Being a police officer is dangerous. Whether on the town streets of Oro Valley or on an Arizona highway, an officer faces a new challenge everyday.
It is hard to understand why officers act the way they do, why they lean their forearms on a service weapon during a stressful traffic stop, or why they are really never off-duty.
About 30 residents are developing some insights into an officer’s life by participating in the Oro Valley Citizen Police Academy, a 13-week program that has been a part of the community since 1997.
The first class was held on Sept. 13 with Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath, Vice Mayor Mary Snider and police chief Daniel Sharp welcoming the group of eager students.
Sharp said programs such as the citizen academy are an important aspect of “community policing,” which he referred to as a philosophy.
“Community policing is the partnership that exists,” he said. “We are all responsible for public safety. Police are the people, and the people are the police.”
After the initial welcoming, it was time to learn, as training coordinator Jodi Stevens led a 30-minute discussion on what it takes to earn a badge.
Before an officer can start patrolling the streets, they must go through four to six weeks of written, oral, physical, medical and mental training.
Stevens said the process can be “gruesome.” Perhaps that’s why, of the 73 applicants for an Oro Valley police position during an earlier training period, only three were chosen.
Lt. Chris Olson ended the night by talking about the officer on patrol.
From the dangers of the job, to the weapons and equipment an officer must carry, Olson gave the students a strong dose of reality.
Olson showed the class a video of a suspect shooting and killing an officer. The suspect appeared to be harmless, and the officer turned his back to assist a fellow officer with another suspect. It was at that point that a gun was pulled, and both officers were killed.
Olson said the video is a perfect example of why officers act the way they do. Officers have to be cautious and vigilant all the time, he added.
Police work is the most dangerous job in America, Olson said.
Olson also played the recordings of the shooting of Eric Shulander, the police lieutenant from the Gilbert Police Department who was killed during a routine traffic stop last year.
The dispatch tapes recorded Shulander’s final words, and the 50-mile pursuit of the suspects, that involved dozens of officers.
The chase ended with the suspects being shot and wounded. Olson said they have yet to stand trial for Shulander’s murder.
Olson said his intentions were not to shock the students, but to provide an accurate insight into an officer’s daily life, where a traffic stop for an obstructed license plate can be their last.
In the coming weeks, students will learn about the department’s K-9 program, investigations, hostage negotiations, bomb unit and other programs.