Vail Valley’s Citizens Police Academy gives you an appreciation for life in law enforcement
Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series about the Citizens Police Academy, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Part 2 — To shoot or not to shoot — will be published in Tuesday’s Vail Daily.
AVON — Police officers have the same goal you do: make it home from work happy and alive.
“We’re all just people: fathers, sisters, brothers and mothers,” Avon Police Chief Greg Daly said.
Citizens Police Academy celebrated its 10th year this autumn. Avon Police Officer Eric Benson coordinates both that and the Latin Academy, a Spanish language version.
“We get to share what we love about the job,” Benson said.
How cops cope
The Citizens Police Academy gives you some idea of how cops cope. It turns out that cops cope, in part, by enjoying their front row seat for the freak parade.
The freak parade, mostly, is us.
Benson recalled the time they took a report from a hysterical caller about a big guy walking around town carrying knives. The guy turned out to be a 6-foot, 7-inch chef strolling to work in Avon.
And please leave the bears alone, unlike the tourists who tormented a bear with a rag wrapped around bloody meat tied to a string. The tourists kept pulling the string. The bear was not amused and explained that to the tourists in ways that only bears can — especially when the bear realizes you’re not at the top of that food chain, and it is.
The police were called.
The tourists were uninjured, and learned lots of valuable lessons about leaving wildlife alone — including, leave wildlife alone.
The local cops waggled their fingers at the tourists and sent them on their way. The bear also hurried on its way.
Humans are entertaining and cops have many stories like these.
Code of honor
The actual police academy, where you train to become a real police officer, is longer and tougher than the Citizens Police Academy. Their training covers all kinds of wonderful stuff, from Tasers and takedowns to drunks, driving, drunks driving, driving drunks and why you can clean the back seat of most patrol vehicles with a power washer.
Most of all, real cops are taught how to keep their cool when everyone around them is spewing smoke out the tops of their heads.
The United States is home to 900,000 law enforcement officers, Daly said. They all pledge to adhere to a code of honor.
Some cops stick in the business, some don’t.
After finishing the Citizens Police Academy sessions, you have a pretty good idea why.
Learn more, fear less
Wandering around cop training classrooms at Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus, you see the four basic rules of firearm safety — you see them everywhere, all the time. They’re posted at eye level just about anywhere people read: in classrooms, hallways and restrooms.
Basically, the four rules admonish you to treat every firearm like it’s loaded. If you don’t, at best you could shoot yourself in the foot like Deputy Barney Fife, or at worst end up with a Darwin Award. Both are not an ideal position to find oneself in.
Cops are also taught that in chaotic situations, one cop does the talking. It reduces chaos and distractions. Benson explained this patiently, as a bunch of us tried to create chaos by distracting him.
“You fear less and less as you learn more and more,” Benson said to the class. “The training makes it automatic. Your brain goes back to what it was trained to do.”
Benson summed it up like this: Cops are regular people trained to do dangerous stuff.
Cops can consider using deadly force if their life or someone else’s life is threatened. There are lots of limitations to that, and there should be, Benson said.
There’s one constant rule.
“If a gun is in play, police officers are going to do everything they can to get home,” Benson said.
Mostly they do. Sometimes they don’t. A Nebraska State Patrol trooper pulled someone over for what appeared to be a routine traffic stop. The suspect climbed out of his car, straightened up and shot the trooper in the face.
So if police officers seem officious and wary when they walk up to your vehicle after stopping you for driving home after work at well above the posted speed limit, remember that the cops are just trying to make it home, too.
There are lots and lots of stories like that.
The best ones, though, end with everyone living happily ever after, or at least living.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.