Citizens Police Academy alum urges other residents to apply

Have you ever had “nystagmus?” Do you even know what it is? You will if you read on.

Earlier this year, I attended the Cleveland Heights Citizens Police Academy. In a nutshell, it gives the community an opportunity to look inside the complex world of law enforcement, to see the processes and procedures that guide police officers every day, and to remind us that police officers are part of our community, often our neighbors.

To be selected I had to pass a background check and commit to attending three-hour classes two nights a week for six weeks at the police academy—a historic former firehouse.

Day one began with greetings, introductions, an overview of what was to come and a lesson plan outlining the learning objectives for each topic. We were about to experience a full-on, albeit highly abbreviated, police academy, covering everything from civil liberties to handling medical emergencies, from self-defense techniques to the Juvenile Diversion Program. 

Each instructor was a true expert in his or her subject matter. The criminal law class was lead by a police captain who is also an attorney. At the police firing range we were taught to handle firearms by a SWAT marksman. We explored the issue of domestic violence with an experienced police investigator who has advanced education in this field, and our CPR certification was taught by a police investigator/paramedic.

What is a crime? This simple question steered our first class deep into criminal law statutes, fostering discussions on topics such as what constitutes “probable cause,” and the Fourth Amendment (search and seizure) as it applies to a police officer’s use of force.

During our Patrol Techniques and Speed Enforcement class, we learned to operate hand-held radar equipment “clocking” local traffic. Then off we went with the road patrol to practice what we had learned. I was surprised at the amount of gear inside a police car. It’s actually a mobile office with everything needed to do the job.

Armed with gloves and goggles for Drug Investigation class, we handled various drugs that the police encounter every day and learned how a drug bust is managedfrom search and seizure to chain of custody rules. Did you know that the drug Fentanyl can enter your system through your skin and that a simple brush against the drug can be fatal? Our gloves weren’t just props. Officers carry their own medical kits that include a Narcan injection in case they become exposed.

OVI (Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence)—“I only had two beers, honest.” There’s actually a Standardized Field Sobriety Test Manual defining scientific tests to be given to a suspect. Points are assigned for failure to perform each part of a test. Exceeding certain point thresholds gives the officer probable cause that you are under the influence. Do you know why the officer has you follow his finger first to the left then to the right during one of the sobriety tests?  Well, here’s where we learned a new word, nystagmus. At a certain blood alcohol level, your eyes simply cannot track smoothly from left to right while trying to follow the officer’s finger. This involuntary eye movement is nystagmus and a huge giveaway that you’re “under the influence.”

Our six-week immersion culminated with a final exam and formal graduation ceremony. Upon graduation, we became members of the Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association.

As alums, we may assist the police department and the academy. An example of how we may help is to partner with officers controlling traffic during events like the 5K race through the Heights, or role-play for academy cadets learning to deal with crowd control and domestic violence calls.

These brief snippets into the CH Citizens Police Academy are but a small part of the story. What I experienced in 36 hours of lectures and hands-on training only touched on the processes, procedures and tools officers need to do their jobs and improve their odds of making it home every night. There’s so much more.

As an aside, we learned that the Cleveland Heights Police Academy has trained more than 5,000 cadets and is a star among police academies. Police departments from across Ohio pay to send their recruits here.

If this unique experience sounds interesting, I strongly urge you to consider applying to the CH Citizens Police Academy (216-291-3836).

John Comatos

John Comatos is a retired corporate planner who moved to the Heights from New York in 2017.

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Volume 11, Issue 12, Posted 4:43 PM, 11.29.2018