For the month of May, I was able to participate in the Dothan Police Department’s Citizen Academy for the first time. What a great experience! I found out about it last minute, but I am so glad I didn’t miss it.
The Citizen’s Academy provides the opportunity for citizens to get an inside look at a Police Officer’s job. You get the opportunity to have a first hand experience of what a day in the life of an Officer on shift looks like- the fast pace, in the moment decisions, and the unpredictability. The Academy lasts for one month. Every Tuesday, you meet at the Police Department for “class”. This go around there were 7 of us (which I heard was unusually small). Some Tuesdays we stayed there to hear lectures from different units such as: The Narcotics Division, the Bomb Squad, and Crime Scene Investigation. The lectures are very interesting, and they give you a lot of information. (It could only be better if they would give you hand outs). On other nights, we would go to the gun range. There we got to hear short lectures from the K9 Unit (and see a couple of demonstrations) as well as the SWAT team (and they did a demonstration as well). The last Tuesday of the Academy, you go to the gun range and they allow you shoot a gun and a rifle (don’t ask me what kind they were) at a target. Also, each Tuesday night, before class starts, you sign up for the nights when you are available to ride with an Officer. You can sign up to ride for however many days you can and have the choice to sign up for the 6pm-10pm shift or the 10pm-2am shift. (You don’t have to ride if you don’t want to; however, I’d say that’s where the majority of the experience is).
I’ll write another blog post later sharing some stories from each of my rides out with an officer, but for this post, I wanted to share just a couple of things I learned.
After riding out a few times or so, I quickly realized that Officers do not use the lights and sirens for every call they have to go out on. Maybe that was common knowledge, but I didn’t realize that. It’s really the more serious and urgent calls that they will use it- especially if they are some distance away from the location. So, just keep in mind that just because you see a Police car that doesn’t have his lights on does not mean that he is not headed to a call. I know there have been times in the past where I have seen Cops going pretty fast and would think something along the lines of them thinking they are just privilege and don’t have to go close to the speed limit but can go faster than we are able to. Am I really the only that has thought that? However, if they are going pretty fast over the speed limit, they are more than likely headed to a call (even if the lights and sirens aren’t on). Moreover, one day when I was out riding, we were headed to a call (without lights and sirens), and it was very difficult to get there because as soon as the car in front of us saw us, they would slow down and there would be no way to get around. Now, I know the instinctive thing to do when you see a Cop behind you is to slow down and maybe at times that would be a good call; however, possibly more times than not, they are not interested in you and how fast you may or may not be going (unless you are going significantly over the speed limit- then that would be a different story). They are more interested in getting to the location. That can be very frustrating for Officers. With that in mind, what I am going to start trying to do and would recommend you to do too, is when I see an Officer coming up behind me, I’m going to get into the other lane and get out of their way if possible because they may be on a call.
The other thing I wanted to briefly share about is the issue of calling in drunk drivers. One night when I was with an Officer, he talked about how a lot of people will call in a drunk driver, give the current location, and a description of the car but then go on about their way. This makes it less likely for the Officer to find that vehicle and pull them over. This actually happened that night while I was with him. We got a call, the location, and a description of the vehicle, but by the time we could actually get to the reported location, that person was long gone. We never did find him. So, my suggestion (which would really help the Officers out) is that if you are going to call in a drunk driver, give them the information that I mentioned above but keep tracking the car. Don’t call it in and then head on home or wherever you are going. Keep following the vehicle (at a safe distance- don’t put yourself in harms way) until the Officer can get to your location. That will help them to get these people off the roads.
If you ever have the chance to participate in a Citizen’s Academy (for all ages), I would highly recommend it.