By Patrick Lacombe, The Belton Journal
The Belton Police Department held graduation ceremonies for its 6th Citizens Police Academy last Thursday.
The classes were held every Thursday night and are designed to promote “understanding through education” by building a relationship between Belton’s Police Department and the public which they serve.
The class graduated 21 citizens, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to have been one of them. One night a week for 10 weeks may seem like a long time, but the consensus of the class of 2015 is that it was over in a flash. Unlike attending boring classes with speakers giving lectures, the Citizens Police Academy is a fun-filled learning process with hands on experiences right out of actual police situations.
Our first class involved introductions and an overview of the PD by Chief Gene Ellis, followed by a tour of the PD by Deputy Chiefs Mike Rhoden and Jen Wesley.
On week 2, we met at the Bell County Communications Center for a tour of the 911 call center. The BCC staff showed us the inner workings of the call center and then allowed us to walk around and ask questions of the men and women working the computers where they dispatch Police and Fire Departments to all Bell County agencies. It is a very busy and interesting environment, and it shed a lot of light on how our 911 system works.
Week 3 centered around the subject of Use of Force. We watched videos of different use of force situations, one in which a Deputy Sheriff in rural Georgia lost his life to a deranged man because the deputy failed to react with the proper force. The class fell quiet as we watched and heard the screams of the deputy as he took his dying breath. Police work may seem to be just like any other job to some, but the realization is that anytime a Police Officer responds to a call, he may never return home to see his family and loved ones. After such a sobering moment, we were shown how to use the TASER. We each got to fire the TASER gun at a cardboard target. It’s a lot harder than it looks, and it takes practice to fire the darts into the proper body parts to make a suspect comply with the officer.
On week 4, we met and listened to federal, city and county narcotics agents. They talked about some of the local drug busts here in Bell County, and we had Officer Chico and his handler, Officer Murray of the Belton PD, give us a demonstration of how quick 4-legged Officer Chico could located a small bag of marijuana hidden in the room.
Week 5 we met at the Methodist Church and were given a demonstration by the Belton PD SWAT Team on the proper way to search and clear a building. After the SWAT demonstration, the class paired up, and we searched and cleared the building ourselves. We had a lot of fun with this because we were given guns made of wood and went into darkened rooms trying to locate suspects. Graduates of the previous 5 classes who went on to take extra training to become CHIPS (Citizens Helping In Police Service) played the bad guys hiding in the rooms waiting to ambush the Police as we searched each room.
I did pretty well that night, only getting shot twice in the simulation. It was a fun night and even though we all knew it was simulated, we were breathing heavily from the anxiety of not knowing who or what lurked in the dark rooms. Again, I thought about the brave men and women that wear the uniform to protect us from things that go bump in the night.
In week 6, we met the detectives, and they talked about their jobs and a few past cases. We have all seen the detective shows on TV where the crime is solved in under an hour. It is not at all that easy to solve a crime that quickly, as we soon found out. We were given a mock crime scene and again paired up and were told to solve the crime. At the end of the class, each team gave their answers as to what exactly happened at the scene. Let me just say this. Every team had a different answer, and they were all wrong. I was feeling pretty smug and thought my partner and I had solved the crime, but when we learned what really happened, I was embarrassed at our explanation and wanted to sneak out of the room unseen.
In week 7, we were taken on a tour of the Bell County Jail, hosted by Sheriff Eddy Lange. The Sheriff answered questions and showed us around the facility, explaining each section of the jail and how it works.
Week 8 had us meeting at First Baptist Church in Belton. We listened to staff talk about practical problems that the PD faces and how to deal with them properly. Next came another fun night of simulations involving calls to deal with family violence. Again we paired with our partners and were sent out on seven different simulated calls for help involving domestic situations. Deputy Chief Wesley, acting as 911 dispatch, gave us the info on the call. We then went to the address (room) and had to find out exactly what was going on and try to diffuse the situation.
Now this may sound simple, but our first call involved a man and his wife yelling at each other at the top of their lungs and nothing we could do would get them to stop. Finally we separated them to different parts of the room and tried to ascertain what was going on. This became increasingly more difficult as each one blamed the other, and my partner and I were dumbfounded on what to do next. As I talked to the man of the house, my partner turned his back on the woman for a second and she sneaked up behind me and I heard her yell “BANG.” I turned around to see her holding a plastic toy gun pointed at me. It was then that I realized that I had been shot. My partner had a confused look on his face like, “How did she do that?”
We did six more mock calls after that, in which I was shot or stabbed four more times by the woman of the house. You would think I had learned my lesson after the first shooting. Again, I realized just how quickly a situation can turn bad and how easy it is for an officer to lose their life.
Week 9, Deputy Chief Rhoden and Lieutenant Fields instructed us on traffic stops and patrol operations. Afterward we paired up and made mock traffic stops. We again donned our wooden pistols and were instructed on how to turn on the lights and sound the siren. There were five different traffic stops to deal with. This is one of the most difficult situations that an officer can encounter because you are walking up to a vehicle not knowing who or what is inside. The first stop we made was on a vehicle with three occupants inside and loud music playing on the stereo. To complicate things, the driver did not speak English and his wife kept yelling at him and me. All of a sudden the passenger in the back seat opens the door and bolts into the trees. WHAT DO YOU DO? I debated running after the passenger but gave up that idea after running a few steps. I went back to try to talk to the driver and while I was trying to reason with him and his wife, I heard a loud “BANG” behind me. Yes, I had been shot again.
Week 10 was graduation night. It was a bittersweet occasion because we had made new friends, learned a lot, had fun, and now it was over. We received our diplomas, had refreshments and said our goodbyes. Most of our class has signed up for extra classes to become CHIPS. We will volunteer to help our Police Department with event parking, The Belton PD’s RU OK program, which checks on senior citizens twice a week, and anywhere else we are needed.
I can’t speak highly enough of this program, and I recommend each one of you to sign up for the Citizens Police Academy. It truly gives you insight to the problems facing our police departments across the country. The news is filled with distortions and false information anytime an officer is involved in an incident. They are people just like you and me. They put their pants on one leg at a time, they bleed red like us, they have families and children like we do. The Georgia Sheriffs Deputy that I mentioned above had a wife and two kids. Deputy Dinkheller woke up earlier that morning and put his uniform on one leg at a time just as we do, but never dreamed that he would never see his loved ones again.
For more information on the Citizens Police Academy, visit www.beltontexas.gov/index.aspx?NID=389.