Citizen’s Police Academy One Year Later

Last year one of my goals was to join the Multnomah County Citizen’s Police Academy, but little did I know that I would be joined by three of my very good friends on a 12-week criminal justice adventure. We met the drug dogs, toured the jail, went on ridealongs (both in a patrol car AND patrol boat), watched a taser in action, and on and on.

Even though we got to see a lot of really fun and interesting things, it was still a three hour night class after a full day of teaching. We were exhausted. One time some lady brought in fresh baked cookies for us and instantly I knew that once I had graduated from the academy, I, too, wanted to be “the snack lady.”

So last night, my friend, Courtney, and I revived our citizen’s police academy traditions. We met at Elmer’s for dinner, and then went out to the Wood Village City Hall to deliver snacks to the new recruits. It was like the fun started all over again. We greeted familiar faces, and other people were like, “Who are these giggling girls with the snacks?”

Last year, one of our more random traditions became taking a photo in the car, 12 weeks in a row. Last night we had to revive that tradition, as well.

photoIt was really fun, and we will totally serve as the Snack Patrol again soon.

Ok, now the fun part of this post is over. Time to get serious.

I really did learn a lot from the Citizen’s Academy (and then the FBI Academy a few months later), and a lot of it resonated with me. Quite honestly, I’m not someone who fully trusts law enforcement; I’ve had too many run-ins in my earlier years that made me wary of cops who sling their authority around. But the Citizen’s Academy really did make me feel safer. I met some really intelligent, hard-working, and down-to-earth people who work in all different areas of the county sheriff’s office, and I’m grateful for the time they spent with us.

Something one of the sergeants said was, “If you see something strange, don’t hesitate to call it in; if it gives you a funny feeling, you’re probably right.” I heard that exact line later at the FBI Academy, too. That stuck with me.

Today on my drive home from work, I was just getting on the Fremont Bridge (one of the higher bridges in downtown Portland) and I noticed a guy walking along the edge.

Fremont BridgeHe was disheveled, and had a rope in his hand. It alarmed me immediately because I didn’t see a broken down car anywhere, and he was getting ON to the bridge, not OFF of the bridge (and it’s not the kind of bridge to just take a stroll). On our riverboat ride along, I remember the officer telling us that Portland averages about 50 suicide jumpers a year, and he had a gruesome story of a guy attempted to hang himself with a rope but a concerned truck driver immediately cut the rope and the guy still plummeted to his death. As soon as I was over the bridge, I pulled over and called 911.

Maybe it was nothing; but like the guy said, if it gives you a bad feeling, better to call it in.

And finally, I’ve been listening to a new podcast called Everything Is Stories. So far, it’s real people just telling stories of their life…somewhat disturbing stories. The episode I listened to this morning felt timely. In the first half, a crew member for the show COPS recounts his experiences, and how working for the show was sometimes funny, but mostly depressing. When he talked about witnessing police officers become jaded (and even a little sadistic) from dealing with violence and poverty day-in and day-out, I was immediately reminded of my recent years teaching in a high-poverty neighborhood. At a certain point, it really does change you; for better, and for worse. I agreed that a certain point, you need to leave or you will lose your faith in humanity.

The second story was from a crime scene photographer. His perspective was similar but from a more grotesque point of view since he only dealt with the fatal aftermath of a crime. His story echoed the first, in more gruesome details. I thought back to a lot of the stories we heard at our citizen’s academy.

Listen to it here: EIS – Burden of Proof

Overall, it was a year with many new experiences and it gave me more perspective than I would have initially anticipated.

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