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Behind the scenes with St. Peters Citizens Police Academy

By LOUISE ANN NOETH

The St. Peters fall 2019 CPA graduating class [front row, from left] Louise Ann Noeth, Alyssa Elliot, Shea Wittmaier, Virginia Meyer, Vicki Smith, Donna Slesarenko and Pat Grelle; [back row] Officer Melissa Doss, Julie Jordan, Cassandra Langley, Travis Wittmaier, Lisa Graves, Susan Martin, Jane Signorello and Chief Rick Struttman [City of St. Peters photo]

If you have a curiosity about that segment of humanity that vows to protect you and yours, then Citizen Police Academy [CPA] is an impeccable chance to discover what policing actually does on a daily basis as well as shed the “them and us” mentality so pervasive on both sides.

This is not “Blue Bloods,” “Columbo,” “True Detective,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Chicago P.D.,” or even well written episodes of “The Wire.” 

You’ll get a 12-week, straight-up adventure in a relaxed, neutral setting where you will learn what makes a LEO tick. That’s code for Law Enforcement Officer. Did you know that includes park rangers? Yep, they have the same law powers, just different duties. 

See? You learned something already. Not only will you come away with having been shown fascinating aspects of policing practice, but also some of those badges pinned to blue will gain a personality. My absolute favorites were Bonnie and Tank – more about those two later.

Rarely does the general public have a chance to get to spend such extended time behind the scenes. Having recently graduated from the St. Peters CPA and also the Creve Coeur version a couple years back, I can assure you that if you sign-up for the next wave you must come prepared to take notes. Not because there will be a quiz, but the practical knowledge gained is plainly useful in your daily life, and that of your family.

It starts with a benign, but interesting tour of the Police Department [you’ll love the evidence room]. Then, it moves into Missouri/Constitutional Law where you’ll understand why the Stolen Valor Act is important. Next, you’ll see what Crime Scene Investigators [CSI] really do and how to dust for your own fingerprints when Officer Brian Panus arrives on scene. 

One highlight of the CPA I attended was the four-hour ride-along with a LEO I nicknamed “Hawkeye” for his keen observational skills. As a career motorsports journalist, getting to see what it looks like from the other side of the ticket book was priceless. We spent the entire eight-hour shift together. 

Some motorists out on the highways deserve handcuffs, not so much for violating the vehicle code but for simply refusing to yield. The woman who blasted right across all four lanes on westbound Route 364 in front of our lights-flashing cruiser while she was texting at 70 mph probably deserved locking stainless steel bracelets. 

The deadly serious Active Shooter Scenarios class taught by Lt. Clayton Alley will help you become familiar with how to save yourself and others if someone with a weapon and an intent to harm enters your life. SWAT class officers Albano and Godfrey inspired me to say a prayer for those whose daily job it is to deal with impossible situations while trying to keep all parties safe. 

DWI Enforcement night outlines why everyone taken to the gray bar motel gets to pay for the trip – every bit of it. Throw up in the patrol car, $50. Do it again in the cell, $25. Best of all, you pay $15 per hour to stay in a concrete room where the lights never turn off. 

Officer Andrew Linn added that the department also recoups the time it took to book the impaired, at an hourly rate; breath test, $20; any pharmacy billing you rack up to get sober; and if a taser cartridge is necessary, that sets you back $28. All this, before you get to explain yourself to a judge who piles court costs on top. Are your car keys and wallet shuddering yet?

Spending time with the Firearms Simulator, a large video game that uses an electronic version of a Glock 22 semi-automatic handgun, gives you a clear understanding of what penetrating responsibility envelops your life when unholstering a weapon and pointing it at someone with intent.

Officer Jason Taylor taught us why the “escort position” can control chaos and Officer Melissa Doss directed a candid spotlight onto why domestic violence calls are too often deadly for the responding officer let alone family victims.

The entire class was flabbergasted when a gorgeous blonde Labrador Retriever K-9 officer named Bonnie and a 70-pound Hanoverian Hound K-9 officer named Tank showed up. Detective Brigid Oldani and Officer Courtney Spiess quickly demonstrated how immensely valuable these two teams are, especially for the protection of children, together with the lost and forsaken. 

Chief Rick Struttmann points out that because the CPA allows citizens to meet officers in their community, those interactions provide undistorted insight for LEO day-to-day activities.

“The Citizen Police Academy has been an important part of our department for over 25 years. We have found that those who participate become more aware of their surroundings and have a greater appreciation for the importance of citizen involvement in their community,” Struttmann said.

Nothing made me feel more utterly ignorant, or out of touch, than the Controlled Substance Investigation night. Silly me, I thought I had a good working understanding of this topic until Det. Dan Plumb hit my comprehension reset button.

Worried about marijuana? Bottom rung, if it even makes the ladder. The drug business is working 24/7 365 days per year to convince people to pollute themselves and plunder their families with deadly, merciless, addictive fentanyl and methamphetamines [Crystal Meth] that rip reality to shreds laughing all the way to the bank. It’s a business, bottom line.

Another head-shaking reality is somehow the dope dudes have once again managed to shine up the heroin apple – both use and deaths are on the rise among younger users who are clueless about the monsters that live in a needle.

On a personal note, I’m grateful for the chance to have joined the fall 2019 CPA. Each class allowed me to go to bed smarter and better informed than when I woke up. 

If you’d like to do likewise, call Officer Melissa Doss at (636) 278-2244, ext. 3550, or send an email to mdoss@stpetersmo.net. Include not only your name, but also your home address, phone number and email address.

Interestingly, SPPD welcomes even non-residents to apply. The only limitation is that attendees must be 18 years of age or older to participate.

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