Oak Bluffs residents complete OBPD Civilian Police Academy
The Oak Bluffs Police Department's (OBPD) Citizens Police Academy session came to a close last Thursday with a dramatic demonstration of the dangers officers face when making an arrest.
The eight participants in the informational Academy watched as three of the department's newest recruits experienced the effects of pepper spray by taking a blast to the face. Next, the debilitated rookies had to coherently call for back-up while fending off several harassing officers with large punching bags.
The goal was to show officers that willpower will permit them to handle the painful effects of the spray. The drill is meant to prepare the officers for the possibility of being sprayed during an arrest. The officers also learn firsthand the powerful effects of pepper spray, which they may be use to subdue a criminal. All officers who carry the spray participate in the drill as part of their training.
The controlled drill took place behind the OBPD station and was supervised by both senior officers and EMTs. The effects of pepper spray, although painful, wear off in several hours and have few, if any, longterm effects. The three recruits successfully completed the drill and were immediately treated by the EMTs. They emerged from an ambulance minutes later, red eyed but in good sprits.
"It feels like someone put a blow torch to your face," one recruit said. "You are disoriented and can't open your eyes at all. All your mucous membranes flare up. The only real way to open your eyes is to force them open."
The hands-on demonstration for the Oak Bluffs resident participant was a fitting end of the eight-week academy program, which the OBPD designed to give residents a better understanding of how the department works.
"There is the whole cliché about community policing, but a police department cannot have community policing officers - just law enforcement officers," said Chief Erik Blake during a recent class at the Oak Bluffs police station. "It really is more of a philosophy than any type of departmental practice. It's about making your community feel safe and building confidence that we can handle anything we encounter. So we started the Citizens Police Academy so that we could act on that philosophy and not just talk about it."
Photo by Winthrop Roosevelt
This was the first time the department offered the eight-week course, which met once a week at the police station. The eight members of the inaugural class are Oak Bluffs residents Patricia and Wallace White, Rupert Robinson, Robert Falkenburg, and John Cummings, plus high school students Jerek Peters and Joseph Jerome - who are both interested in law enforcement as a possible career - and Valci Carvalho, the pastor at the Brazilian church in town.
The participants divided their time between in-class lectures and an array of exercises organized by the department's own Sgt. Michael Marchand and Lt. Tim Williamson.
The lectures covered topics which included drug enforcement, detective work, constitutional law, drunk driving, and descriptions of the department's organizational structure. In addition to being informative, these lectures gave the participants a chance to get to know some of the officers and the specific roles they play.
"I was astonished to find out that all the permanent police officers have college degrees," said Robert Falkenburg during a phone interview. "I was surprised to learn that we have an attorney on the force and an ordained minister. The course really showed me the roles these guys have outside of just being police officers. They are a lot more than just cops."
Outside of the classroom the academy members participated in several hands-on demonstrations. The group took a trip on the police department's response boat, highlighted by an opportunity to drive the powerful vessel.
On other nights the group was treated to a visit to the firing range to learn how to properly fire handguns, and tours of the county jail in Edgartown and the communications center at the airport. In addition they were each given a chance to ride along in a patrol car with an officer who was on duty.
Supplementing the lectures and trips were several demonstrations. A class favorite was the night the class learned about drunk driving. To show how the OBOD can tell if an individual is intoxicated some of the officers invited friends to drink at the station while the class attended a lecture on the topic. After the lecture and several beers, the officers were able to perform a sobriety test on a person actually over the legal limit.
"I really got a kick out of the night we learned about drunk driving because of those two guys that drank all that beer and had to go through those tests," said a chuckling Mr. Falkenburg. "That was sort of neat and unusual."
According to Chief Blake, by creating a program that personally connects the residents with the officers, the department benefits.
"The main goal is to have community members better understand what we do and how we operate and to become liaisons. They become advocates in the community for the OBPD," explained Chief Davis. "Also we can show the community where exactly their tax dollars are going."
The Brazilian community
As a prominent member of the Islands Brazilian community, Valci Carvalho believes communication with the OBOD is especially important. Over the past several years OBPD has worked hard to bring the once-isolated Brazilian community into the fold. Mr. Carvalho believes the Civilian Police Academy will prove to be an important tool to educate and involve Brazilians in police work.
"I think it was a really good opportunity to see how the OBPD works, especially with the size of the Brazilian community in that town," said Mr. Carvalho in a phone interview this week. "I think the relationship between the police and the Brazilians who live on the Island has been growing. Especially since they are starting to understand that the police are just doing their jobs and aren't just pulling them over because they are Brazilians. The academy has really helped me tell Brazilians on the Island what the OBPD does to help them."
Mr. Carvalho hopes more Brazilians will attend future programs like the Civilian Police Academy. "Mutual understanding is the best way we can start working together," Mr. Carbalho continued. "Not having a fear of police will make all the difference; just being able to go to the police with their problems will go a long way. I have been here seven years. Years ago it was much worse, but now its much better."
After the last class on Thursday, the OBPD invited all the residents and officers who had participated in the program to a graduation dinner at Nancy's on Oak Bluffs harbor. After the meal, each member received a certificate of completion and a shirt that commemorated the class. Judging by the attitude and response at the dinner, the program was a success. When ask if he would recommend the course to his friends, Mr. Falkenburg cheerfully replied, "Absolutely. Absolutely. Everyone should get out there and take this course. I think it would be excellent for anyone in town to further his understanding of what the police force is all about."