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Reflections about an experience in the Collierville Citizens Police Academy

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BY Jennifer W. Casey
Emerging Media Specialist, Town of Collierville Public Information Office

I signed up for the Citizens Police Academy during the spring after writing a release to promote the upcoming, summer session.
After reading about what the class covered, it certainly peaked my interest from a professional standpoint, to learn more about a Town Department, but I was curious as a citizen as well.
What exactly is the Collierville Police Department doing that keeps Collierville a safe community?
That question was answered the first day of class, and was not what I expected…traffic stops. When Assistant Chief David Tilner led the first discussion about the Department’s “Community Oriented Policing” structure, he asked for everyone to raise a hand if he/she had ever been pulled over by a Collierville Police Officer. With almost every hand in the air, it was not a surprise to anyone to see a room full of people with this past, and most likely future, experience.
The Collierville Police Department has a reputation for strict traffic enforcement, and that reputation is a strategy that we continued to learn about throughout the following classes.
Experiencing a traffic stop from a patrol officer’s perspective is a truly unique experience. Walking up to the side of an unfamiliar vehicle with tinted windows gets your heart racing before even seeing what is waiting inside. While we had Collierville Police Officers pretending to be unruly drivers, they enjoyed surprising the class with unexpected behavior.
Shuffling around through a glove box may appear to be a harmless search for an insurance card until a weapon is pointed in your direction. What seemed like unusual scenarios to the class were real situations the officers experienced on patrol.
Lieutenant David Townsend, the Academy Coordinator, shared that he worked on patrol in the past as a traffic reconstructionist. Using complex math, these patrol officers would study the impact of vehicles, tire tread marks left on roads, and any other clues to determine exact details about a car wreck.
We learned, and even tested, the dangers of impaired and distracted driving by driving a golf cart around a complex maze of orange cones with altered googles to simulate the vision of a legal blood alcohol level.
We also used a computer simulator set up like a video game with a steering while and gas pedal; the program sent text messages to our personal cell phones as we drove, and the results weren’t very good.
While we experienced fake crashes and arrests, we were shown a slideshow of car wrecks in Collierville that was, at times, hard to watch. The time it takes to look at a text message on a phone, while driving, is equivalent to driving 100 yards with your eyes closed.
While enforcing traffic rules keeps roadways safer, it also proves to be a deterrent for criminal activity.
However, there are times when crimes do happen in Collierville; one of the most common being theft from vehicles.
Chief Tilner repeatedly stressed to always lock the doors to your car and to hide or take out anything of value. If a crime became more serious, we learned about different divisions of the Police Department that are highly trained to assist specific needs.
We saw first-hand the incredible ability of a Police K-9, Leno a Belgian Malinois, keenly listening to his trainer’s commands, the inner-workings of the Dispatch Center as a live 911 call came through with firefighters arriving at the scene in a matter of minutes, and the impressive tracking ability of the STAR team (Strategic Tracking and Recovery) who use heightened senses to find a criminal fleeing a scene or perhaps a loved one lost in the woods.
The Crisis Intervention Team specializes in assisting people who are experiencing a stressful crisis while maintaining professionalism and compassion. These officers help citizens with mental disorders or anyone experiencing some form of emotional trauma or shock.
We were told a touching story of a CIT officer singing Amazing Grace with an individual to help ease his stress level while safely travelling in the patrol car to seek medical attention.
The SWAT members have a similar responsibility to respond to people in an emotionally charged situation, however, the scenario will have a greater risk to safety of the individual or others. Class members were given a “bank robbery” exercise and either played hostages being detained by actual SWAT officers acting as robbers or put on the SWAT gear and entered the building to save the innocent bystanders.
I wore the heavy SWAT vest and uncomfortable helmet, and hesitantly entered the “bank” after having a briefing with my team about our course of action.
Although the scene wasn’t real, I felt very nervous clearing dark rooms and was slow to react when one of my team members was involved in a stand-off with a suspect.
“You will react in the way you have been trained,” said Chief Larry Goodwin on the very first day of class, and again at our graduation ceremony.
As citizens from all walks of life, some of us had more experience than others with military backgrounds or aspirations to join a police department as a future career.
There were also school faculty, salesmen, students, financial advisors, and a few town employees, like myself, who did not necessarily have much knowledge about the complexities of law enforcement.
We all learned that Collierville Police Officers are trained and ready to react to any scene at any moment.
“I always thought I missed my calling as police officer, and was very interested in attending this program,” commented Sharon Corley who took the course with her teenage son, Cameron.
Much more than a career, Collierville Police Officers answer the call daily, as Dispatch communicates the emergency needs of citizens.
During the graduation ceremony, Mayor Stan Joyner and Chief Goodwin encouraged the class to continue supporting the Collierville Police Department by joining other volunteer organizations associated with the Department, but more importantly to be Ambassadors to the community.
After attending the Citizens Police Academy, my view of law enforcement has changed from innocent ignorance about an unfamiliar job to a grateful understanding of brave, compassionate and now familiar faces that are called to keep Collierville a safe place to live, work, and play.

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