Police Academy Part 2: Drugs and crime scenes
Editor's Note: This is the second of a three-part series on the Alexandria Citizens Police Academy as seen through the eyes of one of its participants - reporter Crystal Dey.
A lot of legwork precedes apprehension of criminals. First, they must be caught. Next, there must be evidence. We found out it's not as easy as it looks on TV.
During our initial tour of the facility we brushed through the evidence room and lab. Captain Scott Kent said we were about to experience our "CSI Night" and a bit of what he described as his true passion in law enforcement during our third class.
Our investigative aptitude was tested as Sergeant Larry Dailey walked us through a mock crime scene. As we surveyed the scene, Dailey pointed out how evidence is collected and discussed how the evolution of DNA collection has changed the process.
Dailey said if there is one thing he has learned over the years, it is that no detail is too small or insignificant to break a case.
Detective Jay Halverson introduced us to what an evidence lab looks like - when you don't have a multi-million dollar budget and set designer. A modest room that covers the core needs of evidence evaluation makes up the lab at the APD. Abby's lab from NCIS it isn't, but it has served its purpose in tracking down criminals.
Halverson said it's frustrating to watch television shows like CSI and NCIS because a case can't realistically be solved in an hour. The APD works closely with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to process evidence.
While in the lab we dusted for prints - our own. It isn't as easy as you'd think. I either was doing it wrong or I don't have fingerprints. Halverson said fingerprints can be detected for a few months if the conditions are right.
The lab is equipped to conduct the "superglue method." An item of interest is placed in a chamber along with superglue in foil containers on hotplates. When the plates heat the glue, it releases fumes that attach to the moisture in the fingerprint, leaving a visible trace where one couldn't be detected before. Once fingerprint dust is waved over the print with a feather duster - voila, a print appears.
No doubt some of the prints pulled in the lab were from hands that once possessed the baggies of drugs that Officer Tony Kuhnau passed around earlier in the evening.
The class was able to see what different forms of crystal meth look like as well as cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Instruments used to smoke and inject the drugs were also viewed.
Synthetic marijuana is a huge problem in Moorhead right now, Kent said. As soon as it's pulled from the shelves in head shops the chemical composition is changed and more is shipped for sale. K2 and Spice are common brands marketed as "herbal incense blends."
"They're changing it [synthetic drugs] faster than we can test it," Kent said. So by the time a synthetic drug is designated as illegal, a new concoction is on the shelves. In 2011, it became a gross misdemeanor to sell synthetic marijuana. A bill has been proposed this year to make the law proactive for future synthetics.
What I found most shocking is that crystal meth is more expensive than cocaine. Kuhnau explained that drugs are valued based on the intensity and the length of time it takes to get high.
A classmate mentioned how the information age has aided in the spread of drug use over the years. Twenty years ago you couldn't find a recipe to mix up a batch of drugs online, now you can.
This info-sharing is affecting our youth. Another classmate mentioned how her son in 10th grade witnessed kids ingesting nutmeg in an attempt to get high.
It's important to note that these kids spent a long time vomiting and it didn't appear to give them the desired effect.
Other drugs plaguing our high schools are: Adderall, Xanax, K2, Spice and Bath Salts.
Six APD officers teach Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) to help educate children and prevent drug abuse in young people. If the danger of using drugs doesn't dissuade these kids, maybe knowing the crime lab's capability to bust them will.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
The Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) has an elaborate law enforcement training facility. We were introduced to the methods used in traffic stops and home entry in what looked like a movie set in a garage at ATCC.
I was "shot" twice. Not really shot; we used prop guns but it was intense.
Using APD squads, we performed mock traffic stops acting out different scenarios. Since my first act as police officer went so well, pulling someone over and giving a warning, I thought I knew the drill.
As I walked up to the stopped vehicle and leaned coolly on the car to speak with the speeding driver - BOOM! In an instant an officer can be shot conducting a routine traffic stop.
A robbery was staged at the ATCC corner convenience store. Before each scenario we were briefed on officer protocol and what steps to take.
Everything happens so fast I forgot what we were supposed to do after the robber, "Mike" (Scott Keehn), was spotted. Following suit I darted across ATCC Street (which has real sidewalks and real curbs to trip over). We caught Mike in his apartment.
The apartment/house has so many doors, rooms and stairs it's dizzying; much like it must be for officers each time they enter a new, unfamiliar residence.
We staged a domestic disturbance and a school shooting incident. Sergeant Chad Schroeder said a lot has changed in the way school shootings are handled since the Columbine incident.
The gunmen were inside the school for more than an hour, Schroeder said, before law enforcement entered Columbine High School. Now patrol officers don't usually wait for a SWAT team to assemble and lead the way.
During the mock school shooting, our team bottlenecked when we got to the room the shooter was in with the children (no children were actually present).
"Get in there! Kids are being shot!" said Officer Jim Gripne.
I think there were maybe two of us who didn't almost pass out when we heard the blank shots fired.
It is baffling to comprehend how officers seamlessly blend quick thinking and reasoning with agility and ability. They have to determine when it's necessary to use soft force, which can be an escort by the arm or using pressure points, and when to use deadly force. Sometimes actions escalate in stages and other times it's a snap judgment call.
Amped on adrenaline, we stopped for the evening and discussed what we had just experienced. We didn't do everything perfectly. I ran ahead of my team once (called jack-rabbiting) and couldn't quite get the hang of getting my gun out of its holster.
We were confused at times and stopped for directions. Officers don't have that option. They have to get it right the first time, every time.
To be fair, they have had a lot more training that we had. Officer Keith Melrose said they have SWAT practice once a week.
"We do it [SWAT training] again and again until we get it right," Melrose said. Otherwise, they do push-ups until they can get it right.