Orleans Citizen Police Academy Chronicles - Week 4

How to be a good crime reporter when you call the police...
Officer Hannah Greene and Officer Andrew Mele, the two newest members of the Orleans Police Department. (CCToday photo)

It's week four of the Orleans Citizens Police Academy and Cape Cod Today's embedded reporter is there once again.  This primary focus of this week's class is communications.  Our primary take-away concerns effective reporting of a crime or missing person - how to ask the police for the help you need.

Before the class began, Officer Pat Cronin introduced Orleans' two newest police officers - Officer Hannah Greene and Officer Andrew Mele.  Monday, February 25th was the very first day of work for both officers.  The two now commence their field training work and should be fledged on their own by summertime.  Both officers shared with the group some of their experiences in the police academy and how they grew during that intensive training experience.  We wish both officers a long, safe career.

The primary instruction in Week #4 of the Orleans Citizen Police Academy is all about communication and dispatch.  Veteran Orleans Dispatcher David Belcher addressed the group and talked about the some 38,000 contacts his department receives each year.

When does one call the police? Dispatcher Belcher said this is all about common sense.  Trusting your gut senses, if you feel something is amiss you should not hesitate to call 911.

Belcher shared stories of many cases and illustrated what aspects went well and what could be done better - all from the perspective of the citizens making the calls.  One of the first points he made is that, if someone's pounding on your door at 2 a.m., you should call 911 before you approach the door or attempt to communicate with the person on the other side.  The sooner the 911 call is placed, the sooner an officer can be dispatched to assist you.

Another point stressed that it is absolutely essential that you have a visible, prominent house number displayed on your home.  Officers cannot help you if they cannot find your house.

Right now, ask yourself what your kids wore to school this morning or what your spouse is wearing.  Dispatcher Belcher and the officers present all emphasized how vital it is to have information like this in case, for example, your grandchild hasn't returned from a bike ride or perhaps a cognitively impaired spouse has slipped out the door.  The more specific information you can provide to the 911 dispatcher, the easier it will be for police to narrow down a search.  In one example, Dispatcher Belcher suggested that you take a photo of the grandkids before they head to the beach or out for that bike ride.  You can delete the photo and take another one each day.  The same is quite helpful if you're caring for an adult with dementia.

Dispatcher Belcher distributed a handout with tips for being a good "reporting person" if you ever need to call for police assistance.

Description of a person

  • Male or female?
  • Race? (white, Asian, black, Hispanic...etc.)
  • Age? (as specific as you can be)
  • Hair? - Long/short, color...etc.
  • How tall? (If you don't know for sure, is the person over six feet, under sex feet...etc.)
  • Type and color of clothing:
    • ​shirt - long sleeve/short sleeve
    • jacket - if yes, what type (i.e. leather)
    • pants - Shorts? What type (i.e. cargo, jeans...etc.)
    • footwear - what type
    • hat - if yes, what kind and any lettering
  • ​Heavy, skinny, average weight?  About how much does he or she weigh?
  • Facial hair?
  • Any unusual scars, limp...etc.
  • Foreign or distinct accents?
  • Names? Include partial or nicknames

Description of a motor vehicle

  • Plate number?
  • Registration - Massachusetts or out-of-state
  • Direction of travel
  • Number of occupants
  • Color of vehicle
  • Make of vehicle (i.e. Ford, Chevy..etc.)
  • Style (i.e. SUV, sedan, convertible, pickup...etc.)
  • Approximate year
  • Any unusual identifying marks such as body damage, stickers, light out...etc.
  • Any unusual sounds such as loud muffler, squeaky brakes...etc.

Dispatcher Belcher also reminded the attendees that cordless phones don't work when the power is out.  He urges everyone with land line service to keep one, basic plug-in telephone in their home.

The Dispatcher also mentioned that Text to 911 is now available in Massachusetts.  If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to speak or it's unsafe for you to speak (i.e. if you are hiding from a home invader) you can send a text message to 911.  All of the officers and the dispatcher stressed that the best way to access 911 is to make a voice call, however texting is a good option to have available in certain situations.

If you find yourself in a situation where you're on your wireless phone, remember that 911 does not necessarily receive your specific location.  It's important to provide as much information on your location as possible.  If you're on the highway, try to tell the dispatcher the nearest mile marker, which way you're heading (i.e. Route 6 westbound near mile marker X).   If you find yourself in an unfamiliar town, be prepared to give the 911 operator nearby landmarks (stores, public buildings..etc.) so the responding officers can narrow down your location.

Overall, the dispatcher emphasized that one should never hesitate to call 911 if they feel something is "not right".  The more information one can provide the 911 operator, the faster and more effectively the police department can respond.

Next week's class will take up domestic violence and death investigations.

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