By Pat Remick
In the past two months, I've seen the inside of the county jail, holding cells in four police stations, the district courthouse and a police cruiser. I've become familiar with TASERS, traffic radar, illegal narcotics, SWAT teams and K-9 dogs.
I've had a taste of what it's like to be so drunk you can't walk in a straight line (sobriety goggles), along with the adrenaline rush and fear of facing someone who might want to kill you (shooting simulator).
I've learned everyone knows a victim of domestic violence, that being a judge can be extremely difficult work, and only a select few men and women survive the arduous process of becoming a police officer -- and once they do, they undergo extensive training to learn how to do their jobs even better.
But now the Citizen Police Academy is over and I'm sorry to see it end. It's been an eye-opening experience with fascinating, behind-the-scenes access to law enforcement. I hope it's making me a better crime writer.
I'm certain it's made me a better citizen and I know it's given me a better understanding of my son's new life as a policeman.
The CPA also showed me how much I didn't know about police work -- which is why I'd highly recommend this type of experience for anyone who writes about crime but has never worked in law enforcement. It's a great way to add realism to your writing.
When I look back on the past eight weeks, a couple of things strike me. One is the amount of latitude police officers have in their job. Other than cases of domestic violence, which require an automatic arrest in my state, there are many areas of law enforcement where a police officer is expected to use his or her judgment. For example, last year police officers in my community made 9,544 motor vehicle stops -- but wrote only 1,387 traffic citations. The officers say they make these stops to try to keep everyone safe, not because they like writing tickets. If you knew my driving record you'd understand why I might have been a little skeptical about this point prior to the CPA.
Police officers also belong to one of the few professions where decisions can have life or death -- and often life-altering -- repercussions. Their lives are at risk every day they show up for work. These men and women who are so well-trained to keep us and themselves safe would tell you two common police activities are considered the most dangerous: motor vehicle stops and domestic disturbance calls. That's because they have no idea how the subjects involved will react -- or what weapons they're willing to use. It was chilling to watch the police officer during my ride-along touch the rear of each car he stopped to leave his fingerprints as proof he was there in case something went terribly wrong.
I have concluded that being a police officer requires great courage. Not only in facing down the bad guys or risking their lives to save the rest of us, but also because they encounter people at the worst moments of their lives. Police officers see things we never want to. They also spend most of their time dealing with people who are uncooperative or combative -- far from your average law-abiding citizens. That has to grind you down after a while. So much of what a police officer does on a daily basis never ends up in the public view and some of it involves things most of us would rather not know about.
I think it's important to remember when we create our police characters that those who choose law enforcement as their profession are far more complex -- and brave -- than most people realize. We at least owe them that.