Ever wonder what happens when you get to know your local police “up close and personal”?
It might turn out to be one of the best experiences of your life. In fact, I’d bet it changes your whole perspective about who “the police” are, what they face and how they function.
I recently had the good fortune to attend the 2019 West County Citizens Academy, jointly presented by the municipal police of Aberdeen, Cosmopolis and Hoquiam with an assist from the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Department. Twenty-eight of us came together to learn about our local police, what they do and how they do it — and to get a window into what they face each day. It sounds trite, but over the course of 12 weeks most of us laughed, some of us cried, and we all learned a lot. Simply put, those weekly sessions were some of the best-spent time I’ve experienced recently.
Aberdeen Police Chief Steve Shumate and Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers guided us through sessions on patrol procedure, investigations and how they are carried out, the ins and outs of criminal prosecution — ably led by judges and prosecutors from Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Grays Harbor County — visits to the Coroner’s Office and to the County Jail, a fascinating session with the Grays Harbor Drug Task Force about the local drug and gang environments (yes, we do have real gangs here), and an evening with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab and Impaired Driving folks. We learned about police deadly force encounters and spent field days driving police cars through training courses and becoming familiar with firearms at the police training range.
Along the way, we got to know individual officers and heard their stories of the things they’d experienced, the good and bad things they’d seen, the friends they’d made and the friends they’d lost in the line of duty. We also got to know the other citizens in the group, people I suspect I will remember for years and whom I know I will see again — and smile at — on the streets of our community.
But what it really taught me is what a fine law enforcement community we have on the Harbor, from Aberdeen to Cosmopolis to Hoquiam and beyond. Night after night I watched members of that community demonstrate their dedication, their determination and their professionalism, and I came away with a whole new point of view: We have top-notch law enforcement professionals watching out for us, from command staff to patrol personnel, from the dispatchers at the call center — we toured that, too, and they are impressive — right through the prosecutors and judges.
Chief Shumate and Chief Myers are planning to offer another West County Citizens Academy next year. I encourage you to participate. You won’t regret it, and you’ll come away with a new appreciation of the top-to-bottom quality and professionalism of our local police forces.
And maybe, like me, the next time you hear a siren in the night you’ll wonder what friend is putting it all on the line, going into a rough situation, so that you and I don’t have to.