Michael Davis comes from a family with a history of community involvement and service. So when his wife showed him a News & Observer article about the Raleigh Police Department inviting residents to participate in its first-ever, 10-week citizens academy, he jumped at the chance.
Davis, 66, of Raleigh, was one of 25 people who graduated from the academy Thursday at the Raleigh Convention Center.
“I wanted to see how the police truly worked,” he said. “I knew that I would get a much better and well-rounded view that I could share with my community – how they work in the real world – and that would make for better community-police relations.”
Davis, who works for a commercial printing company, wanted an insider’s view of policing, particularly the elements of their job that do not get covered by the news or that are overblown by television shows.
“So much of what they do does not make the newspapers,” he said. “It’s more than writing tickets and catching criminals.”
The Citizens Police Academy started April 6. It consisted of a 10-week course on police training and work, while offering participants the chance to ride along with police, learn about crime-scene processing and use firearms in a simulator.
Raleigh police spokeswoman Laura Hourigan said the department decided earlier this year to begin a citizens academy to increase the transparency and understanding between the community and the police. The focus, Hourigan said, is on community policing, while conveying an understanding of the philosophy, policies and guiding principles of law
“Yes, there will be more to come,” she said, though a date has not yet been set for the next one.
The Cary Police Department has long offered its residents an opportunity to peer behind the scenes at its law enforcement efforts. The department in February assembled its 40th citizens academy class, for a 12-week session that ended in May.
Raleigh’s inaugural effort was free and open to people who live or work in the city. The participants had to be at least 21 years old and open to the department running a background check.
Davis attended seven 3-hour sessions at the department’s Southwest District station on Pylon Road. “I’m proud to say I had 100 percent attendance,” he said.
During the classroom sessions, Davis sat in on presentations by virtually every police unit, including internal affairs, the emergency communications center, K9 teams and mounted horse patrols.
“The police department did not spare the people to be involved in our experience,” Davis said. “Sergeants, captains, majors and officers of every rank were involved with the experience in one way or another.”
The group had one session at the law enforcement training campus off Hammond Road where they used firearms in simulated law enforcement scenarios.
“It was quite exciting seeing what happens in the real world,” Davis said.
One more practical session consisted of participants riding along with an officer on patrol in the district and at the hours of their choice.
The officer was trying to get the family to stop yelling at each other. He was patient, understanding and didn’t take sides. He settled the dispute. It ended on a very good note.
Michael Davis, graduate of Raleigh’s first Citizens Police Academy
Davis chose the Southeast District and tagged along with an officer from 11 p.m. until 2 a.m. Despite the time of night, Davis said he and the officer didn’t encounter any drug deals, burglaries, gunfire or other volatile incidents.
“I’m glad I didn’t bring any busy thoughts along,” he said. “It was a very routine thing. There were no drawn weapons. Nothing that you see on TV.”
What impressed Davis most about the ride-along was a dispute the officer settled among family members who were upset with one another.
“It had nothing to do with law enforcement,” Davis said. “The officer was trying to get the family to stop yelling at each other. He was patient, understanding and didn’t take sides. He settled the dispute. It ended on a very good note.”
Davis said he realized that officers have to become good psychologists while dealing with the public. He said that was yet another element of policing the public didn’t see everyday.
Davis also was impressed by the police department’s commitment to the city’s children and teens, with mentoring programs and sports programs where officers work as volunteers.
“There are officers who work specifically with young people to help keep them from going down the wrong path,” he said. “You don’t see sidearms or handcuffs. They prefer to come off as a regular person.”
Davis and his fellow graduates were awarded a certificate and a photo of the entire class. They were also given police department memorabilia: a coffee mug and a police department patch that Davis intends to sew on one of his jackets.
Davis laughed when asked if he could now go out and make a citizens arrest. But he is looking forward to one day maybe working with the police department’s volunteer force, whose members get to wear a uniform of white shirts, dark pants and badges. The volunteers are unarmed, but they get to carry a radio, ride along with officers, help out at public events and assist at sobriety checkpoints.
“I am definitely going to consider volunteering when I eventually retire,” Davis said. “My wife said I need to retire first.”