Columnist Jacqueline Sheehan: Northampton Citizen Police Academy eye-opening


Published: 5/21/2018 7:53:39 PM

I recently completed an eight-week class through the Northampton Police Department called the Citizen Police Academy.

I’m a fiction writer and because I my put my characters through unfortunate situations, I often consult with police departments for research. When I learned that Northampton Police offered a comprehensive class for citizens, I decided to take the plunge instead of getting my information in bits and pieces.

The quality of the academy was beyond anything I could have imagined. Each week was taught by a different officer. We learned about the science of crime-scene investigation and the exacting methods that are labor-intensive and require ongoing training.

Some officers specialize in shoe prints and tire prints. Others have proficiency in forensic photography, while others can pull a fingerprint from a mesh screen. They are trained in a long list of chemicals in order to extract fingerprints from skin or even after a rainstorm. Because there is trace evidence everywhere, the must approach a crime scene in much the same way that archeologists approach opening a new room in an Egyptian pyramid.

If you think these officers are just riding around in their cars looking for misdeeds, you’re missing the big picture. At least I was missing the big picture. My perceptions of our city law enforcement were either outdated or just plain wrong.

Did you know that 20 percent of the calls they attend to are mental health issues? Our cops get extensive training in crisis mental health care. Did you know that the Northampton Police Department works hard to direct people who are drug-addicted to treatment options? That they revived six people from overdoses one recent week? That they are on a first-name basis with most of our long-term homeless citizens and they nudge them to services for food, shelter and medical treatment? I didn’t know any of this either.

I was deeply touched by the sensitivity and compassion of the officer who specialized in sexual assault and the aftermath of this crime. They have liaisons with the LGBT community and with senior citizens, to name a few.

They even showed us their drones. And before you jump all over drones, did you know that they are used by our Fire Department to view a house fire from above so that they can more efficiently fight the fire? And drones are used to look for missing children and old folks who have dementia.

Our cops watch all the same news shows that we do. They know that when something horrible happens between police and civilians (most recently in Sacramento) that we will hold them accountable. But the truth is, our Police Department knocks itself out with trainings and community involvement. You can ask them virtually anything.

And they have a wry sense of humor. I asked them about the response to the high-five initiative in schools, which was considered by some as offensive and scary. When the police came up with the idea, they thought it was a winner — show up at schools and high-five the kids. Nope, the controversy ended up in newspapers around the country. Our instructor of the evening said, “Yeah, we didn’t see that coming at all.”

Here’s what our police are just terrible at: sharing their many accomplishments with us. They fail to tell us that they are leaders in the state and in the country. They are awarded accolades that we never hear about.

Other police departments in the state come to our’s for trainings and it is a leader in being one of the most progressive departments. The officers are cool and efficient about saving someone from an overdose, but I swear if you ask about their many awards, they nearly blush.

If you want to find out all of the intricacies within our Police Department, sign up for the Citizen Police Academy next winter. You will be amazed.

Jacqueline Sheehan, of Florence, is a writer. Her novel, “The Tiger in the House,” was released in 2017.


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