The Star-News - July 5, 2002

Citizens academy was an education

At 6:30 p.m. last Wednesday there was a graduation ceremony at Chula Vista Council Chambers for a mixed bunch of locals who attended the Chula Vista Police Departmentís third Citizenís Police Academy.

And itís been an interesting series of 11 Thursday evening sessions. There was an examination of the screening undergone by police recruits. An hour was devoted to the philosophy of community oriented policing.

Those of us coming to class from a long day at the office were supplied with plenty of Starbucks coffee to prevent us dozing off and hitting our heads on the classroom desks.

But the lectures were balanced with fascinating demonstrations such as that given by a member of the K-9 unit and his dog, Archie.

Another eye-opener was the defensive tactics and firearms session presented by a cool dude who might be the model for one of those Mel Gibson movies.

Then there was pursuit driving. And thereís nothing quite like tearing round a specially prepared circuit in a police car, running down plastic cones with your pedal pressed hard to the metal, lights and siren blaring. The stench of burning brakes combines with the aroma of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to smell like... victory.

The Fire Arms Training Simulator put us in the uncomfortable position of a cop who has to make the split second decision whether to draw and whom to shoot.

Some of us had to revise our opinions on police shootings after that. And each of us got a ride-along in a patrol car. For some, this may be the experience that made the whole thing gel. As the shift begins, the officer explains what to do if he should get shot. You have to be able to give your position over the radio so that help can be dispatched. So itís 10 hours of squinting to read intersections as you cruise through Fourth and Naples, Third and L etc., mindful that, should the unthinkable happen, thereís a switch between the seats to release the shotgun and the first cartridge is loaded with ball. Youíre literally riding shotgun.

But mostly the routine is what our consumer-friendly police describe as calls for service. And thatís when the community oriented policing philosophy comes into focus.

Calls for service tend to require a cop to be more diplomat than urban warrior.

A landlord needs to be told that he doesnít have the right to prevent tenants from moving out in the middle of the night owing several monthsí rent.

A woman whose stolen car has been recovered has to hear she canít have it back right away because the forensic team needs to check it for prints.

And then, late in the weary evening, the cop has to read a legal document by flashlight before explaining to a resident that a restraining order on her neighbor does not make him arrestable for leaving an empty beer can on the shared driveway.

The partnership with the community is a vital one, and the Citizens Academy seems to develop that bond because hard-working honest people recognise hard-working honest people when they hang out with them every week. The coffee and doughnut money was well spent.