ST. MICHAELS — What’s it like to be a police officer? The answer to that is complex, to say the least.
But the more average citizens know what it’s like, the better off the community is, according to Police Chief Anthony Smith of St. Michaels.
That’s the theory behind the creation of the junior police academy that the chief has been running annually for several years. Those classes are attended by St. Michaels schoolchildren.
It’s gone so well that the chief launched a Citizens Police Academy for adults this fall.
About a dozen very curious adults were up for the challenge. For a few hours every Monday for eight weeks, the hardy band took an educational journey through the many facets of law enforcement.
It was a diverse crowd — a college teacher, a St. Michaels commissioner, a local restaurant owner, a former journalist, a former tax judge, and an aspiring police officer, among others.
Some were born and bred here, others were from somewhere else. But the most amazing part, according to the Chief, was how interested and committed they were to the class. There were no dropouts, he said, and only one student missed one class.
First off, the step-by-step training that officers must pass on the use of force was discussed, along with a stun gun demonstration.
The phrases “probable cause” and “reasonable articulated suspicion” were something the group became familiar with.
Students viewed the 1970s film “The Policeman,” narrated by the legendary radio personality Paul Harvey, along with search-seizure and motivational videos.
On October 21, the group had just settled down to listen to Talbot County States Attorney Scott Patterson when loud banging on the door interrupted the class.
The shocking scene that followed prompted each class member to fill out a witness statement about what they had seen and heard. Strangely enough, no two stories were alike.
The group also got a lesson in canine law enforcement, including dog DNA. They went outside to watch K9 Max, an English yellow Labrador retriever, find strategically hidden heroine and cocaine under the orders of his owner, St. Michaels Police Cpl. Jason Adams.
Dfc. Donald Johnson and K9 Cairo came from the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office to demonstrate the abilities of a “bite” dog.
K9 Cairo showed what he knew, which includes working patrol, narcotics, man-tracking, article search and going after criminals. He is trained to bite and not let go until he is given the signal by his trainer.
Field trips included those to the Talbot County Detention Center and Talbot County 9-1-1 Center.
At the detention center the group got a rare and complete tour of the facility where they saw the initial holding cells, were able to walk into an empty jail cell and see the open space where inmates may gather during the day.
At the 9-1-1 center they observed the large room where dispatchers were at work, and later, took a tour of an ambulance and got to talk to paramedics.
Cpl. Taylor gave the group a class on body cameras — the pros and cons, watching real police footage of encounters taken through the camera and all the protocols.
There were smiles all around on Tuesday evening, Dec. 3, as the class gathered for a graduation of sorts with family and friends in the auditorium at St. Michaels Middle High School.
Guest speaker was 911 Division Chief Holley Guschke, who congratulated the class and thanked them for taking the time to help bridge the gap between the public and first responders, such as police and emergency personnel.
Chief Smith’s smile was the widest.
“I can’t thank you guys enough for being good sports,” he said to the class.
Smith praised the team at the 9-1-1 Center and talked about the evolution of police work into the digital age. He said the dispatchers and others at the center have been able to keep their police calls in order and help guide them in their work.
He also praised the work of the St. Michaels Police Department’s Administrative Assistant Tiffany Sweeney, presenting her with a bouquet of flowers and a very large garden gnome.
Each of the town officers, Capt. Jeffrey Oswald, Cpl. Ben Taylor, Cpl. Jason Adams and Pfc. Kevin Rhodes got kudos for helping to teach the classes.
“Police officers must be part lawyer, referee, humanitarian, but also must be human,” Jay Henson said, who graduated with the class Tuesday evening. He said on any given shift, an officer could play all those roles several times.
“Police officers have families, feelings, compassion and unwavering respect for those they serve,” he said. Henson is a retired photojournalist, among other things.
“I have so much respect for police officers and what they do,” Gina Hockenberry-Parchman said. She said the department was already well on its way to “making St. Michaels the safest place in the U.S.”
Chief Smith said that one of his secret hopes is to inspire someone in this new adult class or even in his youth class to become an actual St. Michaels Police officer.
Alan Keen, 19, could be such a person, he said. Keen was all smiles as he came up and got his certificate for completing the class Tuesday night from the chief.
Keen said he will turn 20 in February, and when the chief did the math, he figured Keen may be able to enter the police academy this summer for a 6-month course to end just as Keen turns 21 in 2021.
“I want to thank Chief Tony Smith,” graduate Eric Schilling said. “He’s the inspiration behind a lot of things that happen in St. Michaels. People don’t know that.”
“Thank all of you,” graduate Linda Stedman-Montague said. “And as per Tiffany’s request I’m going to say, when do we get our badge and gun?”
“It’s been an honor to be part of this,” graduate Richard Wales said. “It’s inspiring to see how dedicated you folks are.”
The individuals who completed the course were Nicholas Andes, St. Michaels Commissioner Michael Bibb, Robert Faiella, Jay Henson, Gina Hockenberry-Parchman, Alan Keen, Rene Nentwig, James Montague, Eric Schilling, Linda Stedman-Montague, Richard Wales and Patricia Zindulka.
Special thanks were given to the Talbot County Free Library, St. Michaels Branch, and Shauna Beulah; Talbot County State’s Attorney Scott Patterson, and Assistant State’s Attorney Travis Nemmer; Talbot County Dept. of Corrections Director Terry Kokolis and Sgt. Tia Slaughter; Talbot County Dept. of Emergency Services; Karen Moaney and Mark Singleton of the St. Michaels Community Center; St. Michaels Police Officers Capt. Oswald, Cpl. Adams, Cpl. Taylor and Pfc. Rhodes; and Talbot County Sheriff’s Deputy Dfc. Johnson.
The St. Michaels Citizens Police Academy was funded by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention.
After the ceremony, attendees were treated to a reception with light fare from Graul’s Market in St. Michaels.
The next St. Michaels Youth & Law Enforcement or S.M.Y.L.E., — the junior version of the police academy — will be forming in late winter. That registration is handled through the St. Michaels Community Center in conjunction with schools in St. Michaels, and is funded fully by generous donors.
Check out the St. Michaels Police Department at stmichaelsmd.gov/government/town-government/police-department.