By Erica Evans
The Community Police Academy, a class offered annually to Stanford students and all members of the community, gives civilians an exclusive look at the life and responsibilities of a police officer.
Taught by deputy officers from the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS), the class is designed to educate the public and strengthen the relationship of mutual trust and respect that must exist between citizens and law enforcement.
“The goal of the Community Police Academy is to demystify public safety, build trust and develop a partnership between the department and the Stanford community,” according to the class syllabus.
The class also includes field trips to the Main Jail in downtown San Jose and the Coroner’s Office.
The Community Police Academy nine-week course began with a small group in 2005, explained Chief Laura Wilson, who helped launch the initial program.
Since then, the class has been held each year during Stanford’s winter quarter and has grown to attract around 30 students annually.
Laura Wilson hopes these 30 people will create what she calls a “ripple effect.”
“I’m hoping that those 30 really become ambassadors. So maybe instead of 30, it’s 900 that we can reach,” said Wilson.
Sergeant Rick Rondeau began last Wednesday’s class by pointing out the difference between what’s portrayed on TV and what happens in reality.
“This is reality,” Rondeau emphasized.
“You’re going to hear a lot of true stories tonight.”
Students of all different ages and occupations in the community come to hear first-hand accounts of the duties and dangers of working in law enforcement and to get hands-on experience as they role-play real life encounters between police and violators of the law.
On Wednesday, students were guided through an elaborate drug bust simulation, during which the group lined up outside the police compound as student volunteers practiced the correct technique for entering a house with a search warrant.
“Sherriff’s Office! Search Warrant! Open the door!” a class member yelled while banging vigorously on the metal door with her fist.
After the student attempt, Lieutenant Doug Havig proceeded to demonstrate his experience and practiced technique.
“Sherriff’s Office! Search Warrant! Open the door!” Havig shouted, awing the class with the sheer volume of his voice and force of his fist against the door, both which seemed to shake the entire compound in an impressive display of authority.
Earlier in the class, students listened intently as Havig explained the exhaustive planning that takes place before entering a “drug house,” the risks of such an operation and the pressure of split-second decisions that must be made once inside.
Much of the class was focused on the difference between the spirit and letter of the law.
Deputy Sheriff Braden Shaw explained, “It’s not black and white at all. You take every situation as a blank slate and do your best.”
After spending time with SUDPS police officers during a night-time ride-along, Nikita Bogdanov ’16 witnessed first-hand how courteous and respectful the officers were in interacting with students on campus.
“I didn’t have a bad perception of the police department before, but it definitely brightened the perception I had,” Bogdanov said.
Officer Wilson explained, “It really is about developing relationships – and that’s two-sided. I believe that police have a greater burden at this point in time to reach out to communities, but the flipside of that is that we need communities to engage with us.”
In light of recent media coverage of cases of police violence, some students commented that this course has helped deepen their understanding of the reality of police work.
Trisha Howard, an employee at the Stanford GSB with a degree in criminal justice, is a first-time student of the class.
“I think learning more and getting to know your public safety officers really changes your perception of their work and what they do. And it helps you respect the challenges that they face,” said Howard.
Bogdanov explained his point of view. “I think there are large problems we have in the country racially and with the use of force.”
But Bogdanov elaborated that some aspects of recent movements have exposed general misconceptions about law enforcement.
“They draw on people’s emotions and misunderstandings of police work,” Bogdanov said.
Officer Wilson commented on how distressing it can be when police are misjudged as being prejudiced, racist or brutal, simply because of the position they take in society.
“Most of us got into this to serve,” wilson said. “We should be representative of the community. We serve the community. So we really need to break down this concept of ‘us and them.'”
Contact Erica Evans at elevans ‘at’ stanford.edu.