Participants in MPD’s Citizens Police Academy completed their third week of training on Tuesday at the department’s new MTECH training center, getting some hands on field training by performing traffic stops from a fully functional police vehicle.
Of course, the traffic stops themselves were staged.
Although students were driving an actual police cruiser, they never left the MTECH parking lot and the ‘suspects’ were all off duty Madisonville Police officers reading from a script. That fact that the stops were all scripted, at least on the part of the off-duty actors, didn’t take away from the seriousness of the moment.
“The majority of the situations presented during the traffic stop night were actual events that have occurred here in Madisonville,” said Lt. Van Killough, MPD Support Services commander. “Some of the events have occurred with other departments, but are trained on during the many hours of training we receive.”
Some were comical, including “drunk” motorists making a pass at the officer trying to get out of a ticket, but others were far more serious. Some scenes involved narcotic, while others proved to be a little more deadly.
Participants spent last Tuesday night getting trained on the proper steps officers are supposed to take going into a traffic stop, but that was really all of the training they received. They went into their individual scenarios this week the same way any officers approaches a traffic stop, completely unaware of what they were going to find when they reached the vehicle in front of them.
“It really gives you an appreciation for what police officers deal with,” said Hopkins County Magistrate Ronnie Noel, one of the students in the class. “There are a lot of different possible scenarios, and they never know what they are going to deal with when they pull into a traffic stop.”
“(It) was quite overwhelming and eye opening to me,” said participant Julie Vaughn. “Police officers have no idea what type of situation they might walk up on during a traffic stop.”
Noel specifically mentioned the difficulty of pulling up behind a vehicle that had passengers in the back seat but limited visibility.
“You’ve got people moving around in the back but you can’t see what they are doing,” Noel said. “You see on TV where officers get shot when they pull somebody over, this really opens your eyes as to why police would be tempted to shoot pretty quick.”
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While scenarios are designed to push the participant’s boundaries, perhaps even make them a little uncomfortable, the goal is to help them realize if only for a moment what the person on the other side of a traffic stop is going through.
“We hope to explain why a traffic stop may not go in accordance to what many see on television,” said Lt. Killough. “The police are scrutinized for having multiple units on a stop. The majority of the CPA participants requested another unit or advised they should have called for one when the situation was stopped. There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop.”
Noel said he wishes the program could be expanded so that officers could offer an abbreviated course to high school.
“You see videos online of how some kids react to traffic stops,” he said. “They have no idea that while they’re doing some silly little move, it could get them arrested or even shot. Officers are under a lot more stress than they realize when they perform a traffic stop.”
In the coming weeks participants will learn the rules that guide officers’ when it comes to use of force, what equipment and firearms officers can deploy and will even take a tour of the Hopkins County Jail. Earlier in the class the group toured Central Dispatch and saw how 911 dispatchers handle calls.
“The challenges they face are really a reality I didn’t grasp,” said Shanda Hughes, another participant in the CPA. “Week by week my respect grows for all involved in the police force from dispatch to patrol cops. Their job doesn’t just change from day to day, it changes from call to call. There is no routine in any call or stop. They can practice 100 scenarios and know what to do at each but the stop could be like no scenarios they have ever seen. They do a job I could never do.”
That, ultimately, is the goal of the entire class, to show the general public what goes on behind the badge.
“We are conveying the daily interactions of officers from every role within the department,” said Killough. “There are many times certain actions or techniques are deployed and it is misunderstood. Many times, the choices are made based on information that is not visible or known to the general public when they pass by or read the articles written about the incident. We want to create that bridge of understanding of what’s going on and give a perspective many never think of.”
CPA graduation will be May 16 at the MTECH building.
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