Citizens Police Academy offers reality check
Dakota Digest - 02/16/2012
By Jim Kent
Going to school usually involves learning things you didn't know before. For folks who attend the Rapid City Citizens Police Academy, it can also be about correcting misperceptions you had that may have been, literally, programmed into you all of your life. Today we offer a final overview of the 12- week academy that permits community members to learn the realities of what police officers do - right down to firing a deadly weapon.
For 40 years, Clint Eastwood's portrayal of San Francisco cop "Dirty Harry" Callahan has provided an image of police work that millions have held up as a beacon of lawful righteousness in a world gone bad.
From "Go ahead...make my day," to "I now what you're thinking, punk...did he fire six shots or only 5?" amid the sounds of gunfire - that's Dirty Harry. And though it might be entertaining to see a maverick cop fighting all wrongs regardless of the consequences, Sgt. Wayne Asscherick says that image is far from the reality of police work.
"That's not how it really works," Asscherick explains to members of the Citizens Police Academy."It takes a lot of thought before you decide you're going to fire that bullet down range. We say down range...towards somebody, or wherever. Because every one of those bullets that goes somewhere either has a lawyer attached to it, has consequences attached to it. You understand what I'm saying?"
Sgt, Asscherick is the senior firearms instructor for the Rapid City Police Department. Because police officers are armed and because so much of the public's image of police officers is how, when and why they use their weapons, Sgt. Asscherick spends an hour during the Citizens Police Academy explaining the reality of cops and guns. He says one thing that does jive with what's in the movies is that bad guys really are out there.
"And we always have to be ready," Asscherick comments. "I pray to God I never have to get into a shooting. It's not any fun. There's no glory to it."3
That attitude is quite contrary to the image of the pistol-wielding cop shown in films or on TV. To re-enforce his point, Sgt. Asscherick shows the class a stock video of a routine traffic stop with unexpected consequences. A police officer stops a vehicle for a moving violation and upon engaging in conversation with the driver has a gun pointed at his face. The driver pulls the trigger. The officer screams and jumps away from the vehicle.
Luck was on that officer's side when the gun placed in his face misfired, giving him the split-second he needed to move - and save his life. Sgt. Asscherick notes that it's for this reason police officers carry and must be proficient with their weapons. And though drawing that weapon is the last resort in any circumstance, when a cop pulls and aims his pistol, he shoots to kill.
"The reality is that we are combat shooters," says Asscherick. "We're not these precision sharpshooters....you know, fling the coin in the air and shoot it out of mid-air. Most of us cannot do that. Our whole objective is the security and safety of the people within this community, which includes us...ourselves. And, so, you're going to shoot until you see that that person is no longer a threat to yourself or to the community at large."
Members of the Citizens Police Academy get a taste of what firing a service pistol is like at the police department's shooting range - though under much safer conditions than a cop would face on the street.
This is the first time Karim Muzi has fired a pistol. He realizes it's quite different shooting at a target than taking aim on a person.
"It's very, very hard and I don't envy them to have to make those decisions in a difficult scenario," Muzi observes.
As another Citizens Police Academy graduates, training administrator Sergeant Tony Harrison says the biggest benefit of the program is that 45 more people in the Rapid City community understand the realities of police work.
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