CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Pride in professionalism.

That is the message the Charleston Police Department has instilled in participants of the 2022 Citizens Police Academy.

For two hours each Wednesday night, a group of roughly 20 individuals, myself included, gathered to learn the ins and outs of the Department and put ourselves in the mindset of CPD officers.

As Deputy Chief Chito Walker, explained at the very beginning, the course was not designed with the intention of changing anyone’s mind.

“This is the platform we want to use to educate and it’s not to sway, it’s to educate,” Deputy Chief Walker said. “This is your agency and you need to know what we do.”

So, we learned.

The course began with a lesson on the response to resistance and aggression, more commonly known as the use of force, and then we had to put ourselves in the officers’ shoes by making our own split-second decisions. We learned about the ethical standards CPD teaches, the peer intervention techniques they employ, the methodical nature of a traffic stop, and toured the impressive forensics facility, among other lessons.

In our last week, we met at Burke High School for a live demonstration involving the special operations division.

Deputy Chief Dustin Thompson explained the purpose of the last week was to “put yourself in the mindset of the officer.”

Rather pertinently, the first demonstration was an active shooter scenario.

We watched the entire event unfold in real-time. It lasted two minutes. Burke High School’s actual School Resource Officer led the response with assistance from the School Security Response Team (SSRT).

The next few demonstrations involved the special operations units which include SWAT, K-9, Bomb Squad, Hostage Negotiation, and Underwater Response team–the latter being the only one we did not get to see in action.

The Special Ops team executed a mock search warrant for an attempted murder suspect. They employed hostage negotiation tactics and demonstrated the use of drones and robots.

When the roleplayer, acting as the “suspect,” exited the building, the team deployed one of the K9s on the force, K9 Jersey.

Seargant Jeffery Thom oversees the K9 unit and shared that like every person, each dog has certain strengths and officers can choose which dog is best in any given scenario. We learned that the dogs are taught pain compliance, meaning they target certain spots on the body to attach to until the arrest is successfully completed.

During these demonstrations, another point continually reinforced was how important communication, collaboration, and patience is when participating in a speical operations mission.

“Once we have that situation contained, time is on our side.” Jason Bruder, Captain of Special Operations said. “We are going take our time. We’re going to use all options we can to get them to come out to us or surrender in a safe way, because time is on our side. We’re going to control that.”

As we wrapped up our final class, we pulled in the entire breadth of knowledge we had learned throughout the course and we able to develop an understanding of the daily practices, policies, and procedures of the Charleston Police Department.

According to officials, the Charleston Police officers had roughly 285,000 interactions with the public in 2021. What I learned is that there is a standard of properness and professionalism that is demanded by higher ups in each one of those interactions.

Mistakes can become learning tools, but misconduct is not tolerated.

Chief Luther Reynolds, who joined us for the graduation ceremony, said it best:

“I’d rather be 100 officers short than higher 1 person who doesn’t deserve to be in this profession, wear this uniform, and serve this city.”

When the class first started, I asked Captain Kristy McFadden what she hoped participants got out of this experience. She said: “I hope that [participates] can just see what we go through on a daily basis and just get a better understanding of law enforcement and our interaction with the community.”

In speaking with classmates, it seems the two-fold mission of the Citizens Police Academy set forth by Deputy Chief Walker and Captain McFadden was realized.

“My biggest takeaway is these programs are good for being able to have that personal connection and contact with local law enforcement,” downtown resident Patton Orr said. “You can only control yourself and I think they do that to the best of their ability here and take pride in that.”

“This is a great opportunity to really connect with the Charleston Police Department and what they’re doing on the ground level with policies, procedures, traffic stops, and communications,” Eduardo Curry II, member of the Citizens Police Advisory Council (CPAC) said.

But, Curry also encourages young people to get involved with CPAC as a way to hold law enforcement officials accountable.

“Be a voice and to also just push and challenge our department to continue to be better,” he said.

That sentiment of accountability was echoed by Chief Reynolds.

“There’s a lot you guys have learned. But probably most importantly, how to navigate providing input and being a partner. And like we talked about tonight, not just the positives, but if there’s a concern how to voice that concern, how to help us change, how to make us better, and how to hold us accountable,” he said.

Cheif Reynolds shared that he hopes the Citizens Police Academy can be a stepping stone toward increasing public trust in law enforcement.

“There’s a deficit of trust in policing. We know that. Not just here in Charleston, not just here in the Lowcountry, but nationally in our profession. So, what are the steps we can take to build bridges and this is part of that process for sure.”

Charleston Police Department officials said they plan to provide the Citizens Police Academy again in September and encourage all residents of the City of Charleston to participate.

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*EDITOR’S NOTE: This course is specific to the Charleston Police Department and reflects only the training, policies, and procedures of that agency. Each law enforcement agency/department has its own standards and guidelines.