Over the past year I’ve taken a keen interest in law enforcement and crime investigation (I have podcasts, television shows, and documentaries to thank for this) and in December of 2017 my mom shared with me an application to the Palo Alto Police Department Citizens Police Academy. I read through the course description and was immediately hooked.
This citizens academy is a free 8-week 3 hour course that’s designed to foster understanding and communication between community members and the Palo Alto police. I’m in a class with 20 other citizens, I’m one of the youngest, and we’re about halfway through the course and I’m loving it!
In this post I’m sharing four topics we’ve through out the first four weeks. Bear in mind the courses are three hours long, they contain much more information than what I’ve shared below.
If anything of this interest you look for a Citizens Police Academy in your home town or nearby, I know there are many other departments that have academy’s like this one.
Here’s what I’ve learned in week 1-4 of the PAPD Citizens Police Academy:
We went over program expectations, logistics, and the curriculum. Met the new PAPD chief, Robert Jonsen, assistant chief, Palo Alto K9, and we get a tour of the police station (patrol briefing room, dispatch center, Emergency Operations Center, detective bureau, Records bureau, and the holding facilities for prisoners).
Week 1 – Dispatch and Our 24-Hour Communications Center
Remember the movie The Call with Halle Barry? Well, after I first saw that movie I thought two things: one that’s got to be a very stressful job and two, but a rewarding job (you’re saving someone’s life!). Boy was I right but at the same time so wrong.
During our first week we heard from the Mark Chase, the Communications Manager. We heard about the history of the job, how it has progressed over time and how it’s still evolving. Did you know soon you’ll be able to text your emergency? In fact Oakland, CA is already testing it out!
Mark also spoke about the process of becoming a dispatchers, the classes and in house training they go through before flying solo. He spoke about the Palo Alto Center and the remodeling that just occurred in their office.
We also got to hear two real 9-1-1 calls:
- a woman going into labor at home, instructions on how to deliver the baby were being given to the caller.
- an elderly women in distress, locked herself out of her house, seamed to have some form of dementia, and made some suicide references.
Here are some other notes I found interesting from our class:
- This job is extremely stressful and not many dispatchers make it to retirement
- The Palo Alto dispatchers take animal control, utility, non-emergency police line, and 911 calls.
Week 2 – Patrol Procedure, Laws of Arrest, Search & Seizure
Police can “do whatever they want” when it comes to stopping people and searching people, right?…WRONG!
In our second class we learned all about police patrol, what their “beat system” looks like (Palo Alto is split in four sections or beats), and the types of calls they handle. We discussed when they can and cannot contact, detain, and arrest people; and when they can and cannot search people, their vehicles, their property, and their homes.
We also talked through this real scenario of a crime from 2017 in Palo Alto and discussed what considerations must be taken into account before making an arrest. I definitely left this class with a better understanding about the realities of patrol work. It’s not easy.
Week 3 – Police Academy and PAPD Hiring Process
In class I learned becoming a cop is not in any way an easy process. Getting hired is just the beginning and even that can take up to six months, then comes the academy, a few weeks of in house training, and then that’s followed by a few more weeks in the Field Training Program.
We heard from three different officers this week:
- Lieutenant James Reifschneider – in charge of Personnel & Training Unit (responsible for recruiting, hiring, and training).
- Agent Marco Estrada – works in P&T as a training supervisor (in house training).
- Agent Chris Correia – a Field Training Officer assigned to the patrol division.
Here are some interesting notes from class:
- The hiring process can take up to 3-6 months (includes paperwork, interviews, background investigation, polygraphs, and more)
- One of the most difficult parts of the academy is the driving portion, this is were many cadets fail (this comes one month before graduation).
- Most women struggle with the getting over the 6 foot wall – lack of upper body strength.
- Field Training is about 16 weeks – your graded daily and most of your day involves writing reports
By the way, if you’re interested in becoming a police, PAPD is hiring.
Week 4 – Community Relations, Public Affairs, and Police Accountability
Captain Zach Perron spoke about three different, but very important topics. We saw the new Palo Alto Recruiting Video and we discussed some of the reviews it’s received.
We learned how the department investigates complaints (they only received 2 in 2017) and how can they “investigate their own” fairly and objectively. Captain Perron also shared the importance of social media and their goals: to enhance engagement and build followers in preparation for a crisis.
Here are some notes from class:
- How many camera’s are on a police car?…5 and some cops are now testing out the body cameras.
- PAPD has their own mobile app where you can view a crime map, get alerts, and read news reports.
- Captain Perron and an officer from Mt. View created social media guidelines for Police Departments that has been shared through out the country.
- They’re all over social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Nextdoor, Youtube, and Nixel
- PAPD launched a social media campaign #CopsLoveLemonadeStands back in 2015 – this has greatly helped build community relations.
Hope you enjoyed my recap on the academy. There will be more coming soon including a Sit-A-Long & Ride-A-Long!