Another side of Chapel Hill

I suppose on some level I realized that when I read the staid reports ofNancy Oates drug arrests printed in the newspaper’s police blotter not all of those suspects submitted to custody willingly. But this is Chapel Hill. Those drug busts you see on TV — armed officers surrounding a car or battering down a door — they just don’t happen here, right?

Oh, but they do. And even more typical scenarios — a couple at home in a loud fight; a well-being check on a neighbor who has been going through rough times; a possible burglary in progress in broad daylight — are rife with risk that police officers have to be able to assess in an instant. Overlooking something could cost officers and others their lives.

At the Community Police Academy I attended last week, Chapel Hill Police gave us a peak at a side of our community I was glad I don’t have to see every day. And by the time our classes ended, I felt relieved that we, as a town, are in such good hands. CHPD officers have the training and the tools, along with good judgment and unflappability, to handle just about any situation I could imagine and some that I couldn’t.

A theme throughout the 8 ½ hours of classes was selecting the right tool for the situation. In our session on lethal versus non-lethal force, the bravest among us volunteered to respond as police officers to virtual calls via interactive videos in a simulator. The scenario would unfold differently, depending on the volunteer’s actions. Volunteers had an array of options — pepper spray, a Taser, a firearm — and the choice police rely on most frequently, their mouths. Police often can reduce the risk in a situation by what they say. Not so, the rest of us. Suffice it to say, our volunteers had a high mortality rate. I came away with words of wisdom worth taping on my refrigerator: The best way to win a fight is to not get in one.

In other sessions, we learned what investigators do at a crime scene to collect evidence that will stand up in court, beginning with a search warrant. The officers debunked some elements of TV crime shows: In real life, a DNA analysis can’t be done in 60 seconds.

In other sessions, we saw demonstrations of the K-9 unit and the rescue of a wounded victim by using an armored vehicle and sharpshooters. We learned what the crisis team responds to, including the astounding number of domestic violence incidents and having to inform families of a death. We revealed some of our biases in a session on Fair and Impartial Policing. We saw an amazing array of equipment — cameras to see under doors or up in attics, flashing light balls to distract perpetrators, bars to break windows and doors, a 50-pound armored vest — none of it fresh-out-of-the-box shiny new. And the officers had stories to go with all of it.

Our community survey, year after year, confirms that people in Chapel Hill feel safe. After completing the Community Police Academy, I can see why.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. George C

     /  April 11, 2016

    Hi Nancy,
    I’m glad you took the class. I think every Council member should and as many citizens who can, should as well. It really does provide a perspective not often seen and an appreciation that I’m sure our officers welcome.

  2. George Entenman

     /  April 11, 2016

    I took the Academy a couple of years ago. Well worth it.

  3. Cindy

     /  April 18, 2016

    I have also attended the Community Police Academy. It was an outstanding program and well worth the time invested (one evening and 1/2-day Saturday); there was also an advanced class that I took, but think that has all been incorporated into one program now. Chief Blue and his officers do a superb job with this program and continually make adjustments and improvements to enhance the program and make it possible for more citizens to participate.

    I completely agree with George C. (above) that every member of City Council should be required to go through the CPA. I’d encourage Nancy to present this proposal to fellow council members. (In fact, she or council might present the idea to Chief Blue to see if he could give council its own CPA session during a time frame that would work for them considering all the extra hours they put in as council members.) It seems to me that it would help council members have greater insight into what officers actually have to deal with rather than go on preconceived suppositions or isolated incidents.

    It would also help if there is debate about how a real-life incident or situation was handled by police. By that I don’t mean that therefore they would automatically agree with police actions or outcomes, or whitewash any post-incident investigations, but rather that it would help council members have some basic understanding of the department and the roles, duties and responsibilities of its members–the challenges they face in the field, the thought processes when engaged in an actual situation. I went in to the CPA thinking that I knew a fair amount and quickly realized how much more I needed to learn and take into consideration.

  4. The new diversion court in Orange County begins to shift the conversation from black and white to shades of gray. The option to direct kids, people dealing with mental illness and other challenges away from adult court can change the way we all look at law enforcement

  5. I am now motivated to take this class, thank you, Nancy. Visitors often remark on the safe feeling of our community, which brings them back again and again. Parents of college students query us on safety stats. We are proud to share those stats. Thank you.

  6. plurimus

     /  May 1, 2016

    “The best way to win a fight is to not get in one.”

    Many societal problems that should be dealt with in other ways are defaulted to police. Most notably mental illness and those in crisis.

    It takes a talented and controlled person to be a successful law enforcement officer. We should be very thankful for the patent and talented people we have in both the towns and the county.