A few weeks ago, I went to jail. A few weeks after that, I graduated from the Police Academy.
Well, sort of.
In October, I saw a friend posting about Citizens’ Police Academy, a free12-week program organized by the Community Relations division of the Bangor Police Department. My friend was learning about investigations and crime scenes, and I knew I had to be part of it. This was mostly because I jump at any chance to escape the family one night a week (I’m only slightly kidding), but also because I had an honest curiosity about our local police department, fanned at least in part by their now world-famous Facebook page (LINK: https://www.facebook.com/Bangor-Maine-Police-Department-227432866078/).
The next week, I joined the class, and that’s when I learned that: (1) it’s called blood “spatter,” not “splatter,” and (2) you shouldn’t eat before Citizens’ Police Academy.
I’m not joking — about either issue.
This wasn’t your typical public-relations project where media-types spoon-feed mumbo jumbo to yawning captives. This was the real deal (think: a behind-the-scenes peek at CSI), with pictures (of blood, not people) and everything. That first night, we also learned about finger-printing, which turns out to be a really time-consuming and scientific endeavor, and crime-scene preservation. During the next few classes, I was subjected to a lie-detector test, we visited the jail and we learned more than anyone ever wants to know about illegal drugs.
The finale? Watching the Police K-9s do a demonstration. “We have to show the dogs last,” teased Community Relations Officer Jason McAmbley, “or else, why would you guys keep coming back?” (For a video of the demonstration, see my Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley)
As if the Bangor Police Department’s Facebook page, with it’s unfiltered and spontaneous posts, wasn’t evidence enough, the Citizens’ Police Academy is proof that this organization truly understands transparency for the community.
Chief Hathaway explains it this way: “An effective police department is part of the community and the community is part of the police department. An alert community and an engaged police department will collectively reduce crime.”
It’s tough times around the country for police, and the Bangor PD is fighting back by inviting people in, rather than pushing them away. Through the Police Academy, citizens get a chance to know the police officers as people and to better understand the education, training and commitment that goes into their careers. Each person we met showed us the unseen human side of a sometimes misunderstood job.
At the jail, for instance, we witnessed how dueling responsibilities tug at the corporals and the sheriff. If someone breaks into your home, you just want them to go to jail, Sheriff Troy Morton explained. But everyone who works at the jail sees what happens next: mostly, over-crowding and the system’s inability to adequately help everyone who really belongs at a mental-health facility. These are people who have seen, on a daily basis, how much drug use destroys families and lives. These are people who want to help inmates eventually lead better lives. But these are people who also know the obligation to protect the rest of us from those in society who would bring us harm. Everyday, they negotiate these responsibilities, often with little fanfare.
Back at the police department, we saw how certain crimes, perpetrators and victims, all nameless to those of us in the class, had made an unshakable impact on the individual officers. There were success stories about “catching the bad guys,” and heartbreaking tales about the people they couldn’t save.
Over and over again, a familiar theme echoed: drugs ruin lives. That couldn’t be stressed more. But also, there was this: even as these men and women deal daily with parts of society that many of us would rather close and lock our door on, there is hope, compassion, humanity and an unstoppable desire to serve.
And serve they will, at every hour of the day and night, 365 days a year, not only for the big crimes and the ones that make headline news, but to protect and serve everyone in their community.
Not long before I joined the class, our family had a scare. My youngest son was afraid to go to sleep until the police “caught the bad guys.” The young officer at our dining room table, however, knew that could be weeks or months. So he looked at Lindell and said, “You can rest easy, buddy, I’ll be here all night.”
“In my house?”
“No,” the officer laughed. “In your neighborhood. I won’t sleep so that you can.”
As Lindell closed his eyes that night, he said, “The policeman is out there, isn’t he?”
“Always,” I told him. “They are always out there.”
Which reminds me of Sgt. Tim Cotton’s closing for every Bangor PD Facebook post: “We’ll be here.”
Citizens’ Police Academy is held October-December each fall. To learn more and to sign up, visit www.bangormaine.gov/cpa.