On May 14, President Barack Obama commended the 2010 National Association of Police Organizations “Top Cops” for their “bravery, persistence and good judgment.” Over the last five months I, along with eight others, spent every Tuesday evening with the top cops of Old Town. Voluntarily.
The nine of us were there to learn at Citizen Police Academy what it was like to be a police officer in Old Town. Expecting something between CSI’s Gil Grissom and Mayberry’s Andy Griffin, we got the best of both.
Sgt. Mike Hashey was our leader, coordinating his team of fellow officers to run us through the U.S. Constitution, Maine laws, traffic stops, search warrants and criminal investigations. We swept for fingerprints, held a battering ram and police shield, and investigated a burglary. We wore night goggles.
We explored the technoworld of the county mobile crime lab, saw the unflappability of the emergency dispatcher and the cold reality of a bulletproof vest. We drove police cars and performed mock traffic stops. We blew in the Intoxilyzer.
In one class, Sgt. Hashey had us wear “beer glasses” so that we could experience firsthand field sobriety tests. He had several pairs, apparently borrowed from Brewer High School, each representing a specific blood- alcohol concentration.
Remembering that one glass of wine gives me a buzz, I chose the .06 glasses. Sgt. Hashey began his spiel. “Stand at the line, the left foot in front of your right, arms at your side. Do not start the test until you have heard all of my instructions. Do you understand?”
I understood. I tried to stand on the line, left foot in front of the right, arms to my side, but I couldn’t stop swaying.
“Hey, Mike, come here so I can steady myself on you.” He looked at me as if I were crazy, or drunk.
“No, really. I need to be steadied.” I wasn’t crazy, just pretend drunk, and I couldn’t get my balance. He walked over to me reminding the class that obviously he would not do that in the field. Duh. I steadied myself. Nine steps forward, the little shimmy to turn around and nine steps back. I was getting a headache. I got a hango-ver from beer glasses.
While pretending to be drunk was fun, we all were looking forward to the day we would ride along with a patrol officer. My eight-hour shift was cold and rainy. Sitting in an Old Town residential neighborhood several minutes before school was to let out, we watched five vehicles slide through, rather than stop at, a stop sign.
Five times, Officer James Slauenwhite gave chase. Five times he stepped into the cold and rain. Five women, none of them with any prior traffic or criminal history, all out to fetch their child from school. All were given a warning.
I was also excited to meet the K-9. Pumba is a beautiful, silky 80-pound Belgian Malinois who understands French, English and sign language. He can find dope, keys in the grass and a person. He’ll do anything for his toy.
We finally made it to Taser day. Paul and Pete remained committed to being Tasered despite the videos of law enforcement officers, muscles froze up, faces twisted in pain, falling to the ground. They remained committed even after Gloria told us that one of those officers on the video was her son, who had warned her not to be Tasered.
As befits the personalities we observed in class, Paul silently accepted the torture and was quietly placed on the ground. Pete appears not do anything silently and being Tasered was no exception. Then there was Samm. To my surprise, she agreed to be Tasered after handing me her phone so I could record her. We all stood there waiting. Time seemed to stop. Her hands were shaking, and I had to focus to keep my own hands still. I jumped when she did. She took the jolt like a top cop. I thought of Samm all that week, admiring her gumption.
All too soon the class was over. I would have to find something else to do on Tuesday evenings. Police work was not it. I didn’t have the bravery, persistence or good judgment to be a top cop.
Anytime anyone wants to play cops and robbers though, I’m in. And any time Sgt. Hashey offers citizen police academy, sign up. You won’t regret getting to know the top cops of Old Town. For more information and to see photographs of the 2010 class, go to the Old Town Police Department website at www.oldtownpd.org.
Amy Faircloth is a lawyer in Bangor.