Mon, Feb. 24

A Safer Community<br><i>Civilians get a taste of law enforcement</i>

Staff photos by Dean H. Borgwardt

Cottonwood Police officer Stg. Jack Stapleton with the newest of law enforcement tools the M26 Taser. The department had implemented the Taser and police say it has reduced injury and violent confrontation significantly.

Sponsored by the Cottonwood Police Department, the 11-week course includes a department overview, communications, police dog demonstration, a police patrol ride-along, crime scene investigation, and domestic violence and sexual assault topics.

The latest program started March 11 with a greeting from Cottonwood Police Chief Pat Spence followed by an explanation of how the force is managed citywide.

He said that not only does the program introduce the public to law enforcement, but also officers get to meet the public on a different level. This is about the fifth year the program has been available.

"Most police officers' contact with the public is during a crises situation," Spence said. "Officers enjoy the positive interaction with the public and the public seems to like to meet with officers."

Sgt. Jack Stapleton, a 20-plus year veteran officer, said that the public benefits from the program and it in turn, provides volunteers for the department.

"This is a good taste of what it's like to be a police officer. You will meet with officers assigned to various tasks, and many that take the program do volunteer for the department," he said. "Volunteers are very valuable to the department and free us up to concentrate on law enforcement."

After a tour of the Public Safety Building, Lt. Keith Porter described the varied ways in which the department is fighting crime. He addressed the class of about 20 in a sharp, dress blue uniform with a gleaming badge and two hash marks on his sleeve.

"We have 26 sworn officers and about 17 on patrol," he said. "One of the main benefits of this program is citizen participation. We can't begin to control crime unless the public gets involved."

During one of the weekly two-hour classes, Cottonwood City Magistrate Dan Bruno gave a brief albeit interesting lecture on his perspective of the legal system and answered questions from the class.

Julie Murie, lead dispatcher for the department, gave a graphic demonstration of what her job is like -- trying to get information from a hysterical caller in trouble.

Her main objective is keeping communications open with law enforcement and the public.

The 11-year veteran said that the dispatch center is the heart of all police and emergency responders and is usually the first contact the public has when in a crises.

"This is a job that has some of the highest stress levels. A clear head is vital," she said. "It's physically and emotionally challenging and there is a high burnout rate. But I'm proud of what I do."

"Dispatchers are worth their weight in gold," Stapleton added.

One of the most popular segments of the course is the K9 demonstration.

Officer Ron Ekholm and his police dog partner Vendo furnished an introduction to what their jobs are like.

The 7-year-old Belgian Malinois listened intently as Ekholm said Vendo has performed drug searches, subject searches, officer backup and building searches.

"Vendo is certified to locate marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin," he explained. "He has a play drive for drug searches and a prey drive for the bad guys."

Cottonwood Police Explorer Chris Corley, 19, of Cottonwood donned a heavy bite suite for the K9 demonstration.

At a sharp command in Dutch, Vendo charged Corley, sprang through the crisp night air and landed on the man's back like a panther, bringing Corley to the ground.

Ehkolm shouted another Dutch command and Vendo released Corley, awaiting further instructions with white teeth and bright eyes.

Next came a Taser demonstration.

Law enforcement agencies across the nation and in Canada are implementing the new technology that is non-lethal and attains instant compliance with combative subjects.

Stapleton shot an aluminum target with the X26 Taser during a demonstration. It sparkled with tiny blue arcs of electricity and made a crackling sound.

"We currently are using the M26 and it’s a fine tool," he said. "The first weapons of this type were pain compliance but the newer technology is instant incapacity -- total muscular lockup. This tool is very effective for chemically influenced and mentally affected suspects and reduces city liability drastically."

During a video taped media release, Los Angeles County Sheriff Kevin Beary said that a million dollar law suit can buy a lot of Tasers. And this less-than-lethal tool can avoid litigation.

Phoenix police report a 67 percent decrease in injury not only to officers but to suspects, and Los Angles Sheriff's Office reported a decrease of 80 percent.

Another class featured Officer Jim Pott and his talk on neighborhood watch programs and its efficiency on reducing crime from burglary to speeding to assault.

"Participation in the community is vital to fight crime," he said. "The community may have better insight on what sort of crime they are facing."

He added that each community has unique circumstances and a strong cohesion with police can have significant results on criminal activity.

Naomi Parrish of Cottonwood is attending the current Citizens' Police Academy.

She said that she is impressed with the program and is having fun.

"This is probably the greatest thing the City can do," she said. "It makes citizens aware of what police officers face every day."

She added that the program is a valuable tool for police/civilian interaction.

Dawn Puleo of Cottonwood commented that she is impressed with the program's efficiency and insight.

"It's well organized and fascinating," she said. "And it's a great way to be part of the community and it only costs two hours a week."

The Citizens' Police Academy is an 11-week course culminating with a commencement ceremony. There is no fee but participants are asked to make a time commitment for the duration of the course.

For more information on the Citizens' Police Academy, contact Sgt. Jack Stapleton at 634-4246.

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