next, actual training academy video footage showed how cadets are placed in realistic combat situations and trained to respond appropriately. Finally, participants had an opportunity to go to the firing range with the instructors and try out the actual weapons that are issued to officers. This training is not weapons certification but is educational.
Yet another rewarding elective is to accompany a police officer in the precinct of your choice for an entire shift.
This is an ideal opportunity literally to walk a mile in a police officer’s shoes and learn about call dispatch procedures, response strategies and logistics, knowing what questions to ask or what to look for in a crime scene, documenting information in reports, and other pertinent details. This is a great way to understand the person behind the badge and start a dialogue with an officer who could someday respond to your call.
The Citizen Police Academy session wrapped up with a graduation ceremony at which Mayor Karl Dean and Chief Ronal Serpas spoke and presented attendees with certificates.
The next Citizen Police Academy session should happen in early 2009, but in the mean time citizens are encouraged to start a dialogue with police representatives at neighborhood meetings and visit www.police.nashville.org to sign up for Session 22 when registration opens.