ANTIOCH (CBS SF) — Within a few hours on Wednesday, Antioch police Officer Ted Chang helped serve a felony arrest warrant, responded to a report of a dead body found in a house and helped recover a stolen gun.
It’s a small sliver of a day’s work and there was no waiting between calls.
He oscillated from a high-stress, potentially high-danger situation to consoling a distraught woman who has just found her 86-year-old fiancé dead in the bathroom, to hightailing it to a residence after callers reported a man threatening his girlfriend’s neighbor with a gun.
The variation in calls, uncertainty of what’s coming next and unrelenting demand for service are key aspects of the job that officials in the Antioch Police Department want citizens to understand.
With increasing focus on police departments across the country following several high-profile police shootings of unarmed men in various cities, the Antioch Police Department is offering its first “citizens academy.”
It’s an effort to bolster police-community relations and give residents a sampling of what officers deal with on a day-to-day basis, Antioch police Lt. Trevor Schnitzius said.
Antioch will be joining Pittsburg in offering the program for the first time and is following the lead of departments in San Pablo, Concord and San Ramon, a few agencies that have held similar citizens academies in the past.
“We want a stronger relationship with our community and we want them to understand what we do and why we do it,” Schnitzius said.
Although the citizens academy is only accepting 20 participants in its first round, which is scheduled to start in July and is accepting applications through the end of April, Schnitzius said the department’s hope is that those people will then serve as ambassadors to the community.
“We want them to be involved and maybe get other people involved,” Schnitzius said. “More often than not, it’s the citizens who are calling in and telling us what’s going on and giving us updated information that allows us to catch people.”
Schnitzius said students will spend a few hours once a week for 10 weeks learning about how police are trained to interact during traffic stops, how to handle weapons, when and how to use force, among other things.
“It’s only going to scratch the surface,” he said.
The decision to use force is one that develops after several years of experience in balancing when to stand up and when to stand down, Schnitzius said.
“People have this idea that we just go out there and beat everyone up and I don’t know where that comes from because I’ve only been in one or two fights in my entire career,” said Schnitzius, a 17-year police veteran. “I’d rather talk people into cuffs than fight them.”
The Antioch Police Department came under fire in August 2014 when YouTube videos surfaced of roughly half a dozen officers appearing to repeatedly hit a man they were arresting.
One person videotaping the incident with her cellphone can be heard saying, “I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s only one person. I’m about to cry for this person. My feelings are really hurt right now.”
The department was sued in March 2013 by the parent of a minor who was struck and injured by a bullet when officers opened fire on an unrelated suspect, according to court documents. The youth, who was sitting in a car at the time, was struck in the arm.
The department denies any wrongdoing, according to court documents. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in August.
Schnitzius said the academy is intended to allow participants to be placed in situations where they too have to make split-second decisions.
Participants will be put into simulations where they have to arrest both a combative person and a compliant person, Schnitzius said.
“We want to put them in that scenario … and see how they perform in that situation,” Schnitzius said. “It’s just to give them a sense of, OK, you have to make a judgment in a tenth of a second and do you make the right judgment?”
When participants “graduate,” hopefully they’ll have a better appreciation of just how difficult those decisions can be, Schnitzius said.
Antioch residents interested in participating can fill out an application, which can be found online at http://ci.antioch.ca.us/CityGov/Police/Citizens-Academy-Flyer.pdf. Completed applications can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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