When Spencer Police Chief Mark Lawson asked me to participate in the Citizens Police Academy, I jumped at the opportunity, even though I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.
I'm glad I did, especially considering I cover the law enforcement beat.
Following an introduction and tour of the antiquated police station, we learned about the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources and how they work with other law enforcement agencies. Poaching, illegal weapons and boating issues were hot topics.
Communication dominated week three as we talked about the communication center, various types of reports and the statute of limitations on those reports.
Clay County Attorney Mike Houchins briefed us on constitutional law, and discussing search and seizure took up much of the session. We learned exactly what constitutes reasonable cause and how much can be viewed without a search warrant during other official business.
Traffic enforcement education included clocking cars on Fourth Street with the LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, gun. It was fun to see cars hit the brakes when they realized their speed was being tracked. It also taught me I likely don't have steady enough hands to use that piece of equipment, but Lawson said even some officers are not comfortable using the machine and stick with Radar.
The crime scene chapter opened our eyes to the intensity of that profession. Lab technicians don't get to just push a button and have data within an hour or two, like they do on TV, and they don't carry guns either. They do lift fingerprints, which we got to try, and study all types of evidence.
In addition to the lab, the local police put in a lot of legwork in securing, surveying and canvassing areas after crimes. Using actual examples, Lawson gave some enlightening insight on how crime scenes are processed locally.
Another eye-opening session occurred the next week as we learned about drug investigations. Probably the most interesting portion was that on the evolution of methamphetamine over the years.
Firearms training was one aspect that reinforced the fact that I will never be a police officer. In Iowa Lakes Community College's simulator, I had problems with both reaction time and aim. I confirmed my suspicion that I was the worst student the instructor had ever put through the simulated scenarios. I definitely give law enforcement officers kudos for being able to respond in real-life scenarios.
A ride-along with a Spencer officer followed the next evening. I regret moving it back, as more had happened earlier in the evening. However, I was able to witness a warrant check, which showed how empathetic our officers try to be.
In this case, the person with the warrant had paperwork showing time served, but if the officers did not carry out the warrant, they could have been held in contempt of court. Though they were required to arrest the individual, they did everything to acquiesce to the person's request, including allowing a phone call before booking into the Clay County Jail.
This experience also showed a "plain view search," in which the officers examined the surroundings due to the warrant. Thankfully, no other arrests were made and no other incidents occurred.
The rest of that night was quiet, and I'm planning another ride-along in what hopefully will be a little busier time.
We then got to see where Clay County suspects go, compared to suspects in O'Brien County. People who spoke out against a new jail either haven't been in the current facility or don't care about the safety of jailers. It is absolutely amazing that no one has been hurt or killed in that ancient facility.
The O'Brien County Jail showed just how outdated our jail is. It is much larger and easier for jailers to run safely. Because the facility is closer to Sioux City than Spencer, they take in plenty of federal inmates. According to some of my classmates, the female inmates were trying to get my attention -- just as the male inmates strutted for the females in our class. Honestly, I felt quite awkward being there and tried not to make eye contact with anyone there.
That trip had the added excitement of severe weather, which kept us from returning to Spencer until about 11 p.m.
Finally, graduation packed quite a punch with overviews of the magistrate, Department of Human Services, juvenile probation, adult probation and Project Lifesaver.
The latter really is a cool program and has been used right here in this county to save a life.
Overall, the class was extremely worthwhile and I recommend it to anyone.
If you think the class may not be for you, just look at the graduation photo in today's paper. Students ranged in age from 18 to 87 and represented various ways of life.
This class truly presents something for everyone and is only getting better each subsequent year.
Kudos to Lawson and the entire SPD for putting on this class, even though they have been short-handed for months.
It truly is appreciated.