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My three days with Tualatin's finest

by: THE TIMES: JEFFREY BALL - 12 citizens were selected to be a part of The Tualatin Experience May 1-3.The warmest night of the year and I spent it inside the Tualatin Police Department.

Everyone was clearly trying to determine why I was there. By now, I’m used to it. That whole being the youngest person in the room thing. As I looked around, I placed my guess at around two decades. Close, it was 17 years. Talk about a sore thumb.

Every year, the Tualatin Police Department invites 12 citizens to participate in The Tualatin Police Experience. The price is your time and energy. The reward is knowledge, and of course, the opportunity to drive a police car with the sirens on.

With introductions came connections. Business owners, a city councilor, a Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue battalion chief, a retired Marine, alert and concerned citizens. And me, the reporter. A collective “ahhhh” followed my title.

It was 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and we were already behind schedule. But, nothing catches attention like sealed baggies of black tar heroin, rocks of cocaine and literal crystals of meth being passed from person to person for observational/educational purposes, not use. Later, we would see a tub full of what appeared to be hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The next day, guns enter the circle. Unloaded, of course, but still my hands were clammy and my pulse was racing. The gun enthusiasts were obvious, asking questions about things I didn’t even know existed. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “So this is the trigger, and this...must be where bullets go. Oh, it’s called a magazine? Weird. OK. Why is it so heavy?”by: THE TIMES: JEFFREY BALL - Caitlin Feldman shoots a rifle for the first time during The Tualatin Police Experience.

The purpose of the academy is to enlighten Tualatin residents and prominent civic leaders about what being a police officer is like. In 16 hours of time with us, members of the city’s law enforcement team went over everything from record keeping to traffic violations to decision-making in a crisis.

One important detail we were asked to consider while going through case studies of past police/citizen encounters was what we would do if faced with the same situations. What would you do if someone pulled out a gun or knife and pointed it at you? What if the person pointed the weapon at himself or herself? What about if someone was acting unruly but didn’t appear to have a weapon? What if they were drunk but refused to cooperate? What if they’re a transient asleep at the library?

The answer, I learned is never simple. It depends. In the amount of time it takes to react to a situation (1.5 seconds in daylight), an officer could be attacked. Likewise, if an officer’s action turns out to be faulty, he or she must face the consequences, legal and otherwise. As Lt. Greg Pickering mentioned during one of his presentations, this is going through an officer’s mind every time he or she responds to a call. by: THE TIMES: JEFFREY BALL - Emergency vehicle trainers talk with particpants after demonstrating a PIT maneuver, which can be used to stop fleeing vehicles.

What if something goes wrong? An impossible question with impossible answers, and something I’d never before considered in this context.

We expect police officers to protect us and to respond to each and every situation correctly. We expect force, if it’s used, to be justified 100 percent of the time. We expect officers to help the good guys and persecute the bad guys. We expect right and wrong to be on opposite ends of a dark alley. Sometimes, things fall into order. Sometimes, they don’t, and we expect complete accuracy in navigating every single situation. We should. We should also take time on occasion to think about how difficult this can be.

On the final day of the police experience, our group was split into two. Half to the TVF&R training center in Sherwood for emergency vehicle training, the other half to the Sherwood Police Department for firearms training.

My group started with emergency vehicles. Initially, I thought we’d get to ride in the cars, maybe flip on a siren or two. How naive. How innocent.

Sitting behind the wheel of a squad car is nerve-wracking and adrenaline-pushing. Actually driving it with the sirens on, even in a controlled situation, is intense. We drove the cars through an emergency vehicle operator course set-up, which included backing around cones and into slots, both backward and forward serpentines and quickly speeding up to 40 mph before skidding to a stop between cones. Then, we got to ride in both the police and “suspect” cars for a precision immobilization technique maneuver, which is a tactic used to try and stop suspect cars during pursuits.

Next, we shuttled to the Sherwood Police Department for firearms training. The lone person in the group without firearm experience, I couldn’t help but feel over my head. We shot a 9 mm pistol, a .45 caliber, and an AR-15 rifle — the same guns Tualatin police officers are allowed to carry. We also fired a bean bag shotgun, which is used in certain situations to hopefully incapacitate suspects but not permanently harm them.

During the three days of The Tualatin Police Experience, my fellow classmates and I were asked to consider and act out situations most of us had never considered. With closing statements at the end of day three, not one participant had anything negative to say.

As Mark Taft, a mechanical engineer who participated in the class said, “You guys are down to the roots.”



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