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Citizen Police Academy: Community Gets Up-Close Look at Law Enforcement

February 24, 2002

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Citizen Police Academy: Community Gets Up-Close Look at Law Enforcement

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by Mike Farris and Rick Osborn, The World

Three Coos County law enforcement agencies are on a mission to educate the community about the services they provide.

The Coos Bay and North Bend police departments and the Coos County Sheriff's Office are hosting the eight-week joint training exercises for citizens in hopes of bridging the gap of understanding between civilians and police.

Interest in the Citizen Police Academy has been high, according to North Bend Police Chief Steve Scibelli. He said the academy received more than 100 applications from people throughout the community.

Coos Bay Police Capt. Eura Washburn said the goal of the academy is to paint a true picture of police work, from the grudgingly time-consuming work of report-writing to the details of conducting investigations.

"This is realistic information that's accurate and honest," she said. "It's insightful into really an esoteric discipline. Most normal people don't have much contact with police except through the entertainment industry."

Classes will run about two hours each and a different instructor from any of the three agencies will lead each class.

The first class introduced the community to Scibelli, Coos Bay Police Chief Chuck Knight, and Coos County Sheriff Andy Jackson. Participants then went on a tour of the Coos County jail and dispatch center.

Welcome to the Academy

Some Coos County residents got the chance to see the inside of the county jail Wednesday evening, but they weren't booked.

The first session of a Coos County/Bay Area Citizen Police Academy was held Wednesday with a tour of the Coos County jail, dispatch office and the Emergency Operations Center.

The citizens on the tour ran the gamut from members of local fire departments to curious youth. Opening night gave citizens the chance to meet with the men and women who serve them. It also allowed officers and deputies to meet the public in a non-crisis situation.

In opening remarks, Coos County Sheriff Andy Jackson, Coos Bay Police Chief Chuck Knight and North Bend Police Chief Steve Scibelli echoed a similar sentiment: While it is the job of law enforcement to stop and solve crime, it couldn't be done without the support of the community.

"We need you folks. We're your police department. We need your cooperation to make it happen," said Chief Scibelli.

Behind locked doors

After gathering in a stark gray room on the second level of the three-story facility, tour members stepped into the booking area for a technology lesson. The current jail was built in 1988, after a lawsuit charged the county jail was overcrowded with unsanitary conditions. The new facility is modern-day all the way.

At the booking desk, they learned about the electronic fingerprinting process that sends prints automatically to Salem, where background checks are done.

From here, Coos County Sheriff's Lt. Ron Setelia led the group into the control center, "the eye of the jail," where officers keep watch over a wall of TV monitors that show images from 90 cameras that record activity inside and outside the building.

It is from the control center that all doors and elevators in this keyless jail are operated. This is also where fire alarm for both the jail and courthouse sound. Panic buttons, which are installed in every judge's courtroom and on handheld radios carried by officers working in the jail, sound here as well.

The holding cells - three small rooms equipped with toilets, cement benches and floor mats - Setelia explained, provide overnight housing for people too intoxicated to be placed with others.

Down a short hallway is the kitchen, which is staffed by four civilian cooks and two crews of six to seven inmates who help prepare and deliver meals and wash dishes.

The average meal costs the county between 49 and 63 cents, the tour group learned. A typical meal consists of a ground beef dish of some sort.

Inmates also can work off time in the laundry room by washing prisoners' clothes three times a week and bedding once a week, said Setelia.

A brief stop at the visiting rooms was the tour's segue into the heart of the jail - the inmate quarters.

The facility, which has an operating inmate capacity of 198, can legally hold up to 265, if necessary. Inmates are segregated by sex, by the nature of their crimes and by their behavior once inside the institution.

On the second floor, in separate cell blocks, are minimum-custody men, special case medium-custody men who, due to cramped prisons, are staying in the county jail at the state's expense, and the jail's entire population of women.

The group watched medium security state inmates in bright orange suits through gray-tinted windows as they finished up a mandatory study hall session. Some played cards and joked with each other in the spacious, but confined room.

Minimum and medium-custody inmates have the luxury of operating their own lights and bathrooms. They also can purchase debit cards that allow them to use vending machines, which supply snacks, drinks and products such as soap and toothbrushes.

Next, the group went to the first floor where Southwestern Oregon Community College professors teach classes on alcohol and drug abuse, job-finding skills, computer training, GED, parenting and life skills. According to Setelia, the county is required to offer these programs to inmates they house for the state. These programs can't be offered to all county inmates, said Setelia, because there is not enough staff.

The first floor also houses a workshop area, where inmates can build picnic tables or furniture for the courthouse.

Some visitors commented on the relative cleanliness of the jail. When one man asked who cleaned it, Setelia said the inmates had plenty of time on their hands and that was how they spent some of it.

The jail tour ended on the third floor, where medium and maximum-custody men are held in separate areas. The maximum-custody inmates are separated into areas dividing sex offenders and non-sex offenders. Setelia said that's because in the inmates' hierarchical system, sex offenders are the lowest of the low and are commonly harmed by other inmates.

"It's a whole different subculture within a culture," said Chief Scibelli.

According to Setelia, there is an 82-percent recidivism rate at the Coos County jail. This number is in line with most of the rest of the state, he said.

"So we're generally dealing with the same people over and over again," he said.

The planning room

Through the rain and wind, the group of Citizen Police Academy class members tromped around the corner from the courthouse to the inconspicuous Emergency Operations Center and 911 dispatch center.

The first stop was the Operations Center, which is the least known part of the smaller, earthquake-proof county building next to the jail. The building is equipped with a propane-powered generator that can provide power for up to four days, with a battery backup for the radios in the office.

In the small room, there is an emergency alert machine to send information over radio and television stations, and each wall is lined with desks equipped with computers and phones. Each work station is labeled for the county official who is assigned to each seat. County officials - the commissioners, sheriff, assessor, clerk and others - are to meet here during disasters.

"All the people who run the government in the county come here," said Sgt. Dave McDaniel, who is in charge of the center.

From this room the officials can oversee cleanup, disaster relief, road clearing and other projects.

"All the heads are here," McDaniel said. "We have a strategy and a plan about what we're going to do."

In an emergency situation, the county would become eligible for funding and low-interest loans to help pay the costs of relief and restoration. Services from the National Guard are also available in an emergency situation.

According to McDaniel, 1996 was the last time a state of emergency was declared in Coos County, after storms rocked the county and caused flooding.

Voices on the line

In the center of a dark room, two 911 dispatchers and their supervisor, Theresa Deos, sat at a circular work station featuring five consuls.

The computer system automatically traces the calls and monitors display the person's name, address and the closest emergency service provider.

The new five-digit addressing system in the county is entered in the computer, Deos said, but sometimes there is a new street that has not been updated.

"Most of our information coming in is correct, which is nice," said Deos.

And when it's not, Deos said, the dispatchers who are longtime county residents can usually cope.

"Because we all live in Coos County, and have for a long time, we can usually find you," she reassured the police academy students.

All the 911 calls in the county are dispatched from this small center, except for those within the city of Coos Bay. North Bend recently began using the county's 911 dispatch as well, which Deos said accounts for about 100 more calls a month. She estimated the county dispatches 13,000 calls per year.

Deos said each day is a new challenge and the job requires a great deal of teamwork as numerous calls sometimes come in at the same time. While taking calls, the dispatchers must guide law enforcement and emergency authorities to the location of the problem.

Usually swing shift is the busiest, she said, and the job requires people who think well on their feet.

"We need to do things without being told," Deos said. "We just know what needs to be done."

The training for the program is rigorous, with trainees attending the police academy for a 24-hour training class. This is followed by four hours of classes a year at the academy.

Before a 911 dispatcher can work on her own, she must complete six months of specialized training.

"The on-the-job training is really hard," said Deos. "It's really tough on (trainees)."

The people who complete the training either thrive or burn out.

"I've been doing it since 1989 and I'm not burned out," said Deos. "It takes a certain personality to do this job, it really does."

The biggest challenge that faces dispatchers, according to Deos, is cellular phones, because if there's a slide or an accident, people call 911, leading to a flood of calls all at once and each call must be investigated.

"You can't assume that it's the same situation," said Deos.

At the end of the tour, citizens walked away with a new understanding of law enforcement and emergency operations. But this was only a glimpse, a preview of the eight-week program that will disclose the fine details of law enforcement procedures and make them more prepared to help officers stop crime.

Academy class schedule:

Feb. 6 - Introduction to sheriff, police chiefs and tour of Coos County jail and dispatch center

Feb. 13 - Police tracking and narcotic dogs and the South Coast Interagency Narcotics Team

Feb. 20 - Investigations (sex abuse, homicide, arson, burglary and more)

Feb. 27 - Criminal justice system: Judges, defense attorneys, district attorneys, parole and probation and juvenile

March 6 - Tour of the pistol shooting range

March 13 - Driving under the influence of intoxicants, patrol procedures, searches, witnesses and handcuffing

March 20 - Community policing

March 27 - Domestic violence, ethics, discipline and the hiring process

April 3 - Graduation

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