2004-06-04 / Community

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report


Think about this: Every argument you ever get in to has at least one thing in common – you. Police Officer James Shanahan, a 23-year veteran who teaches tactical communication, raised that interesting point to the Citizen’s Police Academy Class this week.

I think that when we look at it in that way, we can see a bit more clearly our contribution to, and our ability to resolve, interpersonal conflicts in our lives. Police recruits learn a rule at the academy that seems pretty simple, at least in a classroom, to follow: model the behavior that you’re looking for.

My classmates and I have head another variation of that: calm behavior is contagious behavior. The latter saying was repeated during several different lecturers by the instructors at the Police Academy, and I suspect that it’s drilled into the minds of every recruit. It makes sense.

At the root of all of this is the principle that the public’s voluntary compliance with the police certainly makes things much easier, and less dangerous, for officers. So, they have to learn ways to get us to decide that we will work with them, or at least comply.

This week’s lecture started off with a video clip that many of us have probably seen on Real-TV. It’s a 1992 video of a highway patrol stop in Maine, shot from the dashboard camera in the trooper’s cruiser. If you remember it, it’s because the guy driving the red SUV goes completely nuts. He shouts at the trooper in a very high-pitched voice, uses every expletive you can imagine and tells the trooper that he’s "f-ing crazy" about 30 times. The guy even rips up the summons violently and throws it out the window at the trooper.

The trooper is calm. I think most of us would applaud him and give him an "A" for not ripping the guy from his car and hauling him to jail, but Shanahan said he failed.

"You know why you gave [the trooper] an "A" – because this didn’t end in a beat-down," Shanahan told us. He’s right. From a tactical standpoint the trooper made a number of mistakes, including standing dangerously close to the guy’s vehicle and instructing the guy to get out and pick up the summons. The trooper also failed to convey to the guy that his behavior was generally unacceptable, which could lead to an even more heated encounter with police sometime in the future.

Shanahan’s advice is to use "tactical empathy." The guy was screaming about the cost of the ticket and then about his finances and his wife. The trooper then tells the guy, to the penny, how much the summons is going to cost. Bad move! The guy howls some more, continuing on about how the trooper is "f-ing crazy." It would have been better if the officer let him find out the cost in court, after he had some time to cool off. No need to antagonize, right? Shanahan gave the trooper a "D" for failing to take control of the situation.

I wish I could tell you about some amazing "Verbal Judo" techniques that I learned, but I can’t. I thought for sure that I’d come out of the lecture with some moves – kind of like Jedi mind tricks – that the readers of the column and I could secretly use to win friends and influence others in Rockaway and beyond. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed.

I went on my ride-along in the 101 Precinct last Friday afternoon. Mott Avenue seemed as busy as Times Square as I made my way to the station house and it got me thinking about what it would be like to be an officer on patrol in that area. I wondered how I would ever spot suspicious activity in an area with so much pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

Upon my arrival I was greeted by Detective Willy Olmeda, of the 101 Precinct Community Affairs Unit. He gave me what he described as a "unisex bulletproof vest." I think it would be more accurate to call it a female vest that men can wear. It was shaped to cover breasts. I put it on under my dress shirt, hoping that it would make me look like I had been pumping iron, but I looked busty.

I rode in the Critical Response Unit van, which, if there was a terrorist attack or another large-scale catastrophe, would have quickly dropped me off and then proceeded to the scene. It was a pretty quiet couple of hours, but I got to talk with two police officers, Rich Callahan and Brian Peyton, and see how they work with each other. Having a partner that you get along with seems like half the battle.

We responded to two calls: a scuffle between children and one involving two women who couldn’t get into their house and suspected foul play. Perhaps these calls were not as exciting as bank robberies or car chases, but who can argue when things are calm on a warm Friday night in New York? I got to see two police officers help people in a way that I am sure left a good impression, and which strengthens the relationship between police and the public.

Some of my fellow classmates had some interesting stories to share. There was one about a guy who continued to talk on his cell phone as he was getting a ticket for talking on it while driving. Between last week’s ride-along and my previous experience in the 75 Precinct, I feel like I’ve learned a good deal about what "the job" is really like.

This Wednesday’s lecture was the last one in a series of 12, marking the end of a three-hour-a-week commitment that began in early March. Citizen’s Police Academy alumni met with the class this week hoping to recruit a few of us. I am astounded that they meet once a month and frankly cannot commit. I trust that some will.

Next week we will graduate at One Police Plaza, which will bring this experience and the Citizen’s Police Academy Report to an end. I remember sitting wearily in class, maybe four or five weeks in, wondering if I would really make it to the end. Keep in mind that Officer Kenneth Beecher, of the 100 Precinct Community Affairs Unit, who along with his partner, Pete Rahaniotis, invited me to attend the academy, called me after the second week and was shocked to hear that I was enjoying myself. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I really enjoyed the class, but I’m glad it’s coming to an end. The summer is coming, and everyone knows where the place to be during the summer is – the Hamptons! Just kidding – I’ve never been out that way.

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