Officer for a day, lessons for a lifetime

Erin Wood
Erin Wood, editor

I do not have a desire to be a police officer.

It seems like an intense, stressful, sometimes frightening job that I am just not sure I could handle every day.

Talking to police on the sidelines of crime scenes and traffic collisions — from the safer side of the yellow caution tape — is much more comfortable, in my opinion.

But I am setting my reservations aside, as I and 18 other people learn the ins and outs of policing during Washington Police Department Citizens Police Academy.

Participants will get to see and do it all, from crime scene investigation and evidence collection to traffic stops and shooting guns.

Of course, the situations are not real, and actors play the speeders, shooters and other various offenders we encounter.

But we get to shoot real guns, see a real trained K-9 in action and watch real drunk volunteers perform sobriety tests, among other lessons.

We will also take a tour of the Tazewell County Jail, get certified for CPR and learn self-defense techniques.

The first class last week was mostly an introduction (or maybe a warning) as to what we should expect during the next 12 weeks.

“I want to know what you guys do and feel like I’m a part of it,” Orville Deforrest Hamilton said was his reason for taking the class.

“You are going to like this class,” said CPA veteran Ray Sanders. “I guarantee it, or I’ll buy you a drink.”

The first session of the CPA was in 2006, shortly after Washington Police Chief Jim Kuchenbecker took over the department.

“It was one of the chief’s goals to get us back in the community,” said Officer Jim Fussner, a

23-year veteran of the Washington Police Department who leads the class.

Its purpose, Fussner added, besides getting the community and the officers involved, is to help Washington residents feel more prepared in potentially dangerous situations.

The class already has given me greater respect for police officers. The hiring process itself sounds like an obstacle course, and applicants can be released at any time for any reason, Fussner said.

It starts with an examination and an orientation. Then, applicants take a physical test and a written test. Next, they ride along with a veteran officer to get a better feel for the job. Then comes the oral interview, a background investigation and a polygraph test.

“We’ve lost more people on the polygraph than anything else,” Fussner said.

If applicants pass the polygraph test, they move on to psychological and physical examinations. If those go well, they interview with the police commission and get placed on a list of qualified

potential officers.

Once hired, a police officer is placed on an 18-month probationary period, in which one mistake can lead to dismissal. New officers are shipped off to a 12-week police training academy, then go through 16 more weeks of training when back in Washington.

New officers between the ages of 21 and 30 must be able to do 36 sit-ups in one minute and must run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes. They must also lift 98 percent of their body weight.

After hearing that, I am confident I would not make the cut to be a real police officer, but I am still eager to see what they do and give it a try.

This week, we are off to the shooting range.