Editor’s note: This is the second 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 my last story on the Puyallup Police Department’s Citizens’ Academy, I mentioned how dangerous of a job police work can be. But what I didn’t know at the time is how the job is not only physically dangerous, but also has the potential to be mentally dangerous as well. The men and women of the department put themselves in situations daily that have the potential to send the rest of us running and screaming in the opposite direction.
In our April 29 session, officers Greg Reiber and Micah Wilson gave my classmates and I an orientation on the metro SWAT unit and special weapons and tactics.
Both Reiber and Wilson agreed that being a member of SWAT means exposing themselves to barricaded people, hostage situations, arrest warrants for violent felonies and more that the typical patrol officer wouldn’t.
The SWAT team is given extra tools and training, not something the department can provide to all 45 officers.
That evening, officer Wilson helped me try on some of their gear, including the SWAT vest and helmet. While I only had the gear on for a couple minutes at the most, I could already feel what these officers go through. If I could feel the weight of the gear digging into my shoulders in only a few minutes, it opened my eyes to how physically demanding the job has the potential to be — especially for SWAT calls that approach the 12- to 18-hour mark.
Last Wednesday, the topic of the evening was PPD’s Major Crimes Unit, presented by Sgt. Tamera Pihl, with detectives Lewis, Wilcox and Bourbon. All of the sessions have struck a chord with me, but this evening in particular left me teary eyed and heartbroken for the people involved in some of the cases we heard about.
Sure, there were some slightly humorous moments, like a guy caught at the South Hill Mall with a camera in a shopping basket filming up women’s skirts. He also happened to get several shots of himself in the reflection of multiple store fronts. How’s that for evidence in a case? The man was eventually charged with voyeurism and was sentenced to four years in jail.
But along with the humor came some tough moments. There was the story of child abduction and attempted murder that occurred July 10, 2013. A 7-year-old female had not been seen by her family for at least a few hours, following playing outside by herself for the first time. After hours of searching for the little girl, she was finally found in the woods behind the family’s apartment complex.
Pihl said that when the little girl was found, she had a bloodied face, swollen lips, a throat injury and hypothermia. She seemed lifeless, with a blank stare and glassy eyes.
Pihl rode with the child to the hospital, and all she could understand from her whispers were something about a deer bed and the name Melvin. While Pihl was with the child, Bourbon and Wilcox gathered information on the suspect, 14-year-old Melvin Edwards, who also lived in the apartment complex with his family.
Edwards was eventually charged with rape and attempted murder of the girl and will spend 19 years to life in state custody.
As with any major crime, the unit was called out from their homes to investigate. Members sacrifice countless hours from their loved ones, just to hold people accountable for actions, and to receive justice for crimes committed.
Not only does this effect their families, but as you can imagine, cases like the abduction of the 7-year-old girl leaves an obvious mark on police officials handling the investigation. Behind the tough exterior of the police force lies people just like the rest of us, heartbroken and sad for those effected by such terrible crimes.
However, what makes these officers different than the rest of us is that they continue to march on in the pursuit of justice, and to keep their community safe.