Welcome to Police Academy

By Lindsay Carroll

‘ ‘ ‘ This is the first installment in a series of reports from Lindsay Carroll, who enrolled… ‘ ‘ ‘ This is the first installment in a series of reports from Lindsay Carroll, who enrolled in the Citizens’ Police Academy, a 15-week training course run by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. ‘ ‘ ‘ I’m a pretty unlikely candidate for the Pittsburgh Police Academy. I stand at 5-foot-2, about 120 pounds. I fear weaponry, have terrible aim and dislike navy blue. ‘ ‘ ‘ But thanks to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, my natural dispositions don’t prevent me from learning about the police world. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The 15-week Citizens’ Police Academy, which the bureau runs twice per year, gives average community members the sort of training potential officers learn at the real academy. At each session, the class will learn about a topic such as criminal law, media relations, search and seizure, the K-9 unit, anti-terrorism and firearms. ‘ ‘ ‘ I’m part of one of the biggest and most diverse classes Lt. Jennifer Beidle, who runs the citizen’s academy, has ever seen. ‘ ‘ ‘ Beidle said the program used to take place at the official Police Academy, but has recently been traveling to different neighborhoods. Prior to stopping in East Liberty for this session, the course was held in West End, Lawrenceville, Hazelwood and the North Side. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I hope you graduate from here with a greater appreciation and perspective of police officers,’ Beidle told the class. She added that she hoped class members could use what they learned to educate their own communities. ‘ ‘ ‘ Public affection for police officers grows and fades. ‘ ‘ ‘ In August, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a man died after police used a Taser to restrain him. In November 2006, the shooting of Sean Bell by officers of the New York Police Department made national news and brought two familiar words ‘- ‘excessive force’ ‘- into the limelight. ‘ ‘ ‘ This class works to correct the public’s misconceptions of police. Criminal vs. case laws ‘ ‘ ‘ Lt. Mike Sippey, of the Duquesne University Police Department, held up a 2-inch-thick book on criminal code and vehicle law, which he uses to teach new police officers. ‘ ‘ ‘ Only about 30 pages of it is on criminal law, but the recruits spend about 32 hours learning about criminal procedures. ‘ ‘ ‘ Sippey, who has both police experience and a law degree, said the criminal code is often hard to learn because its language is difficult to grow accustomed to. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I teach them how to read the code,’ said Sippey. ‘You have to pick up on the nuances.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ The differences between ‘and’ and ‘or,’ or ‘shall’ and ‘may’ can make a huge difference to a judge or jury, and their interpretations of the law can make or break a case for a criminal. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘How many people would think if you gave a police officer the finger, they could do something about it?’ asked Sippey, who got a mixture of responses from the class. ‘ ‘ ‘ It’s an important question, because not only do police officers have to know law as written in the manual, but case law, as well. ‘ ‘ ‘ The code for this situation says an officer may take action against an individual who gives obscene gestures. But the officer needs to know case law in order to make his decision. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘A judge made a decision that says giving the finger is profanity, not obscenity,’ said Sippey. ‘The difference is that profanity is like swearing, but obscenity has a sexual connotation.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ These fine lines, along with judicial interpretation, make the work of police difficult, said Sippey. It’s more than being caught red-handed ‘ ‘ ‘ Officers face restrictions on whom they can arrest and at what time, Sippey said. ‘ ‘ ‘ But if a person sees an incident where the police officer does not make an arrest, the person might think, ‘Why isn’t he doing his job?’ ‘ ‘ ‘ To make an arrest, the officer must know what level of crime was committed ‘- a felony or misdemeanor. Probable cause, which basically means it’s ‘more likely than not’ that the person committed the crime, authorizes the officer to arrest for felony, said Sippey. ‘ ‘ ‘ Officers can arrest someone for a misdemeanor if the crime was committed in their ‘plain view,’ or if they can use their senses to determine that the person committed the crime. If they don’t witness the crime, they need a warrant from the police department. ‘ ‘ ‘ The plain view rule poses a difficulty when it comes to underage drinking. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Underage drinking is a problem in every neighborhood and on every college campus,’ said Sippey. ‘Our country has a massive drug problem, and alcohol is a drug.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Sippey, who has worked for campus police at Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne universities, said that when a police officer witnesses underage drinking, he may be put in a difficult situation. ‘ ‘ ‘ In York County in March 2002, police officers saw, through a private residence’s window, what they thought were teenagers drinking beer, Sippey said. ‘ ‘ ‘ The officers staked out the house and knocked on the door. When one of the teens went to answer the door, police entered the house, checked identification and found marijuana. ‘ ‘ ‘ But an appeals court threw out the case because the officers, without a warrant and without invitation, entered a private residence for a misdemeanor crime. ‘ ‘ ‘ Sippey said that police therefore can’t tackle all instances of underage drinking, especially when there are other serious crimes in the area. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘With so many people who are victimized, alcohol is a factor,’ said Sippey. ‘They don’t know the dangers that they put themselves at risk at.’