Have you ever felt like you wanted – no, needed – to do something different, something outside your comfort zone? I decided to finally take a class I’ve been thinking about for a long time: The Citizens Police Academy. I don’t have any major characters who are full-fledged police officers, but if I decide to write one, I want to get the details right. Plus, a peek behind the badge, a look at real life CSI? Sign me up!
The first class met last week in Waterford, CT. My fellow classmates included people from all walks of life. Several were retired and were curious about a profession they had once considered. I sat between a young man doing a police internship as part of his college course and a proud couple whose daughter was at the Police Academy.
One woman runs a massage parlor and is concerned about the growing human trafficking issue, which affects people’s perception of her long-running business.
Several young guys (yes, the class skewed heavily male) were considering a career change into law enforcement. There was also a guy from NPR taking the class as research for a radio piece.
The officers laughed when I said I was a writer doing research. They said they’re okay with being in a book as long as I change their names.
The class runs for ten, three-hour sessions with officers volunteering their time after a long day on duty. The program is funded by the Waterford Rotary Club, which wants people to see and appreciate what police officers face every day.
Both of our instructors had former military experience. As they outlined everything the course would cover, I felt a wave of admiration for the professionals who have to undergo constant training and retraining in so many different facets of their work. I also felt exhausted just thinking of all the topics that we'd cover in class:
Structure and operations
Recruiting, Training, Life at the Police Academy
Motor Vehicle Enforcement and Patrol (we get to go on a ride along!)
Use of Force – Taser Demonstration, Baton Use (Hands On), OC Spray – we were warned that we should dress comfortably but trust me, I do not want to be near a taser!
Driving under the Influence
The officers were clear, enthusiastic, and businesslike.
They’re also hilarious. The chief walked us through a timeline of Waterford’s police history, including slides of their police vehicles over the years. A fleet of 1980s era Volvos with police lights flashed onscreen.
The department took a lot of ribbing for having the luxury car, but the Chief said that because Volvo wanted to break into the police market, the cars were (excuse the expression) “a steal” and they were sturdy, came with a bumper to bumper warranty, and had dual turbo engines.
Despite their boxy appearance, the cars were fast. The brakes, however were underpowered for such a juiced up engine. “That car was a rocket with bad brakes,” he said, wistfully.
We had a tour of the police station: a stop at the armory; the sally port where we were able to get into a police interceptor; gym; roll call room; break room (with deep brown man cave-worthy couches and recliners); detective’s room (there was an open package of Girl Scout Thin Mints on the table); and a locked library. The room was lined with empty shelves except for two, which held high school yearbooks and a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary.
When we toured the holding cells, the intercom crackled. We were told to move down a corridor because an officer was bringing someone in.
We shared glances. This was real.
I’ll keep you posted. The first thing I learned? There is no room for a purse in a police cruiser.
Have you ever done a citizens police academy?