Police Academy Part 1: Headquarters and courtsWe all slow down a little when we see them coming. How many of us slow down enough to wonder what it’s like to see the world through their eyes? Sixteen people decided to get a closer look at the Alexandria Police Department (APD) by enrolling in the 2012 Citizens Police Academy.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
We all slow down a little when we see them coming. How many of us slow down enough to wonder what it’s like to see the world through their eyes?
Sixteen people decided to get a closer look at the Alexandria Police Department (APD) by enrolling in the 2012 Citizens Police Academy.
A diverse group was selected to experience a one night a week class over a seven-week stretch from January to March. Retirees, a newly accepted law enforcement student, a city council member, a pastor, an outreach advocate and other curious citizens joined this reporter for an experience that would be as different for each of us as we are from one another.
Our first class was an overview of the department and a tour of the building. This is the first academy held in the new police station on 3rd Avenue. The building cost $5.1 million to build and came in under budget.
Architects Ringdahl and Wold made sure to include copper detailing on the building to cement the relationship between it and the cops that would call it their second home. Rumor has it that the term “cop” comes from the copper badges officers used to wear prior to brass.
The classroom is a multi-purpose space that can be used for meetings, evidence examination or as an emergency management center in times of crisis. Ports on the movable tables have the ability to power phones and computers.
During our second meeting we discussed information sharing and citizens rights. One classmate asked why information isn’t immediately released to the public. The police department and the media have a responsibility to inform the public as soon as possible to keep them safe. Releasing facts, not rumor or assumption, requires research so it takes time.
We have a right to know our rights. Sergeants Kevin Guenther and Tina Peterson explained how the U.S. Constitution influences law enforcement practices. A brief history of the Miranda rights shed light on why it’s important for the well-known verse to be recited before each arrest.
“Our rights are what make our country what it is,” Chief Rick Wyffels said.
In order for laws to be enforced, a set of checks and balances must be in order. Judge Ann Carrott and attorneys Heidi Schultz and Neil Johnson walked us through the court process as two court scenarios were acted out, providing opportunity for questions to be asked.
Two academy cadets were allowed to legally perjure themselves during a mock trial.
The time from arrest to court date varies for each defendant. Captain Scott Kent described the “funnel effect,” meaning there are more than 50 law enforcement personnel in the county, five criminal prosecuting attorneys and two judges available to move each arrestee through the process.
On an average Thursday morning, the judges’ dockets list more than 30 people awaiting sentencing.
Johnson is a public defender with the state. He said as a division, public defenders are understaffed.
People in custody are permitted to wear street clothes instead of the county-provided orange jumpsuits to be sure a fair trial is granted. Johnson said the imagery of shackles and jail clothes could affect how a jury thinks of the person psychologically.
Style of dress has gotten a lot more casual in the courtroom. There was a time when people dressed respectably to go before the judge. Now people are entering wearing flip-flops and tank tops.
Another example of a lack of respect is the increase in alcohol use prior to a court appearance. Heidi Schultz, city prosecutor, said this is a common occurrence in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. If a person does arrive to court visibly intoxicated, they could be cited for contempt and serve a 24-hour sentence.
“It’s an issue of respect for what we do and the courtroom,” said Judge Carrott. “We see it on a fairly regular basis.”
Judge Carrott was the first fulltime Douglas County attorney prior to former Governor Pawlenty appointing her to the bench. All judges in Minnesota are elected.
“Pretty much any courtroom you go into has the same feel,” Judge Carrott said.
The courtroom we were in is awaiting some cosmetic fixes like paint. An additional courtroom is planned in a space down the hall. County commissioners will be discussing plans to move forward on the project in November.
One update this courtroom has seen is the inclusion of a computer at the judge’s side. Judge Carrott said the computer can sometimes be a distraction.
“Efficiencies can create deficiencies,” Kent said.
Recently, law enforcement and the courts have begun a transition into “e-charging,” which allows digital sharing of documents. In approximately five years there will be no paper filing, it will all be backed up on secure external servers.
“Stenographer” has joined the plethora of non-politically correct terms – court reporters have ascended to that role, capturing courtroom proceedings through digital means.
Johnson is not completely in favor of the technological advances. He said conducting interviews via ITV makes it less personal and they are dealing with people’s lives.
Another change is the level of safety in courtrooms. Judge Carrott said there is an increased awareness. In response to recently publicized security issues, like guns in the courtroom, bailiffs screen the courtroom every morning.
The courtroom experience showed us how we are all connected in the community. When one person breaks the law and is issued a citation, it affects another person and a chain reaction follows.