And just like that, it’s over….
As I proudly put my certificate on display in the office and excitedly announced to my peers that I’m an official graduate of the Mt. Lebanon Citizens Police Academy, a coworker asked: “So, what does that mean?”
It took me a minute to think about it and, even as I’m writing this now, I’m still pondering his question.
Sure, it means that I completed 10 weeks of training from the Mt. Lebanon Police Department where I learned about everything from crime scene investigations to intricate details about narcotics investigations, drone use and even had the chance to dust for fingerprints and work to solve a not-so-real crime with my fellow cadets. It was a lot of fun, but also insightful.
I also started thinking about why I—along with 16 other Mt. Lebanon residents—took this course. For me, it was to learn more about the Mt. Lebanon Police Department, its functions and what it’s like to be an officer on the job.
As I reflect on the course, I realize that I learned far more than I ever thought that I would. My biggest takeaway from the class was just how hard it is to be a police officer. When they respond to a call they’re going into an unknown situation with sometimes very minimal information. Within a split second, they have to remember all of their training and policies and best practices, while sometimes physically exerting themselves, and make a decision that could have life or death consequences.
That’s a lot of pressure. But, as we chatted with several Mt. Lebanon officers last night, I saw the passion that they have for the job. It’s stressful, it’s hard, but they do it because they love it and want to keep us safe.
In our final class, we were divided into groups to solve a crime. Each group searched the “apartment”—a back office in the Public Safety Building—for clues as to what happened.
The scenario: You’re an officer on the 3 – 11 p.m. shift and a call comes in that a man returned home to find his roommate dead. We searched the space, where we found a gun hidden in the garbage and a bullet lying on the floor. With each piece of evidence that we uncovered, we were given a clue.
There was a cell phone lying out on the table and I immediately knew this would have lots of evidence on it. But, it was an old sliding phone and I had trouble figuring out how to use it.
The officers helped guide us during our 15 minutes of investigating. We quickly learned that that wasn’t enough time to solve a case.
As my group sat down and chatted, we realized there were several things that we could have done differently. While we were able to surmise what happened based on the drug paraphernalia and other clues, we had no concrete evidence that would lead to a conviction.
This brought home the point to me that being a police officer is harder than it appears. It’s not what you see on TV. And it requires a lot of training to prepare them for the situations they face.
I repeated to myself what I learned in the first class: Being a police officer is hard work, too. The job has physical aspects (they have fitness requirements that they have to meet before even being hired), mental aspects (learning and remembering policies and procedures and following them) and social aspects (dealing with people.)