PITTSBURGH — The job of a police officer may be harder now than ever. There’s also more attention to the methods and force officers use, and for good reason. It adds up to what can be a volatile mix between officers and the communities they swear to serve and protect. Pittsburgh police and everyday citizens are trying to understand each other better and get real about policing in our community. It’s part of a 10-week series of classes from different police departments for everyday citizens. They learn the roles and responsibilities of Pittsburgh police.
Channel 11 attended a class with veteran homicide detective, Bobby Shaw. He began by asking the class what a homicide is. He then transitioned to how the court system classifies different degrees of homicide.
Shaw demonstrated blood spatter analysis and I was part of a demonstration about how homicide detectives dust for fingerprints and how they collect evidence, including DNA. Once those cheek swabs are done, the sample is off to the crime lab and out of their hands. One class took place inside a SWAT truck. Another was with the bomb squad. There was also a candid conversation about the role of drugs and social media in homicides and how different guns leave behind different clues that could be game-changers to investigators.
These everyday citizens and soon to be graduates say their perception of policing and the responsibilities and limitations of law enforcement have changed since the class started.
“They’re humans,” Sharon Burkes told Channel 11. “They’re not just people behind badges that are hiding – they actually care. They’re dedicating their lives to serving us. There’s a big gap between society and what people think and the TV shows and what really happens. I wanted to have educated conversations with people and I wanted to be educated as to what our police do and how they’re serving our community.”
“I think it gives you a better understanding of what police can and can’t do and I think that’s something that’s come out a lot,” Raymond Robinson told Channel 11. “The cohort saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize you can’t do that.’ What I’ve taken more from this is from the community’s reaction and some of the questions and dialogue we’ve had with the officers from all the different departments.”
These classes come at a time when policing in general is under more of a microscope than ever, following high-profile deaths during arrests, calls to defund police and waves of terrible gun violence. Pittsburgh is not immune to any of that, and as we have reported, our city is in the midst of recruiting challenges.
Pittsburgh’s assistant police chief has been sitting in on every class. He told us he hopes more adults and students come to learn, discuss and get involved in community policing.
“The comments we’re getting are like, ‘I didn’t know this,’ and ‘oh this changed my opinion,’” Assistant Police Chief Phillip Carey told Channel 11. “So exactly as you put it, it has changed perception and it has stimulated the interest in the community. It is available, it happens each and every year, and we’ll probably be expanding.”
Carey says he wants the community to get involved, which could be through the Citizen’s Police Academy or the Student Police Academy. For information on how to sign up and how to get involved, click here.
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