Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three first-person articles by reporter Heather DeRosa about the 13-week Citizens’ Academy, hosted by the Puyallup Police Department. She is chronicling her experience attending each of the weekly sessions.
In recent months, a variety of national incidents have shined light on police work and law enforcement and how it is becoming a more dangerous profession day after day. Law enforcement is like any other profession: There are bad apples who maybe should consider a different career path. However, after six weeks of classes at the Puyallup Police Department, I have yet to come across any of these bad apples in the department.
So far, weekly class sessions have been on general information about the department, its history, police records, patrol operations, the 911 call center, the department’s jail, bike patrol and firearms training with soft shoot training scenarios. Various officers and staff from different departments teach the sessions.
On Saturday, many of my classmates and I braved the ever-changing elements of spring weather in the Pacific Northwest, to do firearms training during some mock traffic stops. Armed with something similar to a propane powered airsoft gun, it was time to put our limited knowledge of police skills and training to use.
Detective Tad Miniken, range master for the PPD, walked each of us through the mock traffic stop or car prowling scenario to demonstrate that every routine traffic stop or attempt to stop a car prowler can turn deadly for officers. Some of my classmates shot their mock suspect fairly quickly, while others were shot by their suspect before they had time to react. The whole point of the exercise is to demonstrate how quickly a call can go from routine to dangerous in a split second.
“Every call you go to has at least one (an officer’s own) gun (present),” said Miniken during his presentation about the firearm training he gives his officers.
The week prior, I had a ride-along with Sgt. Kevin Gill, providing me an opportunity to see what the typical Friday night is like for on-duty officers. The first call we responded to was a report of a missing child. It seemed as if all of Puyallup’s officers were responding to the call, but this also meant a backlog of calls for service started. Eventually the child was found, but officers still had to play catch-up to all the calls that had come in while officers were responding. Eventually, officers responded and cleared the seven calls in the cue.
While dispatchers and call-takers at the city’s comm center try to gather the most information from callers, officers often do not know what is truly happening until they arrive on the scene of the call. What crime a passerby is witnessing and what is actually happening can often be different. One of the calls Gill and his squad responded to was a call that a woman was being walked into Bradley Lake Park by two men. The dispatcher said the woman wasn’t screaming but also didn’t look like she was willing to go into the park.
Upon arriving, Gill and his officers began walking the trails of the park, just trying to get eyes on the three walking through the park. Once two of the three were spotted, officers went in for the approach. After asking what seemed like an endless amount of questions, officers discovered the boy and the girl, each in their early teens, were most likely looking for a spot to set up their tent and camp for the night. Once officers found out the two were running away from home, officers took the teens back to their parents.
While most of us have a choice whether or not to respond to calls at our jobs, police officers aren’t given the luxury to say, “It’s too close to the end of my shift to respond,” or “There’s a deadly weapon involved, I don’t want to risk my life.” Police officers are just like the rest of us, and at the end of the day want to go home to their loved ones.
I’m beginning to see first-hand that it takes a special kind of person to put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, and Puyallup Police Department officers and staff members are doing the best they can possibly can to accomplish that.