If you've ever wondered what really goes on in your local police department, I'd suggest you find out if your city or town sponsors a Citizen's Police Academy. Then sign up.
At the very least you'll figure out what goes on during the in-between times, the stuff they don't show on TV, and if you're my kind of lucky, you'll get an exciting ride along with an officer who helps make the 10-week program all worthwhile.
When we last left on in this blog, I posted about the last place my curious nature had taken me, and that was to a stint as a kgb_ agent, answering text questions for pennies on the dollar. What it earned me was a shiny new Palm Pre and the chance to take my recent Twitter obsession mobile. Then I began to wonder who might be tweeting right here in my neighborhood. Add to that setup the healthy dose of Cops my husband has subjected me to for years, and toss in my need for constant learning.
Enter Chief Dan Alexander (@bocachief) and the Boca Raton Police Department spokestweeter (@bocapolice). As soon as I saw a message about a Citizen's Police Academy (CPA), a ten-week course about our police department, covering Everything-I've-Always-Wanted-to-Stick-My-Nose-Into-But-Never-Had-The-Chance, I jumped, tweet first.
"Sign me up" I tweeted, wriggling my toes in juvenile excitement.
I think the poor volunteer coordinator must have heard from me three times before class began.
"Sorry. I'm like a little kid with this." I explained.
I could hear her patiently smiling on the other end of the phone. She must get that line a lot.
So back to the CPA. My class happens to be the largest they've had, with 40 of us eager citizens standing in line to become informed on the machine that is our police department. The list of topics was impressive, covering everything from the high-tech communications system, to SWAT, to Crime Scene Investigation and all things in between. I settled in the first day, wondering what new bits of information I'd learn.
Turns out that the biggest lesson I learned had nothing to do with the proper usage of a tazer or the number of patrol cars on the streets of Boca Raton, It was the fact that police officers have to be some of the most tolerant and patient people on earth. Want proof?
With a class of 40 personalities, some of us squirmed in our seats as our presenters were interrupted several times during the course of each of the evenings. Yes, we were a curious bunch, but interrupting the speakers quickly began to become a point of irritation with several in the group. And I've got to give those presenters a whole lot of credit because they handled each question with professionalism and patience, delivering brief but complete answers that completely satisfied the query.
That's when I figured it out.
One of an officer's biggest challenges is to cut through to the crux of a problem or situation and filter out what's unnecessary. In an environment where everyone wants to Tell Their Whole Story, the officer has to keep in mind that it is just that- a whole story. And we've all got a million of them. One of the biggest talents or skills comes in listening to the thousands of stories they hear a year, and filtering each one down to its essence. Each one's got to feel like a psychology lesson topped with a 10-page literary term paper. And all of it due that day, most times that moment. I also got to see that skill and talent at work in the field with the officer I had the opportunity to ride along with for four hours. She's the person who really drove home what a tremendous asset a good conversation "distiller" can be, especially because she allowed each person to walk away feeling heard while still extracting all information necessary to her investigation. Customer service professionals could take good lessons from that officer.
The second lesson I'm taking away from my 10 weeks is that social media and community relations are a match made in public relations heaven. My interest in the CPA was piqued mostly because I saw Boca Raton as a progressive department making use of new technology to reach out to the community. In Florida, that's an effort not to be taken lightly. We're a state of transplants, especially in South Florida. Many of us have left our sense of belonging to a community behind, along with our winter coats and snow shovels. We're not just Transplants, but Uproots, accountable to fewer people than ever. The communities we've left were in some sense safer ones because of a communications network of neighbors, family, and friends. Back in my home of Rhode Island, it was a pervasive belief that if you messed with someone, you could be sure his cousin, uncle, friend, or neighbor was probably going to be close by to give assistance or give you up. The network of accountability was tightly knit.
Establishing new communities in far away places means leaving a void ready to be filled with something new. Departments like the Boca Raton Police Services are re-creating that sense of a network of neighbors and friends who have a direct line to each other in times of need, whether the need is for information or assistance.
I'm not sure how much convincing it's going to take to have other police and community service professionals follow the lead of those utilizing Social Media as a community assistance tool, but I hope they're well on their way to researching what's happening here in my neighborhood. I've gotten a glimpse of an exciting model, a terrific Big Idea.
CPA graduation is tonight. I'm going to see if I can convince my family to throw me a graduation party. ;)