2004-04-02 / Community

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report


Do you remember the scene from Lethal Weapon where the guy is standing on the ledge of a hi-rise building, threatening to jump? He is what the NYPD would call an EDP – an emotionally disturbed person. And do you also remember how Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) handled the situation – handcuffing himself to the guy and then jumping from the ledge, landing safely in an airbag set up on the street below?

Well, that’s what New York City Police Department Sergeant Anthony Direnzo would call "applesauce." And we know that, but what most of us don’t know is what police would do when responding to a person threatening to commit suicide.

It’s easy to establish that the would-be-jumper is an EDP. He was exhibiting the three I’s that officers look for: he was irrational, inappropriate and impulsive. He was also what police would term a "custody case." That’s when the EDP presents a danger to either his/herself or others.

So where, besides the ob vious, did Riggs go wrong? Well, he got way too close to the EDP. The NYPD Police Student’s Guide recommends keeping a minimum distance of 20 feet. Distance equals safety to the officer and the EDP – the idea is avoid a confrontation with the EDP and to respect the EDP’s personal space while giving the officer more reaction time if the EDP starts to charge towards them.

Perhaps Direnzo summed it up best when he said jobs involving EDP’s "can get very ugly and then you have a lot of explaining to do." He also told the class that EDP’s are informally known as every-day people.

An entire section of police recruits training is dedicated to studying EDP’s because, as Community Affairs Officer Thomas Verni told the Citizen’s Police Academy class this week, jobs involving EDP’s – they receive about 200 calls per day – are among the most dangerous that officers face. The other most dangerous calls are domestic disputes and car stops (pulling people over).

You might think that a 10-10 call "Possible crime (prowler, suspicious person/vehicle shots fired)" would be more dangerous, and many times they are, but at least with a shots fired call the officer knows what he/she is getting into.

The danger with aforementioned jobs is the unpredictability, Verni said. Cops routinely respond to calls, where all they know at first is that someone might be behaving irrationally. What they don’t know, and what they have to quickly find out, is specifically where the person is, if they have a medical or psychiatric history, if the person is violent or armed with weapons, if the person has a history of violent behavior or criminal activity and if other people are possibly in danger.

To illustrate what an EDP en counter might be like we ventured from our classroom to the auditorium for an EDP role-play session. My guess last week about who would volunteer was off the mark, and in the end two daring men were chosen to be officers. Two officers from the behavioral sciences division of the academy, a man and a woman, were the actors.

I sympathized with my classmates who volunteered for this exercise where they would undoubtedly make mistakes and be corrected, perhaps even ridiculed for their actions. Even as the actors scream ed in the "officers’" faces and stomp ed around on the stage picking up household items that could be used as weapons and then finally throwing furniture around, the guys kept their cool. They never called for the action to stop.

Keep in mind that this was not done for our entertainment. Direnzo warned the class that if people laughed we would all return up stairs, and even though we sometimes behave like an eighth grade class with a substitute teacher, everyone took the exercise very seriously.

What we saw was that, without proper training and experience, theory goes out the window very quickly. There was a moment when the female actor brushed up against the one "officer’s" firearm – that could wind up costing an officer his/her life.

We also learned that when a EDP is judged to be a custody case officers call for the three B’s: the boss, the buss and backup. That means they call for either a sergeant or lieutenant, an ambulance (that’s more cop-speak for you) and the Emer gency Service Unit. And EDP’s aren’t taken to the precinct, they are transported, in handcuffs, to an "appropriate medical facility."

Our reading on EDP’s was pretty thorough. The Police Student’s Guide discusses less than lethal devices and when to use them, mental illness and the law, specific mental disorders and common myths.

I would say this was the best class so far, and it came at just the right time – as I realized that there are 10 weeks remaining to the Citizen’s Police Academy.

Next week’s class will cover the standards of proof, an introduction to the criminal justice system and the U.S. Constitution. Class will be lectured by Sergeant John Donnelly, who, as you might remember from my second report, told us, "Ninety-nine percent of your knowledge comes from TV, and ninety-nice percent of it is wrong." I’m sure that he will also discuss media issues – so I’m eager to see how class works out. I’m going to make sure I do the reading for this class twice.

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