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 CMPD Citizens Academy 
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Post CMPD Citizens Academy
This week I attended the first session of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Citizens Academy. Some people attending were volunteers with the Police Department, especially for Citizens on Patrol. Some were looking at law enforcement as a possible career. Some, like me, just wanted to know more about how the Police Department operated and served their communities.

The first session was on the history and organization of the Police Department. I had actually attended this session last year as part of the Community Education Program, but only three classes were given before the program ended. This year, 17 Citizens Academy sessions are scheduled, lasting until December.

The speaker was Harold Medlock, Deputy Chief for Field Services South Group, who overseas 7 divisions in the southern half of Mecklenburg County plus the Watch Commander/Special Events Bureau.

Since I'd attended the session before, I had seen the slides and heard most of the jokes. (He's especially impressed by officers in old photos who wear their belts half way between their waists and arm pits.) Nevertheless, it was an interesting, informative session. Although I'd heard it before, I enjoyed hearing how a few volunteers in the early 1800's evolved into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department of today.

But two things impressed me most.

The first was that Deputy Chief Medlock really enjoys his job. His enthusiasm for police work, and his interest in preserving the department's history, really showed through. I thought later I should have asked him to explain why he felt that way. There's a lot of unpleasantness in Mecklenburg County that people like me work very hard to avoid, but police officers can't. Their job is to serve and protect. Being able to do that must be very rewarding, but I wished I asked him about the unpleasant part.

The second thing is that the Police Department realizes it can't take care of crime by itself. This wasn't always the case. A few decades ago, the police took a "just the facts" approach and didn't think they needed help from anybody. There were certain neighborhoods the police avoided except when they had to go answer a call. That attitude has changed, especially with the development of community policing, which gets officers out in the community to develop trust with the citizens. Inviting the public in for Citizens Academy classes would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago. The Police Department relies a great deal on volunteers, especially Citizens on Patrol. He said that there was no way the department could enjoy the success in crime reduction it's experienced lately without volunteers and other citizen involvement. He also said that the Police and Fire Departments here work well together, which is not the case in many cities.

I'm sorry to say that I'll miss the next session on recruitment, selection and training, but look forward to the remaining classes this fall.


Fri Sep 17, 2010 9:53 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
I missed the session last week but just got back tonight from the Citizens Academy class #3, Constitutional Law, Laws of Arrest, Search and Seizure.

The instructor was Mark Newbold, CMPD Attorney.

I was disappointed that we only got through one and a half amendments, but the discussion we did have was very informative. We had a very good instructor!

The First Amendment guarantees Freedom of Speech, among other things, but the freedoms aren't absolute. The Constitution provides for a "Free trade of Ideas" as Mr. Newbold put it. The alternative for freely expressing opinions is violence, which is going too far. People are free to argue and yell at each other, but when they advocate violence and incite a riot, they can be arrested.

The first part of the Fourth Amendment guarantees rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Police officers have to make difficult decisions quickly on when to use force and how much. Situations range from zero suspicion to reasonable suspicion (the officer can check you out) to probable cause (you're going to jail) to damn sure (the officer saw you do it). Officers have to evaluate the situation and decide how far they're allowed to go legally.

We were introduced to the concept of proportionality. Police officers can use force in proportion to the resistance given to the officer or to the threat.

There was a long discussion of a video of an officer who pulled over a vehicle and wound up throwing the driver to the ground. There were conditions that suggested his actions were justifiable, nevertheless, his force was excessive and he's no longer a police officer.

Police officers receive training in more amendments than we learned about, and there are a lot more laws that they have to understand about what they're allowed and not allowed to do. They clearly have to know their stuff.


Tue Sep 28, 2010 9:54 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
Quote:
The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
Sir Robert Peel
1829

This week was the fourth session of Citizens Academy. The topic was Community Oriented Policing. Officer Thomas Ferguson gave a presentation and Office Zeru Chickoree led a panel discussion by four current and past community coordinators.

Since about 1980 Community Oriented Policing has made a significant change in thinking and practices of the police, as officers work more with the community. Officers provide more personalized, decentralized service to identify and solve problems. Officer Ferguson said that CMPD would not have had the success it's had without help from the community.

My take on all this is that the big change since 1980 is that police officers have changed their attitude towards the public, at least in my perception. For many years, as a typical law abiding citizen, my contact with the police generally was limited to traffic stops, which weren't pleasant. I tended to think of the police as bossy (polite word) people that I wouldn't necessarily want to spend time with if I didn't have to.

Over the last couple of decades I've come to realize that they're people like the rest of us, and not so bad to be around. This seems to me to be what Communtiy Oriented Policing is all about. If the police reach out to the community, and don't just respond to calls and disappear, then the attitude of the community changes as well. This leads to more cooperation and partnership witht he public.

So I see Community Oriented Policing as a change in attitude for ALL officers, but community coordinators specifically concentrate on crime prevention and problem solving.


Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:31 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
The fifth session of Citizens Academy was on Internal Affairs and Use of Force.

Quote:
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Internal Affairs Bureau will act to preserve public trust and confidence in the Department by conducting thorough and impartial investigations of alleged employee misconduct, by providing proactive measures to prevent misconduct, and by always maintaining the highest standards of fairness and respect towards citizens and employees.

I think the most significant thing I heard at the Internal Affairs presentation was that their primary objective was to make a better police department. CMPD officers are held to a high standard both off and on duty. The Internal Affairs staff looks for the truth.

Sergeants Victoria Suarez and Chris Dozier of the Internal Affairs staff said "We want to get to the truth and deal with it." If an officer isn't truthful to Internal Affairs, there will be a question about his or her truthfulness in court as well as how well their credibility with the public.

They take all complaints seriously, especially those that discredit the department or impair its effectiveness.

Officers are required to provide complete information to Internal Affairs staff, unlike criminal investigations where a person can refuse to testify against him or herself. If officers aren't truthful to Internal Affairs, then they maybe shouldn't be police officers. If a case leads to criminal action, information collected by internal Affairs cannot be shared with criminal investigators.

Officer Chickoree said that officers can use appropriate force to defend or protect themselves or others, depending on the level of resistance or aggression they encounter. He described the use of pepper spray, Tasers, and deadly force.

Officer Chickoree's word for the day was "unknown." Officers constantly prepare for and deal with the unknown. They must assess situations quickly and decide on a course of action that will resolve the situation but cause the least harm to the officer, the suspect, and to victims and other bystanders. Deadly force is the ultimate solution, but it should be avoided, even if justified. When a person is dead, they're dead forever.

Sitting in a classroom reading the rules and studying videos certainly isn't the same as making a quick decision while you're heart's pumping more adrenalin than you've ever had in your body before. But even sitting in a classroom, it's apparent that a police office's job is far from easy.


Sun Oct 17, 2010 6:27 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
Session six was on traffic stops. Sergeant Robert Dance talked about traffic stops from an officer's perspective, which is that every traffic stop is potentially dangerous to the officer, and he or she must act with caution while not going overboard. He showed a video of a traffic stop that didn't have a happy ending.

People who are stopped can help lessen the uneasiness on both sides by staying in the car and cooperating with the officer's instructions.

Next week we get to role play as officers during mock traffic stops. Sergeant Dance predicted that many of us will wind up dead. We'll see....

An added bonus for this week was that there also was a workshop going on about intoxication. Volunteers had imbibed for a while and officers from various area departments practiced giving them sobriety tests. We got to watch the drunks try to walk the line during our break.


Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:29 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
At Tuesday night's Citizen's Academy session the class got to role play traffic stops.

Basically at every traffic stop officers are entering an unknown situation. The driver might be an average person who is just in a hurry to get home, or it could be someone from the FBI most-wanted list. The officers need to be prepared for anything.

I certainly hope that real CMPD officers are more observant when they do traffic stops than our class was.

For our exercises, a subject car and police car were set up like a normal traffic stop. Class members played either the police officer or people in the suspect car. (For my turn I only got to be a passenger in the suspect car -- bummer.) In the suspect car, training guns were hidden in plain sight. None of the role-playing officers from the class noticed them. So if these had been real traffic stops, they all likely would have been dead.

It was fun watching the bumbling actions of our classmates, but it was also made clear that this was really serious business. We knew that we wouldn't have to experience facing the unknown at a traffic stop, but officers have to do this every day. And they never know when they'll be faced with a life-or-death situation.


Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:09 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
Each member of the Citizens Academy class must either do a ride-along with an officer or attend a community meeting. Tonight, I went on a ride-along in Steele Creek Division, splitting time between two officers. (I also had gone on a ride-along last year.)

I made a few conclusions from the experiences:

1) Steele Creek Division needs more police cars. Officers were waiting around at the start of the shift for cars to become available. On some days, there aren't enough cars and officers have to double up. Waiting is certainly not a good use of the officers' time. More cars would get them on the street sooner.

Chief Monroe wants to hire more officers, but he also needs to look at buying more cars.

2) Police officers are adept at multi-tasking. They're driving around while being bombarded with information from their radios and dispatch system on their laptops, they're checking out what's going on around them, and they're punching in license plate numbers and otherwise looking for more information on their laptops. They never missed a beat.

3) Police officers practically have to be social workers. On one call, officers had to calm down two families whose kids had been fighting each other. On another, officers reached out to and advised a troubled teenager. It's hard to know what to say in situations like this, but the officers did -- and they showed they cared.

4) Steele Creek Division 2nd Shift is a great team. They work closely together not only when they respond to calls and stops together but also through constant radio contact. They clearly enjoy their jobs, and Steele Creek is lucky to have them.

5) Steele Creek is sort of boring. No arrests. No high speed chases. No shots fired. There certainly was a lot going on, but nothing that would make an episode of COPS -- at least not on this night. So my experience wasn't the adventure it could have been. But that's not a bad thing. It was comforting to know that Steele Creek is a boring -- and safe place to live.


Thu Oct 28, 2010 12:29 am
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
More thoughts on the Ride-Along:

6) Steele Creek Division is very large. It takes a long time to get from one place to another. Officers I was with would head out to a call and before we were half way there, some other officer had taken care of it. Then we'd head in another direction but hold up because it was resolved. The officers must put lots of miles on those cars!

7) The division is divided into three response areas, but they didn't seem to make much of a difference. The officers I was with were from Response Area 1, but they spent about equal time in all three response areas.

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Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:22 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
A couple more things...

8) We got out in one neighborhood where there were a lot of kids around. The officer asked one group of kids if they would keep an eye out on his car for him. Before we left he asked them if it was OK and thanked them for watching it. This seemed to me like part of "Community Policing," which involves officers who specialize in problem solving, but it's also an attitude that all officers should have to relate better with the community.

9) We went on two calls that turned out to be nothing. One was about someone asking for money at a store parking lot. We didn't see anyone, and the caller hadn't stayed around to provide guidance when we got there. The other was a call to check on the welfare of a person who hadn't answered her phone for a while. The caller gave an apartment building number but not an apartment number. We asked around and no one knew the name and didn't know what apartment she was in. With more information, the officers could have found the specific apartment and made the welfare check.

Basically, when people call 911, they need to give complete information and if possible, stick around to see the situation through.


Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:57 pm
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Post Re: CMPD Citizens Academy
Back in class again to make up the Research, Planning, and Technology session. This time it was scheduled along with Crime Prevention, so I got a refresher.

Here's what I wrote last time:
Quote:
Session Eight was last Thursday. The topic was Crime Prevention, particularly, Neighborhood Watch, and Officer Chickoree again was the instructor. The best thing people can do to combat crime in their neighborhoods is to develop relationships with their neighbors. Get to know them. Know their cars and families. Learn to recognize when things aren't normal. And if things don't look right, call the police. Don't turn a blind eye to problems. Office Chickoree said, "It is important to the Police Department that YOU become involved. That YOU take responsibility."

Officer Craig Allen spoke first this time. He said that crime prevention efforts include the Police Activities League, Right Moves for Youth, and Gang of One. Objectives include providing alternative activities and helping youth get out of gangs. School Resource Officers also help steer youth away from crimes by being mentors and counsellors. The Police Department also has been promoting Business Watch.

Officer Chickoree reviewed Neighborhood Watch and Safety and Prevention Tips. He went over some key tips, which mostly seem obvious but apparently aren't to many people because criminals continue to take advantage of opportunities:

  • Lock your car doors.
  • Never leave valuables in plain sight in your car.
  • Make sure your house is well lit and there aren't any dark hiding places around it.
  • Use exterior doors that are steel or solid core.
  • Use deadbolt locks with a 1" throw.
  • Secure sliding glass doors with a pin through the frame or a room handle in the track.
  • Do not leave a spare key hidden outside your home.
  • Trim trees and shrubbery that might provide hiding spaces around your house.
  • Always keep your garage door closed while inside the house or doing yard chores.
  • Be wary of folks selling goods or services. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Review credit reports regularly.
  • Only retain financial documents for a couple of years. Shred them as soon as possible after they're no longer needed.
  • Be careful about what information you reveal on social media.
  • Keep guns hidden and secure. When folks break in, they're mostly looking for guns and jewelry. If your gun is stolen, it likely could be used in committing another crime.

In another class, Sergeant Tom Gwaltney said that people who had difficulty speaking in front of a group like a Citizens Academy class would have a difficult time being police officers because one of the major skills they need is the ability to communicate. Officer Chickoree performs many roles with the Police Department, but his role with the Police Academy fits him well. He is a great instructor and communicator. He covers all he needs to cover and gets to the point.

It's late. More on Research, Planning, and Technology later.


Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:32 pm
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