Oak Bluffs police host Civilian Police Academy
Several Oak Bluffs residents have responded to the call of good citizenship by participating in the Oak Bluffs Police Department's Civilian Police Academy. The eight-week program, which meets once a week at the police station, is an intensive examination of the department's responsibilities and methods. The participants split their time between in-class lectures and hands-on demonstrations.
Topics the group will examine include constitutional law, domestic violence, and detective work. Members of the department lead the in-class presentations, accompanied by power-point presentations and videos.
In addition, citizen participants get an overview of OBPD's equipment, with demonstrations on the department's marine operations vessel, a trip to the firing range, a tour of the jail, and a ride in a patrol car for a shift.
On May 21, the class gathered for the fourth installment of the course, which focused on drunk driving. The evening began with an overview of Massachusetts laws concerning operating under the influence (OUI) and the methods the OBPD uses to apprehend and identify intoxicated drivers.
After enjoying a home cooked meal, supplied by police Chief Erik Blake's wife, Lynn Chang Blake, the class got a live demonstration from two individuals who had been drinking in a back room for several hours. They were made to perform a field sobriety test, which proved to be an effective challenge. Both failed.
The night concluded with a video of two OUI arrests. The videos underscored the abuse the officers sometimes face from intoxicated people. One video, depicting an individual verbally abusing a female officer, had a sobering effect on the viewers.
"The main goal is to have community members that want to learn what we do so they can become liaisons in the community, who better understand what we do and how we operate. They become advocates in the community for the OBPD," Chief Blake explained. "Also, we can show the community where exactly their tax dollars are going."
Chief Blake's objectives are not lost on Pat White, who is attending the course with her husband, Wally.
"If you just sit there and read the newspaper articles and go to the town meetings, you ask yourself, why do the police need all that money?" said Mrs. White after last week's class. "But now that you're here and you see what they have to go through and put up with, then you realize they really need all this equipment. It's for safety and doing all the things they have to do in this town."
"It answers all the questions about what the police are doing out there," said Mr. White, echoing his wife's sentiments. "You see a lot of things you wouldn't have known were going on before."
Acknowledging that police officers must be both authoritarians and neighborly members of the community, Chief Blake believes the Citizens Police Academy will help break down the "us versus them" mentality.
"We have a small town department with some big city problems," said Chief Blake. "Its a balancing act to be to be a community police department and still take care of the 6,900 calls for service we get a year in a professional manner. It's about making your community feel safe and building confidence that we can handle anything we encounter."
Jarek Peters, a 17-year-old student at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, exemplified the goals of the program. Explaining that he once looked down on the police as an annoyance, participation in the academy program has changed his views.
"It's a sign of maturity," Jerek said. "If I'm hanging out, and my friends say something bad about the police, I always defend them, because I know what they are doing and what they have to go through."