On Saturday I graduated from the Fairfax County Citizens Police Academy. It’s a ten week course every Thursday night from 6:30 -10:00. I thought it would be easy to sum up my experience but it’s not. We laughed — a lot. I came close to tears more than once. The county is big 1,200,000 people, It’s highly educated, and for it’s size has little crime. The department is actively looking for new officers. One of the guys in our class is planning to apply. Others are joining the Police Auxillary and some the Citizens Advisory Council of their local division. I’ll share some of the highlights with you.
After observing a mock robbery we were asked to describe the robber. Our descriptions were wildly different but almost all of us could describe exactly what the gun looked like.
I thought the motor division would be boring but learning about traffic stops and the proper way to approach a car was fascinating. If you get pulled over things will go a lot better if you remain calm. Keep your hands on the wheel until the officer approaches. Tell him you are going to reach for your registration or license before you do it.
We learned how the officer stands to use the vehicle to protect themselves. The bikes weigh over 900 pounds.
We spent an evening with the helicopter division. And were lucky the helicopter landed long enough for us to get to see it. As they gave a presentation about the helicopter it came and went twice. It can fly up to 178 mph. They fly 3000 missions a year. 80% of the missions are police related — missing people, crimes, screams in the woods (most commonly caused by a fox.) 10% are med vacs — these take precedent over crimes. The other 10% are things like training runs and deer population census.
We spent an evening with the SWAT and EOD (explosive ordinance division) guys. The SWAT guys use controlled violence — they usually knock and announce — yelling — Police Search Warrant. They serve high risk warrants and 16 people serve the warrant. The officer told us unlike in the movies, they move quietly, aren’t screaming the whole time, and try to keep people calm. The EOD officer brought his cute dog, Moose, who roamed the classroom and fortunately didn’t alert by anyone. A dog can clear a room in 30 seconds and a building in 30 minutes. They get more smells on warm days.
Last Saturday we had to be at the gun range and track by 7:50 am. The windchill was 19 and we were spending most of the morning outside. I confess I thought about skipping the whole thing but fortunately didn’t. Our class was divided into two groups. My group went to the track first. Here’s a diagram of what it looks like. The corners are much sharper in reality than they appear to be here! We had to wear helmets to ride in the cars. Most of the men in the group were hoping to drive but I was grateful we went around the track with the instructors. The first time I rode in a Crown Vic. We were up to 104 in minutes and flying towards a turn. I thought we would fly off into the woods but the instructor slammed on the brakes and we squealed around the corner. Next we rode in the new Ford Interceptors. They said the ride would be smoother but I didn’t really notice it — there’s not a lot to notice at high speeds. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.
After we finished at the track we headed over to the gun range. I’ve never been around guns. I remembered in one of the classes the officer said he could empty his thirteen rounds in 2 1/2 seconds — I think I got that right. After our safety briefing we headed out to the range. Now I was excited and scared. It was loud — even with our ear protection. We used Sig Sauer guns. First my instructor handed it to me unloaded and ran me through what to do. I have to say using the sight was interesting. Then he put the bullets in — I was afraid I’d accidentally shoot him. I shot twice and hit the target both times. Then I told the instructor, “I’m good.” Guns scare me. But I’m thinking my target would make a good front door decoration — I could change it up for various holidays — a little greenery around Christmas, a heart for Valentine’s Day, a flag for the fourth — what do you think?
Our last events were graduation, which the chief of police came to, and then a potluck. I know I could never be a police officer. I’d empty my gun at the first thing that startled me or run screaming. The police officers that spoke to us loved their jobs. They work under tough conditions without enough pay. I don’t think any of them would trade it for the world.
If your city offers such a program I highly recommend taking it. I learned a lot, got a few ideas for my next novel, and realized the job is even harder than I imagined.
Readers have you attended a citizens police academy?