Inside the citizens' police academy

Posted: 9:39 AM, Jan 29, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-29 09:39:16-05

Engaging the community in an effort to expose the daily life of a Lansing Police Officer.

"I did have kind of an agenda in the back of my mind," explained LPD's Captain Darin Southworth. "That our attendees would have eye opening experiences and perhaps, in some cases, be more empathetic to what the police actually have to do, what they have to see, what rules they have to play within."

So, they can look at the decisions Officers make with both sides in mind.

"I had a chance to look at some of the tools and the equipment, to read some of the policies and procedures. And, it's not as easy as you think it is and we have to give them the benefit of the doubt, but still, you know, we're here to be held accountable when we need to be held accountable, too," Chief Mike Yankowski said.

And let me tell you, after 11 weeks of everything from a tour of the lockup facility to a ride-along with an officer to a chat with the CSI team, everyone in my class learned something valuable.

"My mom made me get out of the house, came here and just had the time of my life," said participant, Cameron King. "And, I'm kind of glad she got me involved."

"I take our police department for granted. They're out there, they're doing their job but it's - what a job," added fellow participant Jim Brooks. "But to think that they're doing this several days a week, several weeks each month and 12 months out of the year, its impressive."

One of the most popular nights was the hands-on scenario-based training looking at how officers use force.

My partner and I had to serve an arrest warrant to a somewhat hostile woman, then immediately deal with a man resisting arrest.

"She had a gun underneath her, now this is a scenario, but none of us saw the gun, but we had to be on top of our game, they have to be on top of our game," Brooks recalled.

Because officers never know exactly what type of situation they've been called to.

"It comes to light the seconds or milliseconds that they have to make decisions and what to say, how to say it, how to react," participant Kathy Tobe said. "And, once they make those decisions, they're going to be judged by many."

And, with the high number of officer-involved shootings and as the tension between media and police has grown in recent years, there were a lot of questions about the force training.

"It rises from officer presence and verbal direction right up to physical skills that could involve a striking, pushing, taking down, use of an impact weapon, use of a chemical irritant or taser or a firearm," Captain Southworth explained.

Until the subject is no longer a threat to the officer or the public's safety. But, Captain Southworth told me, regardless of their reasoning, the officer is going to be judged.

"In too many circumstances, I feel police officers are characterized as having some predisposed manner of handling it based on who's involved," he said. "There's no time to think about who it is or what they look like, It's dealing with the facts, the threats and the circumstances at hand that keep everyone safe and alive."

It's judgment Captain Southworth doesn't think is always fair.

"We accept having fingers pointed at us, is it always fun? No. Is it always fair? No. But, it is the nature of our work," he said.

And, after all, the most important thing we took away from the Citizens' Police Academy is remembering the officers are human.

"I think many time we forget. We see the uniform, we almost think of them as machines and they're not. They're caring people," Tobe added.

I really saw that human element during my ride-along. The officers were called to a man's home because he hadn't shown up for work. And when we arrived, he was really frazzled because he couldn't find his medicine. The officer talked him down, helped him find it and gave him a ride to the hospital.

These types of wellness checks are pretty common. The Chief told me he considers his officers social workers. Because he said about 99% of the time, they're solving problems and only about 1% of the time, he said, is enforcement.

The first class started tonight. Captain Southworth said 24 people will be participating this year.