Citizens Academy offers behind-the-scenes look at police work
WMPD gives community residents an opportunity to learn about the realities of day- to- day procedures
Many people enjoy watching police reality TV shows. Cop shows often edit out the grind of police work jumping from the crime scene, to the arrest in 30 minutes. West Memphis Police say that TV reality builds unrealistic expectations for police and launched its second citizens police academy Tuesday evening to increase understanding in the community.
Captain Robert Langston opened the session with the reason for the citizens training classes.
“People tend to jump to conclusions when something happens in West Memphis,” said Langston.
“What we want instead is for people to say hold on, I’ve met with people from narcotics or investigation and they have told me how they do things. So let’s pause and see what this is really about.”
The select group of citizens included church leaders, city employees, and retirees including a former prosecutor. Two dozen people representing a diverse cross-section of the city showed up for the orientation session of the citizens academy. As part of the group, I’ll report with weekly diary style entry during June and July after each session. The group will meet for eight seminars and will hear from each division of the police department. The training will entail some classroom lectures and some hands on training like shoot/no shoot decisions with the police department’s use-of-force simulator.
Langston teamed with Captain Stacey Allen, and Sgt. Richard Dennis to deliver an overview of the department, a tour of the building, and an action packed demonstration on using non-lethal force in police work.
About 100 people serve the city at the police department including 80 officers. Seven reservists also serve, two in patrol and some specializing in special response doing SWAT work.
“Guys attached to our SWAT team are trainers from the Tier 1 Group,” said Langston. “We get the benefit of world class trainers right here in West Memphis.”
The patrol officers are divided into four groups working 12-hour shifts, 14 days each month. The shifts rotate from night to day every three months.
“You can imagine what these guys go through working a 12-hour shift, three days in a row,” said Langston. “It’s a long shift in West Memphis with just a little sleep break in between. It can be brutal.
That is why we give them a lot of time off each month.”
Langston pointed out the unsung everyday heroes of the department.
“Our dispatchers are the busiest people in the department,” said Langston.
“We have one of the busiest 911 call centers anywhere. It’s very stressful. The call volume peaks each evening through about 1 a.m.”
One interesting aspect of the city department is its attachments with federal law enforcement and U.S Marshals.
“If you’ve lived here very long you understand there is a lot of gang crime here in West Memphis,” said Langston. “Our state prisons are full and criminals realize they don’t get a whole lot of punishment on a state case because there is no place to put them. So with ATF it gives us the option of taking some of these cases federally and they get a lot more time.”
Sgt. Richard Dennis introduced the use of Tasers and pepper spray to the citizens academy. All the officers going through the West Memphis Police Academy endure a tasing and a pepper spraying. Not all police departments require the zap or spray tests but Langston gave two reasons its done in West Memphis.
“That way they understand what the effects feel like for a person they may have to use it on and they can better testify for the effects in court,” said Langston.
Recruits are taught to spray in a ‘Z’ pattern aiming for the eyes, nose and mouth.
“I’d rather take a tasing then pepper spray,” declared Dennis. “The OC spray is measured in Scoville Heat Units measured by heat derived from burning sensations when peppers are placed on the tongue. The Top Cop brand spray has two million SHU. A jalapeno pepper has 5,000 SHU. It’s amazing how hot our Top Cop is.”
The evening session ended with Officer Amber Kimbrough taking a five second, 50,000 volt Taser show-and-tell in front of the citizens to complete her Taser training. The Taser shot two electricallycharged barbs into here, one above the waste and one on the upper leg. The spread created a temporary muscle lock. Kimbrough demonstrated the temporary effects of the Taser by returning to patrol duty after answering questions from the group about the experience.
By John Rech