By Naomi McMillen

I decided to sign up for the Laurel Citizen’s Police Academy because I was curious to see if some of the generalizations and stereotypes I had about law enforcement were true. 

Throughout my youth and young adulthood, visions of cops pulling up to high school house parties with their lights and sirens on, and that chirp-chirp sound and the associated feeling of dread when a cop pulls you over, played into my generalizations of police. When I got older, I became influenced by what I saw online and on TV — racism and the abuse of force.  I grew to see police officers as people not to be trusted. 

For 12 weeks, I and others from the Laurel community meet every Thursday evening at the Laurel Police Department. Each week, we are taught different aspects of policing, including traffic stops, DUIs, community policing and active shootings. 

I was skeptical that first week. As Police Chief Russ Hamill gave his introductory speech, I couldn’t help but think that this was all a PR ploy to get me to donate to their annual fundraising drive or something similar. 

Was I wrong.

The first class — active shooting drills using a real simulator — exceeded my expectations.

The conversations and the candidness with which officers responded to questions were illuminating. 

The next sessions were equally interesting. While collecting and analyzing evidence at a fake crime scene, I learned that policing could be much more detail-oriented and scientific than I thought, requiring both a careful hand and eye. We learned how to do CPR and operate an automated external defibrillator. Over the course of two hours every Thursday evening, I got to know the other participants, the officers and police department staff. I started to let my guard down, which enabled me to learn and get more from the experience. 

A major theme of the academy is safety and helping others. During a session on the opioid and fentanyl crisis’ impact on our community, officers shared their experiences with helping people that were overdosing and how drugs impact their work.  We were taught how to administer Narcan (naloxone)  to someone who was overdosing and were given two doses each, to take home. As someone who had a close family member die of an opioid overdose, I appreciated knowing how to save someone’s life.

What I learned in the Narcan session hit home when I witnessed someone who was clearly high and possibly overdosing pass out in their car in front of my house. I had my Narcan ready to go but didn’t have to use it — a neighbor called the police, and the individual drove away when the cop pulled up. What struck me was that the cop was responding not to hurt but to help this guy. Many times when an officer responds to a call, they are seeking first and foremost to help, not hostilely engage or kill the vibes.

While not all my questions were answered, I feel some of the preconceived notions I’ve held about police officers and what they are about are not true. There may certainly be cops out there that are fun suckers, or are even dangerous, but most are not, and certainly not the officers that I interacted with during my Thursday evenings at the Laurel Police Department. It is important to remember that assumptions are often wrong, and it’s important to question our preconceived opinions of others.