Although I am critical of many failings in American society, I am reluctant to do so absent salient information on which to base my opinion. Evidence matters.
Criticism of law enforcement is pandemic these days. And in some instances, it is merited. The beating death of black motorist Tyre Nichols by black members of the now disbanded Memphis Police SCORPION unit certainly is the latest blatant example of police abuse.
But I have argued for some time that every American resident should learn firsthand what future police officers learn in Police Academies.
A friend, retired broadcast journalist Dennis Hart, did that a few years ago. His experience is valuable, and he has granted permission to describe what he saw and learned.
“The Citizens Police Academy class I took a few years ago was excellent.
“It ran 10 nights, four hours a night. It was intensive, to say the least.
“In class, we had speakers ranging from the then-police chief (who is now CITY mayor), the chief of detectives, a patrol officer, a coroner’s representative and an assistant district attorney.
“In the field, we went to the city’s state-of-the-art communications center, where the dispatches came in and where police were assigned to respond to whatever location was needed.
“We also went to the giant, innovative TV visualization room, which was filled wall-to-ceiling with giant monitors showing camera locations over the entire city. It also had what was then innovative “shot-spotting” technology — which could immediately determine (from mics placed at many city locations) where gunshots had been fired. It was amazing. It was manned 24-7.
“We also spent an evening in the coroner’s office, learning how autopsies were performed. It was quite a night.
“We spent a night on the police firing range, firing every single weapon in the PD’s arsenal. Those weapons are a heck of a lot tougher to fire and aim than you might think.
“We spent a night at the county jail — going right onto the floors where the cells were to see the inmates up close and personal.
“And we spent a night “on patrol” with police — each of us, individually, spending four hours in the back of a patrol car and responding to whatever calls came in. Mine involved public disturbances.
If this all sounds like an incredibly intensive course — trust me, it was. And it was one of the very best learning experiences I’d ever had. It gave me far greater insight into police work than I’d ever had — and I’d covered cops and the courts for years.
“Now, I look at any police story far differently than I did. It’s hard — very hard — to be a cop. I don’t know why anyone does it.
“And BTW, a police officer in our nearby town of CITY was fatally shot yesterday. It was the first officer fatality in that department’s history, going back to its founding in 1893.
“As for the perpetrator — he is a punk. 23 years old. Criminal record a mile long. Just got out of prison.
“The officer he killed was 24. A baby on the way.
“It makes you sick to your stomach.
“But the bottom line is — taking that Police Academy class was a great, great thing to do. Everyone ought to do it. But of course, hardly anyone does it. It’s much easier to sit back and lambaste the cops when things go wrong.
“And by the way — our former police chief — the one who made one of those presentations at the academy and who is now our mayor — was one of the first in the nation to denounce what happened in Memphis. And, of course, he’s correct.”