Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion column written by Lynne Jackier, an Ithaca resident who recently completed the Ithaca Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy.

To submit a letter, contact me at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

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Ithaca, N.Y. — The Citizens Police Academy was one of the initiatives proposed by Chief Barber in the wake of the incident last August in which black teens on bikes were pursued by an officer in his own car and plain clothes.

He had been called in to work because it was a busy night and had been dispatched to talk to the boys about an arson near GIAC. Two of the teens wound up face down and cuffed. A gun was drawn. I applied for the CPA with the intent of asking all of the many questions I had about the IPD, especially related to use of force.

The planned presentations were often interesting but the things I found most valuable about the course were the chance to meet and interact with a number of officers and the openness with which they addressed my questions. Many of them gave us their e-mail addresses and invited contact if we had further questions.

I had a little notebook with me and jotted down questions as they came to me. Some examples:

  • Are there trainings where fear is factored in to preparing officers?
  • Do officers learn about the rights of the public to protest?
  • How do officers decide who to pursue?
  • Do you have traffic stop quotas? (no)
  • Is there a framework of priorities that you follow?
  • Does the IPD see drug use as a law enforcement problem or a health problem? (both)
  • …and many more

I got to ask most of them and officers answered thoughtfully and with good grace.

One of the classes focused on the laws that govern police interactions with the public. Though the 4th amendment to the constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure, U.S. and NY State courts have carved out exceptions that allow police to do more than I had realized was allowable. http://nationalparalegal.edu/conLawCrimProc_Public/ProtectionFromSearches&Seizures/ExToWarrantReq.asp

Also, the police are guided by the Debour Levels (1974) in street encounters. This governs what questions and/or searches can be done when an officer approaches someone on the street. http://nassau18b.org/search_seizure/Debours%20Four%20Levels.pdf

Beyond the actual information presented, it was fascinating to get a glimpse into the police perspective on this topic. Since a police officer’s job is to discover possible law-breaking and arrest a suspect, the presenter talked about how good questioning in level 1 can be used to move to higher levels. There is skill involved in this. It occurred to me that this is an interface with the public that can feel like (or actually become) harassment depending on the officer and the situation. This is where profiling can happen. Or it can be good police work. I mentally star this as a place for more conversation.

Another piece that stands out for me was the discussions around fear and adrenaline in police work. Almost all of the officers mentioned fear at least once. I got to see just a small example of that during my ride along when a large, loud dog came rushing up as the officer approached to serve a warrant. The officer’s heart was pounding when he got back in the car and he mentioned that if he were to receive a call now he would already have adrenaline in his system. This is their reality.

Making good choices in stressful situations is a part of police training. They do reality-based scenarios to try to prepare officers to think clearly under stress and fear. At the same time, there are some automatic responses that are taught. This raised a flag for me.

Last summer I attended a Webinar on the topic of implicit bias – the kind of bias that is below the level of conscious awareness. This kind of bias exists in all of us. So – fear plus adrenaline plus automatic response plus implicit bias is a terrible equation.

Chief Barber and Officer Williamson had attended the Webinar too. At the final session of the CPA, I asked the Chief if he thought that implicit bias training should be part of police training. He agreed that it is important and should be included. Mental star: follow up on this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-gn4E4dnBk

The Citizen’s Police Academy served to crack open the divide between myself as a civilian and the IPD. I would like to see Chief Barber bring this kind of transparency and information out into the community in a way that allows more and more diverse groups of civilians to have access. The more we know and understand each other, the more we can be allies in creating needed systemic change. Not all the conversations will be easy but they need to happen.

I’d also like to help develop a sister program to the Citizen’s Police Academy that brings police into the realities of our lives here in Ithaca. The IPD got to share with a few of us who they are, what they do and how they feel about it. What do we want them to understand about us – our families, our neighborhood, our community?


Read previous Ithaca Voice coverage of the Citizens’ Police Academy


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.