By Stephen J. Kotz
If you have ever wondered what it’s like to be a police officer, the Southampton Town Police Department might have just the ticket for you. For the second year in a row, the department will hold its Civilian Academy, starting January 24, and is now seeking 25 applicants to participate.
Be forewarned, though, this is not an easy, one-and-done activity. The class will meet every Wednesday night from 6 to 9:30 p.m. for 14 weeks. “We get into defensive tactics, we get into ethics. We teach them about how we approach domestic violence situations, the laws of arrests, search and seizure, gangs, narcotics,” said Lt. Susan Ralph. “We take them to the emergency vehicle operations course. We introduce them to aviation, K9 service. At the end of the academy we do ride-alongs.”
“It’s quite an undertaking. It’s a tremendous amount of work,” she added. “But it’s also a tremendous amount of fun.”
Lt. Ralph said the department reinstated the academy last year after a hiatus of five years. After offering the academy for 12 weeks last year, the department has decided to expand it to 14 weeks this year. “Most people didn’t leave when the classes ended,” Lt. Ralph said. “We were going to 11 o’clock some nights.”
Minerva Perez, the executive director of the Organización Latino-Americana, who attended last year’s academy and enlisted several other members of the Latino community to also take part, said it was “a great experience for me” and that she was happy the town is continuing to offer the program.
Although she said there were some spirited debates and some disagreements between the instructors and those taking the class, she appreciated getting an inside view of the police world. “They were very open, there wasn’t a question we couldn’t ask,” she said of the instructors.
“They took their time. They walked everyone through the process,” said Rae Horton, a resident of the Shinnecock Reservation who also attended last year’s course. “They basically gave you a day in the life of a police officer. You did learn a lot of things — you thought you knew, but you didn’t know or you only knew part of it or how TV glamorizes it.”
Jackie McKay, a senior clerk with the Southampton Town Justice Court, also took the class. “I get all the paperwork. I see all the tickets, I see all the police officers who come into court,” she said. “I saw it being a great opportunity that would help me on my end of the job.”
Ms. McKay said she took away some very basic knowledge like “you don’t know how long it takes to write a ticket,” she said.
During her ride-along, she said she was impressed by the level of attentiveness police officers are required to maintain. “It’s interesting how they noticed things I wouldn’t ever notice on a regular basis,” she said. “They are just checking things out all the time.”
Ms. Horton said her ride-alongs, which she did in two 4-hour shifts, in all honesty were a bust — sorry for pun. “I chose a full moon on a Saturday night,” she said. “I thought there’d have to be something going on, but it was quiet.”
Nonetheless, she said the academy was a valuable experience. “My biggest takeaway was actually learning what was right and what was wrong, why the cops did what they did,” she said of lifelike video simulation training sessions in which officers are required to respond to situations that can quickly escalate.
“You hear about police killings and you say, ‘They should have done this or they should have done this,’” she said. “But they can be a situation where it’s ‘Do I go home tonight or does the perp go home?’”
Ms. Perez agreed some of the hands-on training was intense. In one class, based on a common call to report a prowler, academy participants were required to search a darkened warehouse for a hiding suspect. “I said, ‘They are just things’” of the items a thief would likely take from someone’s garage, for example. “‘I’ll just call back up and wait out here,’ but they said, ‘You have to go in.’”
“I think if somebody could sign up, they should because they will learn a lot about the Southampton Town Police Department,” said Ms. McKay. “They will see that police officers are human and down-to-earth people.”
To apply for the academy, contact Lt. Susan Ralph by email at Sralph@southamptontownny.gov. Applicants will be required to answer a short questionnaire, and priority will be given to Southampton residents. Applications will be accepted until December 27.