In the past two months, I've seen the inside of the county jail, holding cells in four police stations, the district courthouse and a police cruiser.
I've become familiar with TASERS, trafic radar, illegal narcotics, SWAT teams and K-9 dogs.
I've had a taste of what it's like to be so drunk you can't walk in a straight line, along with the adrenaline rush and fear of facing someone who might want to kill you.
I've learned everyone knows a victim of domestic violence, seatbelts save lives, that being a judge can be heart-wrenchingly difficult work, and only a select few men and women survive the arduous process of becoming a police officer -- and once they do, they undergo extensive and rigorous training to learn how to do their jobs even better.
But now the Citizen Police Academy is over and I'm sorry to see it end. It's been an eye-opening experience with fascinating, behind-the-scenes access to law enforcement. It's made me a better citizen, I hope it's making me a better crime writer, and it's given me a better understanding of No. 1 son's new life as a policeman. The Citizen Police Academy also showed me how much I didn't know about law enforcement.
The nonprofit Seacoast Crime Stoppers organization funded this experience for me and 32 others from the area. Our class represented a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, education levels, and financial means. Our motives for showing up every Wednesday night for at least three hours of instruction, demonstrations and tours varied, but I believe we were united in our gratitude for the opportunity.
When I look back on the past eight weeks, a couple of things strike me. One is the amount of latitude police officers have in their job. Other than cases of domestic violence, which require an automatic arrest, there are many areas of law enforcement where a police officer is expected to use his or her judgment.
For example, last year police officers in my city made 9,544 motor vehicle stops -- but wrote only 1,387 traffic citations. The officers say they make these stops to try to keep everyone safe, not because they like writing tickets. I believe them --though I certainly would have argued the point before the CPA, given how many times I've been pulled over for speeding.
Police officers also belong to one of the few professions where decisions can have life or death -- and often life-altering -- repercussions. Their lives are at risk every day they show up for work. These men and women who are so well-trained to keep us and themselves safe would tell you two common police activities are considered the most dangerous: motor vehicle stops and domestic disturbance calls. That's because they have no idea how the subjects involved will react -- or what weapons they're willing to use.
I have concluded that being a police officer requires great courage. Not only in facing down the bad guys or risking their lives to save the rest of us, but also because they encounter people at the worst moments of their lives. They see things we never want to. They also spend most of their time dealing with people who are uncooperative or combative, and far from your average law-abiding citizens. So much of what a police officer does on a daily basis never ends up in the public view and some of it involves things most of us would rather not know about.
We should all be greatful there are men and women out there who take pride in being part of such a difficult profession and strive to uphold its ethics and standards. Imagine what our lives would be like if they didn't have the courage to go to work every day.