Graduates of the Spring 2019 lass of the Community Police Academy pose with their diplomas. Courtesy of Ohio State Department of Public Safety

The first thing a student can expect out of the OSUPD Community Police Academy is nothing like what they’ve seen on their favorite cop shows.

“We’re learning the insight into the job and more technicalities that you wouldn’t see on television,” Kilea White, a second-year in criminology and criminal justice, said. “It’s the things that you don’t always see out in public.”

The Community Police Academy offers Ohio State students and faculty a behind-the-scenes look into a day in the life at the Ohio State University Police Division through a rigorous four-week training program on OSUPD policies and procedures held each semester.

Each session includes weekly classes in Blankenship Hall, with classroom lectures and practical experience for as many as 20 participants, concluding with an optional two-hour ride-along with a University Police officer.

Detective Cassandra Shaffer, program coordinator, said it is an inclusive experience that many won’t be able to find elsewhere.

“A program like this is pretty innovative,” Shaffer said. “There’s not a lot of departments that can say they do this, especially in the university setting.”

Started in fall 2016 under the direction of former Chief Craig Stone, the mission of CPA is to encourage and develop the relationship between the university community and university law enforcement through education and community interaction, Shaffer said.

Shaffer said University Police are here to not only protect people and property, but also to value the opinions of the community to improve as a police division.

The classroom lectures consist of presentations, case studies and discussions on police strategies by University Police members who specialize in the field of discussion.

For example, one lecture focused on the University Police’s dedicated unit for criminal investigations that assists the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. This unit investigates questionable deaths, sexual assaults, financial crimes, missing persons, cyber crimes, suspect and pre-employment background checks, as well as complex or involved cases.

For the practical side of the course, participants engage in a hands-on experience, such as a mock traffic stop, dusting for fingerprints or completing a building search of Blankenship Hall, where they simulate a response to a given situation.

Shaffer said these scenarios give participants a glimpse into the training and everyday tasks that police have to complete.

During the building search, students get to experience what it’s like for officers to search a building for possible suspects with the use of a flashlight. University Police demonstrate the “slicing the pie” tactic, in which participants find the entry point of their search, such as an open doorway, and move slowly and cautiously across the entry point to avoid being seen by the suspect, played by one of the officers.

“Each officer that comes in here every day knows that they’re taking a risk that they might not go home … Understanding the mechanics of what we do, how we keep ourselves safe and how we keep the driver and passengers of said vehicle safe are all the things we have to consider during a stop.”—Cassandra Shaffer, detective and program coordinator

Nichole Charnigo, a second-year in criminal justice, said she found the practicals especially useful to prepare her for the police academy, which she plans to enter one day.

“When we were doing the building searches and the traffic stops, I learned that you can’t be shy about it,” Charnigo said. “You have to be confident in yourself as an officer to communicate clearly.”

Shaffer said they focus on the most controversial topics in today’s society.

“Instead of picking easy, safe topics, why don’t we take the topics that are the hardest to talk about?” Shaffer said. “Like anything at Ohio State, let’s be the example to everybody else. If done right, an honest conversation can be had with the community on a tough subject.”

By bringing up tough topics, such as traffic stops and use of force, participants question why officers do the things they do, and officers get a chance to explain themselves, Shaffer said.

For example, some participants asked why officers might use “excessive” force with individuals. Shaffer said they rely on training and experience as an “objective officer” when they apply force.

“A controversial use of force mixed with bad information is a cancer in this country, and it’s divisive,” Shaffer said. “It creates problems within our society that makes it even harder to get past what’s going on.”

Shaffer said another obstacle for officers is that there is a major difference between relying on investigatory information and something someone puts on social media, and it doesn’t help the police or the public.

She said the 2016 attack on campus was a prime example of people putting inaccurate information out on Twitter and Facebook that confused the public.

Traffic stops, which are one of the leading causes of line-of-duty deaths, also pose a risk for officers every day.

“Each officer that comes in here every day knows that they’re taking a risk that they might not go home,” Shaffer said. “Understanding the mechanics of what we do, how we keep ourselves safe and how we keep the driver and passengers of said vehicle safe are all the things we have to consider during a stop.”

For Antonio Campos Bailey, a fourth-year in criminology and criminal justice, the CPA reassured him of his passion to join the police force.

“It gives me that extra motivation and confidence that this is honestly what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Campos Bailey said.

When participants graduate from CPA, they leave with more than just knowledge about law enforcement, but also with skills on how to be proactive citizens, Shaffer said.

“Everyone can learn something from it. We don’t get to see things the way they do,” Casey Hoerig, director of IT of the College of Pharmacy, said. “Seeing what they go through helps us understand how we as the public can help them do their jobs better and look out for each other.”