Editor’s note: Citizen’s Police Academy is a weekly series by Julie Gerke, who is participating in the local 12-week class that educates adult students on the work and procedures of local law enforcement.
Story and Photos by Julie Gerke
Most of the time, police encounters don’t involve people who are violent. But to protect themselves and others, officers need to treat every incident as if it has the possibility for trouble.
Explaining high-risk encounters to members of the Jacksonville Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy was a group effort for a handful of JPD (Jacksonville Police Department) officers who led a series of scenarios at the police department.
At the same time, half of the academy class was at Jacksonville High School, learning about active shooters.
JPD Officer Alex Johnson said that any call in a home is a high-risk encounter because the building is not known to the officers when they enter. “It’s not our element,” he said.
The scenarios allowed officers to explain legal rules as class members used bits and pieces of what they’d learned over the previous 10 weeks. In one instance, class members worked in pairs to portray officers called to a home where an owner (Johnson) wanted a roommate (JPD Officer Luke Coop) out of the house. JPD Officer Matt Grubb stood in as dispatcher, so class members could request and share information.
For the first two class members, the roommate left. For the next two class members, the roommate wouldn’t leave. Officers then shared the legalities of residency, options police have, and possible longer-term outcomes if cases go to court.
“We do what we can to get somebody to leave,” Johnson said. “It’s just something we have to work through.”
Other scenarios included an officer called to an underage drinking party where a noise complaint had been made, and one about a neighbor who complained about a man’s activities in someone else’s yard.
Outside, JPD officers Brennan McMillen and Taylor Kirchhofer worked with class members on traffic stops involving speeding, expired registration, and guns.
Most night-time stops involve two officers for safety reasons; one officer can continue talking with the car’s inhabitants while another officer checks driver’s license and registration records. Officers can approach either the driver’s or passenger’s doors, using flashlights to check the backseat, front seat, floorboards and the inhabitants, while asking questions and explaining why the car was pulled over.
In a scenario about a broken headlight, both occupants (Kirchhofer and Coop) exited the car and then returned, but they switched seats, perhaps to avoid a DUI charge. “It doesn’t always make sense, but it happens,” McMillen said.
In another example, a driver had his radio turned up and kept a beat on the steering wheel, activities discouraged by class member Lavena Dober-Lewellen.
In the third scenario, class member Ron Cooley stopped a car after it rolled through a stoplight; as he talked to the driver, he saw a handgun in the passenger’s lap. He called for back-up without leaving the car’s side and insisted several times that the driver and passenger put their hands on the dashboard. Once other “officers” arrived, Cooley removed the gun from the car and the driver and passenger were taken into custody.
Caution during any traffic stop is warranted. Officers often will touch a vehicle trunk, not just to leave a fingerprint but to see if a trunk lid is open. Kirchhofer said it also provides a reminder that “there’s no need to rush.”
“At this department, communication and explaining [to people] what we’re doing … seems to work pretty well,” Kirchhofer said.
Next week: Emergency vehicle operations