This winter the Orleans Police Department held a Citizen Police Academy for local residents and businesspersons. Cape Cod Today was invited to embed a reporter in the program for the purpose of issuing weekly reports on the program. Each week, the class members spent two hours receiving instruction on topics ranging from the basic body of law that governs police work, to live demonstrations of traffic stops, revealing programs on investigations, active shooter scenarios and much more.
The first take-away from this program is how engaged the citizen participants become over nine weeks. The Q&A sessions at the end of each class became more specific and intense the further into the program we progressed. Indeed, following the active shooter simulations, the class spent a fair bit of time dissecting the actions officers took in the scenario and relating them to the training we had received in earlier classes. As chief instructor Officer Patrick Cronin observed, many of the classes ran well past the scheduled two hours because of the energetic questioning and discussion at the end of each class.
The second take-away is a very deep appreciation for the work our local police departments conduct every day. Far beyond the "cops-and-robbers" activity and drug investigations, we learned of all the behind-the-scenes work our officers perform. Unattended death investigations, working with people with mental health issues, searching for those suffering from dementia and the many other calls you won't read about in the news. Many of our officers meet a member of the community on the worst day of that citizen's life - and conduct themselves with compassion and grace. Over and over your reporter walked away from a class reflecting more upon the compassion and empathy of the officers than on the more publicized aspects of their work.
Another strong take-away is that, even here on the Cape, police work is a very dangerous business - and these officers want to go home at end of their shift. This brings an abundance of caution to their work. One of the greatest things Officer Cronin and his colleagues taught during the nine weeks is situational awareness - what is going on around you, how a person in front of you is behaving, furtive gestures, the "1,000 yard stare" and other clues to how a situation might unfold. In that mix is a constant reminder of how fast a situation can turn very bad or even fatal.
At Monday's graduation, Chief Scott MacDonald spoke at some length about the challenges facing his department. With many officers reaching retirement age, the department will experience an influx of new officers over the next several years. One challenge as these new officers come on board is to convey the culture of the department upon them and integrate them into the tight family that is the Orleans Police Department. A greater challenge, however, is to retain the new officers.
Orleans spends more than $50,000 to train and equip a new recruit over a period of up to eighteen months. This includes formal police academy training plus field training. Then, as the officer matures in his or her profession, the department faces the very real possibility that the officer might move to another area police department that pays more.
According to Chief MacDonald, Eastham pays their officers about $15,000 more than Orleans and other area departments officer higher pay scales, as well. With the considerable financial challenge of living on Cape Cod, the higher wage is a tempting option for a young officer as they advance towards home ownership and starting a family. Several years ago, Orleans was in the top third of pay range for Cape Cod. Now the town is in the lower third of that range.
Chief MacDonald also spoke about the stragetic planning process that points the way forward for the department. Technology, training and the changing needs of the community all drive the planning process. However, behind all the technology and social media, the basics of police work remain - officers walking a beat, meeting the public in programs like the Citizen Police Academy and officers greeting citizens as they proceed through their daily routine.
Police departments are constantly planning the unthinkable. After last week's simulated mass shooter program, your reporter asked Officer Cronin many questions about "what if" some unthinkable scenarios happened in Orleans. It was pleasing to learn that the OPD had already considered and planned for every single scenario we could come up with.
If your town offers a Citizen Police Academy be sure to enroll - it's a worthy investment of your time. The Citizen Police Academy will also put you in contact with some of the brightest, most compassionate, patriotic people you'll ever meet - the officers of your local police department.