Academy Teaches About Police
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Two hours into the first class of the Southern Pines Police Department's Citizens Police Academy, the first question came from a grandmotherly woman sitting in the front row.
"When are we going to the range?" she asked.
That would be the Law Enforcement Officers shooting range. To fire guns. With live ammunition.
Then another woman asked, "Can we bring our own gun?"
Twenty-one residents of all ages and from all walks of life enrolled in the academy, a seven-week program that is equal parts education, neighborhood public relations, hands-on participation and fun.
The class met once a week for two hours. Each class was divided into two hour-long sessions.
One hour of instruction focused on different aspects of the Police Department. A police representative presented a short talk, fielded questions and, in most cases, demonstrated some aspect of his or her job.
The second hour was devoted to an interactive crime scene investigation (CSI). Class members collected evidence in a mock-crime investigation, with the ultimate goal of having enough evidence after seven weeks that an independent panel would issue an arrest warrant.
This was the first year for the CSI component. The class learned early on that its investigation was not nearly as romantic, perfect or quick as it is portrayed on one of the countless television shows devoted to the subject.
"Crime isn't solved in 60 minutes," as Lt. Rodney Hardy, of the Southern Pines Police Department, so eloquently put it.
Finding Crime Scene
Yellow crime scene tape cordoned off the area. Behind it, the scene of the crime.
At first glance, there were the obvious signs of an apparent struggle - overturned chairs, red, white and blue poker chips, and newspapers and blood (ketchup, of course) covered the floor near one table. On the table were three pairs of reading glasses, several ceramic mugs, a few wine bottles, a red rag, salt and pepper shakers, playing cards, more poker chips and a blood-covered knife.
Several bloody footprints on the floor trailed to the back door.
The "crime scene" doubles as the break room in the back of the town's Public Works building. It was huge.
And it was up to the class, with the help of Joe Leggett, property technician for the Police Department, to document the scene. That meant lots of photos and lots of notes.
Before letting the class loose to process the scene, instructor Bob Temme, community services coordinator for the department, reminded class members to document the evidence, be careful not to disturb the evidence, and "watch where you step."
Class members carefully approached the table to get a closer look. As they examined the evidence, Leggett clicked away with his camera, documenting every piece of evidence.
Class member Charlie Laird noticed the writing on the inside of the playing card box.
"Good catch," someone called out, followed by several affirmative "uh-huhs."
Leggett's camera flashed away to document the box. It would later turn out to be nothing important to the case, but at that time, the class didn't know.
As Leggett photographed the bloody footprints, Jean DeMay snaked her way through the class, asking the males what size shoe they wore and then asked to see the bottoms of their shoes.
Walk This Way
Before going to the crime scene, the class got a quick overview of the patrol division.
This included trying out the department's vision-impairment goggles, or "beer goggles," used to simulate the conditions of a person impaired by alcohol.
A female volunteered first.. She said she wasn't a drinker. But when she put on the goggles, she stumbled around the room, unable to walk a straight line.
She was asked to put her arms straight down by her sides, lift an arm, point her index finger and then touch her nose. She missed the tip by an inch or two.
The class laughed at her misfortune, not realizing quite how difficult the task was.
When she removed the goggles, she remarked with a laugh, "I am a cheap date!"
Next was a middle-aged male. He fared a bit better, but admitted his success was partially due to the fact that he had been able to watch his classmate attempt the drill first.
A few minutes after removing the goggles, he was still feeling the effects.
"It messes with you," he said, "like my equilibrium is still off or something."
Footprints in Stone
In week three, the class discussed casting footprints.
The Southern Pines Police Department uses dental stone because it holds up better than plaster in a variety of conditions.
It's like making pancakes using a shoe-sized cookie cutter.
The footprint isn't nearly as clear and crisp as what one sees on television. But it was good enough to keep DeMay on the case, comparing the cast with everyone's shoes.
In the first part of class, members got the 4-1-1 on the department's telecommunications department. The telecommunications staff - or dispatchers, as they are sometimes called - is a very important part of the department. And probably its most underrated.
The dispatchers handle a variety of calls, from helping someone who may be new in town to find the library to fielding a 911 emergency call.
They are the first on the scene to any crime. And their attention to detail and ability to listen, stay calm and relay information to the officers is important in any situation.
"The officers may be the first eyes on the scene, but we are the ears," said Lisa Williams, supervisor of the department.
Dusting for Prints
In week four, Hardy told the class about the investigations department and its role in solving crime.
One of the biggest lessons that Hardy stressed is to be aware of your surroundings, and if something "makes the hair on your neck stand up" or "gives you a funny feeling in your gut," call the police.
The class also got a hands-on and rather messy lesson in collecting fingerprints. Participants collected fingerprints from the wine bottles that were at the crime scene. The class was divided into three groups of four to six, and everyone had a chance to dust for fingerprints.
John Laird and his wife, Charlie, worked together to find a perfect print.
"There's one," he said as his wife spun the bottle, seeking the best print to lift. "Let's lift that one."
After a quick dusting of powder comes the tricky part - applying the tape to lift the print, peeling it off and securing it into evidence.
It must be done carefully because using too much powder or peeling the tape too quickly can damage the print. Also, a heavy hand and the gloves class members were wearing could smear the evidence.
As Temme moved from table to table offering help and plenty of encouragement, he praised the class.
"These are some of the best fingerprints I have ever seen," he said.
With a Bang
Week five found the class at the LEO shooting range, with a chance to fire some live rounds at stationary targets.
It was the moment two class members had obviously been waiting for since the beginning.
Members of the Special Response Team (SRT) provided the expert instruction on the firing range. Class members, clad in bulletproof vests and ear protection devices, got a chance to shoot a handgun and two different semiautomatic rifles.
On the range, shooters zeroed in on the blue human-shaped targets.
Empty bullet casings clinked off the concrete like bells in a slot machine as bullets sprayed the targets - and sometimes the grass and dirt mounds behind them.
After the class had its turn, the members of the SRT showcased their stuff during a building-entry demonstration (the details of which the department requires must be kept confidential for security purposes). But it was loud and fast. The subject was detained and controlled in a matter of seconds.
To the Dogs
Week six of the class was a much-anticipated K-9 unit demonstration in the open field behind the Campbell House.
Several folks who happened to be walking through the area or playing basketball stopped what they were doing to watch.
The stars of the show were Kevin, Nero and Rico - three of the four canine officers with the Southern Pines K-9 unit. Kyran missed the class because his handler, Sgt. Robert Williams, was unable to participate in the demonstration.
Williams did join the other handlers - Jason Embler, C.K. Kelly and Jason Perry - to talk to the class about their jobs, their four-legged partners and their training, and then each handler and his dog put on a demonstration.
Training and caring for the dogs and equipment for the K-9 unit cost tens of thousands of dollars. But based on the voluminous photo album that documents the successful busts by the department, it seems to be paying off.
Some of the handlers' shirts read "Working Our Tails Off to Protect Yours."
With a simple bark of a command from the handler, the dogs sprang into action. Whether it was apprehending or tracking a suspect or finding drugs in a car, these dogs did it all.
The final session was the graduation ceremony for the class, held at the new police station.
The class got a tour of the building and was presented with a diploma. Prior to that, the class presented all the information in our case to a magistrate, who granted an arrest warrant for the suspect in the murder case.
Contact Tom Embrey at email@example.com.
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