June 21, 2010 4:17:00 PM
Garthia Elena Burnett -
In the past several weeks, I have driven a police car with sirens blaring, was shot twice (with toy cap bullets), conquered a lifelong fear and shot a fully automatic assault rifle (with real bullets).
It was much more than I bargained for in a Citizens'' Police Academy. But with hard-core officers like Sgt. Ross Richardson and Lt. Wayne McLemore on board, I think the police force knew exactly what we were getting into.
Lt. Oscar Lewis, who inherited the program from now-retired Lt. Keith Worshaim, was easy on us the first night. By the third class, we all realized we were getting more hands-on experience than any of us expected with a "routine" traffic stop gone bad.
Armed with guns and sometimes accomplices -- also with guns -- Ross took us on a chase around the parking lot near the police station. The traffic stop inevitably ended with one or more of us fake cops getting capped. That night we learned there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop.
On to stealth operations, Sgt. John Duke, Columbus Police Department''s resident gang expert and Special Response Team member, took us to a training room, where two-at a-time we moved through a long hall to the conflict area, a small room off to the right of the hall. Some of us were fooled and popped by fake police before we ever got to the room. Others were ambushed from behind. From this, we learned to trust our partner, and to always watch his back; he''ll watch ours.
Sgt. James Grant helped us get familiar with the Taser system. Michael Gustine and Bill Downing were brave enough to hook up to electrodes and get Tased.
"Taser, Taser, Taser," Grant said calmly before unleashing what sounded the longest two seconds of Bill''s life. Michael got the next dose, for one second.
Then, after seeing two grown men shout for dear life, Dorothy Washington also decided to give it a go. I passed on this particular exercise.
Last Saturday, we were at the firing range on MLK Drive near the sheriff''s department at 8 a.m.
Along with targets in a field, an imposing tower awaited us.
"This tower was designed for 21-year-old men going through the police academy," said Chris Hansen, stating the obvious. Chris, along with his wife, Shawnna, handed out harnesses and briefed us before descent.
A straight ladder led into the five-story tower, with steep stairs at every floor.
I looked over the edge. It was a long way down, and there was only one way I was going to get there. I was going down the rope or camping out there until someone carried me down. There was no way I was taking those stairs again.)
Inez Saum -- always the adventurous one -- was the first one down. The belay device got caught on the way down, which didn''t boost my confidence. Nor did the creaking of the rope against the front of the tower or the leaning of this wooden structure as people moved from one side to the other.
Lewis slid down the half-inch rope like a pro, bouncing along the wall of the tower. He made it look easy. But this wasn''t his first time. And he wasn''t deathly afraid of heights.
I was polite and let all the other contestants have their turn before Chris and Shawnna hooked the rope to my harness.
The repelling rope holds up to 2,000 pounds, and I was also hooked to a rope atop the tower and one Shawnna was releasing little by little inside the tower. Still, hanging 60 feet above the ground hooked to a rope attached to a metal hook in some sort of fabric-Velcro belt-and-underpants combo, aka a harness, those stats aren''t as comforting as you might think.
Letting go of the rail was the hardest part. Not looking down helped, too. I freeze up climbing stairs if I can see the ground beneath me.
But before I knew it, I was back on solid ground. Those who were brave enough to go before me -- Inez, Mary Hood and Corissa Gunter -- talked me down. And it was time to shoot.
I got one shot, clean in the target''s head, with a .38 handgun. Not bad for a first-timer.
The M3 was, obviously, much heavier and harder to aim. Still, seven out of eight shots hit the target''s body. After Lt. Randy Karg switched the rifle to fully auto, I have no idea where the bullets went. Dirt, is my guess.
And while it was the last official day of CPA Class VIII, the fun''s not over yet. I go on my police ride-a-long next week.