When I was younger and people asked me what I wanted to be, my mom swears I said I wanted to be a police officer. I have no memory of this, but some of that desire must still be there, because in September I signed up for the Community Police Academy held by University Police.
The academy ran for four weeks, meeting on Wednesday nights, with an additional ride-along with a police officer. I signed up not really knowing what to expect, not even really knowing how the University Police differed from Columbus Division of Police.
My first impression of the academy was that the officers took themselves much too seriously. Every moment, they had another note to give us, another technique to learn. For instance, officers stand with their gun-baring hip facing away from people, especially when handcuffing a suspect, to minimize the risk of losing control of their weapon. This might not sound hard to remember, but between keeping control of the suspect, being aware of your surroundings and handcuffing someone, it adds up quickly.
Students were given the opportunity to practice handcuffing procedures; this first of many hands-on activities that were a part of the academy. I didn’t see the difficulty in this until I had to actually do it. Handcuffs are floppy, managing them requires gripping the chain in the middle and both sides of the cuffs at once. At the same time, you need to maintain control and visual contact on the suspect. At the end of just this one exercise, I was starting to see a new side of things.
A large emphasis of the academy was safety. Police officers exist to make the world more safe. This responsibility brings a great risk to the officer’s personal safety. From traffic stops to handcuffing people, safety is the top priority officers have at all times. I was astonished to learn about the dangers involved in traffic stops. I have always viewed traffic stops as an annoyance for myself and the officers, but there is so much more involved. Due to the number of things people can hide but still reach from their driver’s seat, officers worry about weapons becoming a factor. Even the cars that fail to move to the left of the road make officers worry about being hit by vehicles.
Each student at the academy was required to schedule a two-hour ride-along. On my ride-along, we drove by a state trooper who had pulled over a driver. We watched as every car on the highway ignored this traffic stop and failed to moved to the left. This prompted a discussion. The officer I was riding with was angry about this, explaining that laws existed to keep officers safe, but in this instance, the laws were just ignored.
Before the academy, I would have said this officer was overreacting — people can see the traffic stop, and therefore won’t hit it. Why do they need to move? After almost 20 hours of time in a classroom talking to officers, I knew to think differently. I learned that car accidents are a major concern in officer safety. I knew that the trooper making the stop was concerned about any number of things, and reducing the variables he had to worry about would make everyone safer.
While police officers are focused on safety, the academy was focused on communication. From introductions to conclusions, officers emphasized that they wanted to learn from us as much as we learned from them. There were discussions about tensions between the police and citizens, from national media scrutiny police face to how students felt about treatment after the College Football Championship. I started the academy thinking the officers took themselves too seriously, I graduated amazed the officers could joke as much as they did. This experience shifted my outlook on what it takes to be a police officer and made me look at everyday scenarios from a different perspective.
The Ohio State motto is “Education for Citizenship.” This education doesn’t stop at your major. Being a citizen is much more than knowing where a comma goes or what an equation solves. It is being a member of the community. The education I received at the Community Police Academy has added to my citizenship and understanding of the community, adding to my Ohio State education and making me a better member of society. This academy is an excellent addition to the wealth of resources provided to students by the university.