A View From Within A Police Car

Twice a year in the town I live, our police department offers a Citizen Police Academy (CPA) to allow the residents to learn about the inner workings of the police department and what our police officers, and civilian employees, do each day to keep our city safe. The CPA has also become the path to allow residents to volunteer their time to support our dedicated cops. When the program was first offered in 2001, I was focused on being involved with my children’s activities. This past fall, with both of my children busy working on their college degrees, I decided to check and see if the CPA was still being offered. I discovered they were accepting applications for the 23rd class so I sent in my application and was accepted into the program the same day. The CPA has been meeting once a week since early February and runs for a total of seventeen weeks. Each week we receive a presentation on various aspects of the police department: e.g. – patrol; dispatch; laws of arrest; laws of search and seizure; crime scene investigation; animal control; traffic enforcement; narcotics; and many other subjects. Each subject presented is just the tip of an iceberg due to the complexity of our legal system.

In addition to the presentations, we spend four hours in the dispatch center. These dedicated women and men handle many tasks at the same time. I’m the type of person who works best focusing on one task at a time. I’m a very detailed oriented individual, and a bit of a perfectionist, which is perfect for a draftsman…not a dispatcher. A dispatcher must be an expert at multitasking, an extremely good listener, patient, detailed oriented and somewhat of a perfectionist due to the information they must capture with each call. They have to be able to go from boredom to handling a major crisis within seconds all while remaining calm. I was dumbfounded by some of the calls they handle and the patience they exhibit in dealing with these people. One of the more bizarre calls they received, which was shared by someone else in the class, came from a person who wanted to find out if they had any outstanding warrants. Keep in mind that when you call the police, your address is displayed on their system.

We also spend four hours riding along with an officer as they patrol their normal beat. My ride along was on a Sunday afternoon which is usually a quiet time of the day for calls. The officer I was assigned to grew up in my town and he was able to share quite a bit of history about the different neighborhoods and how they have changed over time.

Two weeks ago I asked our class facility, who is a supervising patrol officer, if I could go on a second ride along with him to gain a deeper understanding of his job and what he deals with on a daily basis. I ended up riding with him this past Saturday for the majority of his shift which started at 07:00 and I finally called it a day at a little after 16:00. If I was to share everything that happened Saturday, this post would become a short story. I was amazed by his attention to small details and his constant checking of things that were out-of-place.

In the day of a police officer, most of the people they come in to contact with are individuals who are on the wrong side of the law. They never know who, or what, they will be dealing with. You may get pulled over for coasting through a stop sign because you are running late to get your kid to soccer practice. You are already stressed and the officer may seem unsympathetic to your problem. That may be due to the fact they just dealt with a convicted felon whom they had to arrest for an outstanding warrant (usually these people are not looking forward to going back to jail and will do everything possible to avoid the return trip in the back of a police car) and they are still running on high alert. Every situation a police officer walks into they have to expect the worse because in their world, complacency can kill.

Everyone sees Firefighters as heroes but most people do not have the same view of police officers. After spending a day in a patrol car, I have concluded that our police officer are our unsung heroes. The next time you have the opportunity, I would like to encourage you to thank these men and women who do what can be a dangerous, stressful and thankless job to keep us safe.

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