What I learned at the Chapel Hill Community Police Academy

Let me just start by saying that even though I didn’t get to arrest anyone, I still had fun.

I was one of three people under the age of 30 present for the two-day intensive (sort of) information session that is the Chapel Hill Community Police Academy. Retirees sure love to learn about the police department.

Note: This tweet happened before two more youngin's arrived.

I wanted to do this for a couple reasons. The first is that it seems to be a challenging time to be a police officer, and I wanted to see what our local officers think about that.

The second reason is because I think I would be a great police officer if I weren’t so afraid of guns, bad guys and regular guys.

The third reason is because I have seen every single episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and I am hoping that makes me at least half a cop.

Numbers I learned

You’ve already heard that I didn’t get to arrest anyone, but I still did a lot of things. Mostly I sat silently and scribbled a bunch of fascinating statistics. Here are some:

  • 230 people applied for 15 job openings at the CHPD.
  • More than half of the officers have a 4-year degree from a college or University.
  • People with mental illness are two times more likely to be arrested, three times as likely to go to jail and spend on average five times longer in jail than their typically functioning peers.
  • Here’s a chart:

Things I learned

We did several simulations on Thursday, and I’ll sum up what I learned in just one sentence — you know it’s hard to be a police officer, but you don’t know how hard it is.

In the simulations, we had to disarm people and calm them down. We learned that the best weapon we have is our mouth, but that doesn’t always stop people from making the literal split-second decision to pull a gun out of no where and kill us. I can’t imagine the stress and terror of going into a house that seems empty and luring out a person who could be armed, dangerous or just confused.

I was too scared to volunteer for a simulation, which confirms that I should stick to writing and not to anything that would require me to save lives or be armed.

There is so much legal and crisis training involved. I came here to summarize it, but there’s no way to do it justice. There’s a reason police officers endure more than 600 hours of training before they’re allowed on their own and a renewing ~30 hours of training every single year.

I heard from lawyers, detectives, magistrates, counselors and traffic patrollers and I learned so much. The thing I learned from my favorite lawyer of all time, Atticus Finch, still stands — you never really understand a person until you climb into their skin and walk around in it.

Things I want to mention but I’m running out of room

  • There is so much paperwork involved in being a police officer. You think you understand it because of the way Olivia Benson rolls her eyes when she has to do it, but you don’t.
  • The department employs counselors who handle cases like stalking and domestic violence. Even when an officer can't do something for you, these ladies can provide many resources to change
  • Police dogs are superheroes. They’re trained and imported from Europe, but then they become family to the officer they belong to.
  • CHPD has a hostage negotiator, and so far he is 100 percent successful. Knock on wood.
  • CHPD has a special emergency response team that jumps into action like a bunch of soldiers (seriously, they have an armored car and cool uniforms) whenever a crisis emerges.
  • Officers never say “calm down” because they know that will irritate people — they say things like “step outside, we just want to talk to you” and “I want to listen, please put your weapon down,” etc.
  • A few officers have been in a car chase before.
  • CHPD is facing budget cuts just like many other government agencies

My weekend at the community police academy was extremely valuable. My only regret is not getting to use handcuffs.

I’ll never be a police officer, but I am still extremely interested in the profession and I will be catching up on “Brooklyn 99” as soon as possible.


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