I’m graduating from POLICE ACADEMY!

Well, to be precise, the Arlington Citizen’s Police Academy… it’s not learning to be a police officer, it’s for town residents to learn about our local police and their procedures. Our town’s police are serious about community policing and have restarted this great 8-week class recently after a hiatus due to renovation in the community safety center.

Our Citizen’s Police Academy class is eight three hour lessons on Thursday nights. Classes are held in a nice training room in the newly renovated Community Safety Building. The trainers in class are all police officers – or staff – in the department or on units that work with the department.

Topics include the obvious things like the history of the department, introduction to a number of police procedures like crime scen investigations, use of force, how they do traffic stops, and a visit from their great new K-9 unit, who enthusiastically sniffs out drugs and helps protect the officer. They also included other common laws questions and issues the police deal with, like drugs, domestic violence, and human trafficking (the last three being incredibly depressing…)

Touring the Police Station

The class also toured all of the police station, including the places you won’t normally see (or ever want to see!).

  • The E911 dispatcher center covers local town calls, and always has two operators working. The monitor setups are impressive – they have a set of older radio and monitor setups dealing with police radios, call transfers between jurisdictions, and intercoms. But they also each have an array of beautiful monitors for data entry,
    Google and custom maps of the whole town or any officer response area, and more. In particular satellite map overlays with more detailed address locations than Google gives are a key advantage officers have today when responding to a situation.
  • Offices in the department are nice, mostly because they recently finished a long-overdue renovation of the building. In fact, a lot of the police department seems like a normal office building – except for the uniforms and utility/weapon belts most people wear.
  • The Ready Room is just like you would expect from watching police procedural TV shows like Hill Street Blues – except much cleaner, with plenty of power ports (for charging radios – and cell phones), and it’s own display monitor and wireless router, for running Powerpoint slides of the shift briefing. It was interesting to see this aspect of all those TV shows isn’t really that far from the truth for patrol officers. The daily briefing is also much more data-driven, with up-to-the minute local reports for the start of a shift.
  • The holding cells and secure booking room are… very clean, very organized, and you would never want to be put in one. One thing you don’t think about is the difference between a police holding cell and a normal jail. Holding cells are only for as long as it takes them to process paperwork and put you in front of a judge for formal charges. There’s literally nothing there except a shelf (serves as a bed),
    a toilet, and a sink. While clean, it certainly makes a normal jail look nice in terms of amenities.
  • The Sally Port was included in our tour. Bet you didn’t know our police had a sally port! You can search for some pictures online, but essentially it’s a secure bay in the garage a cruiser can pull into with a detainee, lower a secure metal door, and then safely take the detainee into the secure booking room. Policy note: there are lockers everywhere in the booking/cell areas since officers never carry a firearm when marshaling prisoners between areas in the basement.

Instructors And Staff

All the evening’s lectures were by officers or staff from the APD, or from a few invited guests. They included slides and handouts, and many lectures included additional items to pass around or review during the breaks, like books on the topic or some of the tools officers carry. All the instructors were happy to take questions, and sometimes our class spent quite a while asking about their topics!

I found out later that the Special Projects Clerk Jessica Walsh, who was arranging the class, had polled a number of other local police departments for curriculum used in their citizen police academies. It depends on the town or city, but there are a fair number of departments now running these programs. It was also obvious that Jessica and the APD officers did a lot of work in shaping the curriculum to Arlington and writing all the slides and materials for class.

Everything was well researched, and some topics included detailed statistics and data behind them. Did you know that APD has a Crime Analyst? Even though we’re a very safe town, the Analyst was doing advanced data and map analysis of potential issues across the town, along with some amazing coordination with neighboring towns to get potential hot spots or possible wanted suspects into the hands of exactly the right patrol officers.

I also noticed that both the Jessica who was organizing the details and Cpt. James Curran, head of the Community Services Division within the department, were there for every class. Cpt. Curran, in particular, added something to each class, both by answering extra questions, as well as regaling us with amusing and action-packed stories of every officer he’d introduce (if you know the Captain, you’re laughing now). This was a lot of extra work to arrange and run the class (staying well past 9 pm every Thursday), and they were always chipper and eager to answer questions on anything.

What I Especially Was Impressed By

The whole class was well run for a town our size, especially considering we have a pretty safe place to live without much police activity. The lectures and slides were at a quite high level – which was fine because there’s a lot of ground to cover in all the things that police officers have to do every single day in their jobs. Kudos to Jessica, Cpt. Curran, and all the officers who put together the program and took their time to spend with us citizens. While they certainly didn’t cover everything the police do in town, it gave a great overview and helped to explain a lot of simple (or sometimes not so simple) misconceptions or just plain things that residents didn’t know the police dealt with all the time.

Most impressive by far, however, was the staff. My cynical side was wondering how much of the class lectures reflected what really happens, versus a pretty explanation of some basic police procedures. While we’re lucky in our corner of the Commonwealth to live in a safe town where the police have a good reputation, I could have cynically imagined the class being some simplistic outreach and a nice PR show for the town.

But it’s hard to fake the enthusiasm everyone had for the job. It’s really hard to fake enthusiasm over 8 weeks, with dozens of staff members and invited guests who were our speakers. The energy, friendliness, enthusiasm, and caring about their jobs was obvious from everyone who came to talk at our class. That goes double for Clerk Jessica, Cpt. Curran, and Lt. Kiernan who were in every class. They’re not just saying it, they’re living it every day – being decent, caring, respectful, and helpful human beings – who also work as police officers or staff on their jobs every day.

So if you do interact with an Arlington police officer, please be nice. They’re people too – and they really care about our town and doing their job right.

I’m glad I took the class – would take it again! – Shane


APD will be running this class again next year – I urge you to consider trying it out when they open applications. Note: there was a waitlist this year, so be sure to apply early and have a good description of why you’d like to attend!

Arlington Citizen’s Police Academy – Official Page

APD is on Twitter @ArlingtonMAPD and Facebook too, and join APD at Caffe Nero for #CoffeeWithACop from 9-11AM on Tuesday, 21-November-2017.

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