Classwork for the White Hall Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy II can be a bit unusual at times. Unless you consider two “dead men” and a staged bloody crime scene normal for a residence a normal state of affairs.
The scenario was played out earlier this month at Southeast Arkansas College. Class members were divided into groups and had to determine what had happened earlier at the pretend residence.
The details were realistic: Two hang-up calls to 9-1-1 at 11:25 p.m. A third call at 11:30 reported shouting and screaming coming from the residence. A fourth call came from SEARK security personnel reporting what appeared to be gunshots and a vehicle leaving the area at a high rate of speed.
Officers entering the house found a man on the floor in a pool of blood. After the victim was “pronounced dead” by the coroner, the students were told the basic facts and allowed to view the crime scene.
“What did the evidence tell you?” asked Richard Davies, the former police training officer teaching the course. “Did you follow all the clues?”
Davies and Steve Sumner, a SEARK instructor, staged the scene and left clues here and there for the class to follow. If, for example, they followed a trail of blood out the back door, a second deceased male would be found near the garage.
Davies said a number of graduates of the three earlier White Hall academies had asked for more intensive classes and he agreed.
The second level includes programs on storm spotters, medical first responders, a tour of the adult jail in Pine Bluff, an evening on a pistol range, firefighting and rescue techniques, drug investigations, felony stops and crime scenes one night a week over eight weeks.
Thirty-eight enrolled from White Hall, Sheridan, Redfield and Pine Bluff.
The first academy series covered basic police procedures, the retired Pine Bluff Police Department sergeant explained, adding he has received cooperation from Mayor Noel Foster and Police Chief Richard Wingard. Davies is a part-time White Hall officer and has a contract with the state’s Criminal Justice Institute to train school resource officers.
Earlier participants have included retired White Hall residents, Arkansas Department of Correction employees, a school administrator, teachers, a banker, municipal employees and the husbands of women who were enrolled in the first class.
“It’s free and there were no tests,” Davies said with a smile
Department personnel and guest instructors provided participants with an overview of the police department’s “responsibilities, functions and procedures, while providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and concerns relating to our community,” Wingard noted.
The classes are designed to expose a number of myths about law enforcement, Davies observed last year, especially for those exposed to television shows like “CSI” where the murder is solved within 30-to 60-minutes.
Many individuals sign up for a civilian police academy often out of curiosity, Davies added, and literally “don’t know what to expect. “They learn first-hand what a police officer can do and can’t do.
“I’m big on intervention and prevention,” Davies said during an interview. “I want you to be aware of your environment at all times.
“They end the course knowing that we don’t go around kicking in doors routinely, that we must have probable cause or a reason to do the many things police officers do,” Davies noted.
How well did the “crime scene” novices perform?
“They did really well,” Davis said. “They spotted some little things we put in the crime scene.”