By Pam Pommer
On Sept. 14, a new group of participants will embark upon a 10-week course that for most will be an amazing experience they will not soon forget.
Thanks to an initiative by the Bloomington Police Department, residents and people who work in Bloomington can attend a free 10-week Citizens’ Academy each fall that offers an inside view of the department. It was a chance for cop show junkies like me to see how things really work.
While many of us arrived with a sense of adventure, there were also some somber thoughts. Just a month before, in August 2016, Mary Knowlton of Minnesota, 73, was accidentally killed during a roll-play “shoot-don’t shoot” scenario in a citizens’ academy class in Florida. Through some horrific error, the gun used in the exercise had real bullets. Sadly, one of my new classmates in this academy went to high school with Knowlton. But despite the myriad of release forms we had to sign, I was very pleased with the outstanding efforts by the Bloomington Police Department to ensure our safety throughout the program.
Each week we had different speakers doing presentations on topics that included: patrol and detective divisions, Hennepin County Medical Examiner, Neighborhood Watch, hostage negotiations, SWAT team, K-9 demonstrations, use of force and weapons demonstrations, DWI exercises (special glasses made us walk like a drunk), and a bomb squad presentation with a “flash bang” demonstration outside.
We also did mock scenarios like breaking up a wild house party, responding to a domestic abuse call, dusting for fingerprints, etc. On the night we did our “shoot-don’t shoot” scenario, I was told that only three of us (out of 30, myself included) would have survived if the scenario were real. Translation: I shot the person before he was able to shoot me.
The instructors warned us that we might be disturbed by the events that evening. I initially felt good that I’d reacted so quickly. But then the big questions hit. Did I actually see him pull a gun? Was he reaching in his pocket for something else? Was there a less lethal way to react? I had a hard time sleeping that night as many scenarios played out in my mind.
Besides these evening classes, we had the opportunity to don helmets and ride along while officers went through PIT (pursuit intervention technique) maneuvers. This is a pursuit tactic where a police car “nudges” a fleeing car on the side and puts it into a spin, causing the driver to lose control and stop. We were able to take several rides in both the police car and the “bad guy” car. I was warned to take Dramamine as some people get sick when the cars spin out.
A major highlight of the academy was the opportunity to ride along in a squad car. It began with an hour in dispatch, which most of us found as interesting as the ride along. My respect for the people in that department increased exponentially. I can’t imagine answering calls from people who are overdosing, fearing for their lives, having medical emergencies, etc. I was impressed with the patience and compassion displayed by those working the phones.
Then it was off to patrol the streets. I could not help but be influenced by recent conflicts between police and other communities. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see that the officer I was riding with made decisions to stop cars long before we could see the color of the occupants.
When these rides were discussed in class, many of us expressed the opinion that our Bloomington officers are conscientious members of our society who want to build relationships while increasing safety. Sadly, I’m sure that is not true for all departments.
Did I end up thinking only Blue Lives Matter? That the police are always right? No. Every group has bad apples, and everyone can benefit from self-reflection. But it reinforced my belief that Bloomington has a great police department.
So take time to get to know your community and your police department. They often have “Coffee with a Cop” gatherings, which is what introduced me to this amazing opportunity. Now more than ever, it does take a village.
Pam Pommer, a graduate of Lincoln Senior High School, lives in Bloomington, where she enjoys gardening and spending time with her shelties.