Getting into the mind of a cop
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
It’s 9 P.M., and you’ve just heard what sounded like gunshots coming from the house next door. You know the neighbors are in the midst of a messy divorce, but surely it couldn’t have gotten this bad. What do you do?
“9-1-1, please state your problem.”
The scenario has transformed. Now you’re jogging down the hike and bike trail when you hear a woman scream. Seconds later, you spot a tall, twenty-something man fleeing the premises, clutching a purse underneath his arm like a football.
Would you know what to do?
Twice a year, the Georgetown Police Department offers a twelve-week course called Citizens Police Academy, or CPA, a public program designed to educate the community about the daily activities of a police department. Participants learn everything from the inner workings of a 9-1-1 call center and the investigative process and training required of police, to the nuts and bolts of a jury and court system and the implications of a release or jail sentence.
According to Sergeant Loyd Pearson, the educational nature of the program provides a level of depth that promotes a better understanding and respect for the Georgetown Police Department.
“CPA opens the box and shows citizenry what the police department does for you,” said Sgt. Pearson. “It takes you through the life of a cop and serves as a public forum for the police department to disperse that information to as many people in the community as choose to take advantage of that.”
Another benefit of the program is that it teaches people to be more proactive and involved in the Georgetown community. “They know what goes on now, so they have more buy-in,” said Sgt. Pearson.
Because police officers are frequently confronted with circumstances in which they must make tough decisions on a moment’s notice, CPA helps ordinary folks step into the shoes of an officer on duty. The interactive “Shoot/Don’t Shoot” exercise, for example, allows people to gain a police officer’s perspective by experiencing a fraction of what an officer’s concerns could be when on the scene.
“At the end of the day, you just want to go home to your wife and kids or your husband and kids,” said Sgt. Pearson. “And CPA helps people come to the realization that we’re just trying to carry out the duties of a steward. Sure, you see a few people get out of control, but we constantly have to make tough decisions to protect our community. . . . CPA shows people that we’re on their side.”
In addition to informing the public about police protocols and procedures, the program serves as a recruitment tool for the Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, a group of Georgetown citizens who successfully completed CPA and who now volunteer their time with the Georgetown Police Department.
CPAAA is one of several volunteer positions that fall under the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program. Volunteers also work in areas such as Victim Services, Animal Services, Park Rangers, and other internal administrative jobs. The Georgetown Police Department has even recruited a retired police officer to volunteer as a civilian detective and another to handle fleet maintenance.
According to Linda Lipscomb, volunteer program coordinator for VIPS, somewhere between a third and half of the people who enroll in Citizens Police Academy decide to volunteer with the Georgetown Police Department. In fact, CPA training is imperative for anyone interested in volunteering time at the Georgetown Police Department.
“If you’re going to work for this department, you need to know about the department,” said Linda. “Although you can volunteer with VIPS before you take the CPA class, at some point, all volunteers are required to take the CPA class and graduate from it.”
The success of CPA’s cost-free program has resulted in roughly 23,000 man-hours going toward VIPS in the last year alone—a boon for the department and a mark of success for Linda, who helped start the VIPS program in 2006.
“At this point we actually have more volunteers than we have staff,” said Sgt. Pearson, noting that while the Georgetown Police Department staffs around 100 employees, VIPS currently has, on average, more than 100 volunteers. These volunteers help maintain a safe environment for their fellow Georgetown citizens by doing everything from manning the phones to riding patrols on hike and bike trails.
The CPAAA also works with the police department to register Georgetown citizens in a new photo-recognition database called “Take Me Home.” The program runs pictures of lost children and adults with dementia against stored information to help them return home safely.
Volunteers in VIPS serve “a vital function and a vital part of our ability to carry on our mission,” said Sgt. Pearson. “If it was strictly up to us to go out and catch the bad guys, we’d do a terrible job. We need people to call us. We need people to be aware of what’s suspicious. And they can learn all of that in Citizens Police Academy.”
Interested in attending? Click here for the application and more information.