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Citizens get behind the badge

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WAIT: An academy participant waits for the go-ahead during the airsoft excercise. Participants had the opportunity to put themselves in the officer’s perspective for traffic stops at their class, Wednesday.
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CLASS: Citizens’ Police Academy attendees listen attentively to Captain McCutcheon and Officer Spurgeon discuss Wednesday night’s topic, traffic stops.
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GEAR: HPD captain Christopher McCutcheon and HPD officer Ben Spurgeon discuss safety gear before leading the airsoft gun demonstration and exercise.

by HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

Three weeks into Citizen’s Police Academy, attendees are beginning to gain a better understanding of what it takes to be a police officer.

Police armed citizens with airsoft guns and protective gear to role-play shoot-or-don’t-shoot situations, after the class got a behind-the-scenes look at traffic stops this week.

During the traffic stop exercise, the class had the opportunity to view the mock-situation from the perspective of an officer to understand what they see when pulling someone over.

In addition to this, the class had the choice to take part in the airsoft gun exercise which demonstrated just how long it takes an officer to react to someone shooting at them, especially in an event they aren’t expecting it.

Huntington Police Department captain Chris McCutcheon brought in fake weapons – like B.B. guns which look a lot like real guns – to see if and how quickly the class could tell the difference between a real and fake gun, in the moment..

“There have been incidents where police officers have shot people that had B.B. guns, and then people say ‘why did they shoot him he just had a bb gun... Hopefully (this demonstration) will tie together that you don’t have a lot of time to perceive and make that decision,” McCutcheon said. “It’s a literally a split second decision you’ve got to make.”

Laura Haneline said she is taking the course because she has been interested in law enforcement for a few years and wanted to learn more about what they do and what it takes.

So far, she said she has learned a lot, including that this job isn’t for everyone and it’s a lot harder than it looks. She said offering a course like this to the community is important to create a better understanding of what the police officers are doing and why they’re doing it.

“There’s a lot of controversy over people thinking that officers used excessive force that ended in death and whether that was necessary or justified or not, and I think – especially with what we’re learning tonight – that things are not always what they seem,” Haneline said. “I think it’s important to see this side of it instead of just the social media side of it.”

Kyler Town said he has always had an interest in law enforcement and has considered going into the field. When he saw a press release on the academy on Facebook, he decided to give it a try in hopes that it would help affirm or deny his desire to go into law enforcement himself.

So far, he said it’s been a good experience.

“I loved it. There’s a lot of stuff I never expected to hear, and most of my knowledge of law enforcement has come from TV and movies – like most people’s I would assume,” he said. “This has been very eye-opening, and it’s only week three.”

Town added he is most looking forward to the firearms training and a potential ride-along. He explained if he were given the opportunity to do a ride-along, he would definitely take it since he believes it would also help him make his decision on joining law enforcement.

McCutcheon said it’s been an interesting experience so far. He said he wasn’t sure how many topics to go over in one night to fill the three hours, but they usually run over on time because of all of the questions the class has.

This free, eight-week course is being offered for the first time through a partnership between Huntington University Police and Huntington Police Department. The academy started up on August 29 and will continue to meet every Wednesday through October 17 from 6 p.m. until 9.

Captain Chris McCutcheon helped plan the course and is instructing along with officer Ben Spurgeon and HU Chief of Police Justin Faw.

McCutcheon said 19 people signed up for the course this year and 17 have been regularly attending. He said he’s happy with that number since it’s the first time they’re offering the opportunity, but hopes to get up to 20 next year.

McCutcheon added that they have people aged 21-81 in the course from a wide variety of employment backgrounds.

Faw said they started with an introduction to police uniforms and then moved into going over criminal law and OWI’s. This week, they went over traffic stops and had some hands-on exercises. The remainder of the course will go over things such as criminal investigations and defensive tactics.