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Opening Week and more! SLPD Citizen Academy 2012, Part 1

SLPD Citizen Academy's opening week, meet and greet, a tour, and more!

Since we opened up this blog at about week 5, I think it's best if we break SLPD Citizen’s Academy into 4 parts or so- a couple weeks per post. As discussed in a comment on the 1st entry I'll be delivering this from the experience point of view, not as a "news article". The reason is simple- this is a blog, it's about experiences, not metrics and statistics (but I will toss a few in I feel are pertinent though). What I do, what we discuss, what I see, feel, and think. That's what the focus will be. I'll try not to drill into too much detail about any one part of the classes. If you want the full experience you'll have to sign up for the next round of SLPD Citizen's Academy to take it all in. These are “Highlights”, not a log of events!

It begins!

Upon reaching the doorway to the SLPD building in the nick of time (I do hate being late to official functions), I’m greeted by extremely polite Explorer Cadets. They all have their uniforms on wearing them well, and proudly. They assist those of us that are newcomers into the building and show us in past the normally secured doors and up to the conference room that has been prepared for us. This room will be our home on Wednesday nights for a couple of months. Being that I work in Dublin, I was the last to arrive, with about 2 minutes before I'd officially be tardy... I was thinking to myself, "Uh-oh, I'll have to sit in the front if I'm late." My last name had already decided my destiny as it turns out... ALLEN- Seat 1, in front. Thanks Mom and Dad!

It was a pleasure to see everyone meeting and greeting, from the Chief to line officers, and explorers. You can see in their eyes and expressions something that would at other government levels (or used car lots) set off my "Schmooze" detector. But not here. They were genuinely happy that we were there. They welcomed us with a smile and handshake. It was a warm, welcoming environment. It’s been that way every week.

The Chief

Chief Sandra Spagnoli, someone that I've noticed in comments on Patch and live meetings elsewhere seems to draw comments that suggest you cannot be a woman under 50 and still be an effective Chief (age/gender discrimination much??), was extremely well put together. You can see and feel that she knows how to play the political games which unfortunately are a requirement of the job. However, what I thought was her best attribute was the fact that she appears to genuinely enjoy the interaction with people that aren’t political figures (in other words, the people she serves). Fast thinking, very situationally-aware, funny, engaging, great with eye-contact, and uses her voice/gestures with great effect when speaking to the group. Being humble was the icing on the cake.

I also get the sense her BS detector works very well. I’m not sure I want to play high-stakes poker with her, I'd probably lose my shirt. However, if they ever have an SLPD charity casino night, I'd buy-in for the experience to sit at the table with her (and probably get bluffed out of pocket aces at least once in the process). Before the Chief completed her opening comments, she held a brief Q&A session, and because of this I owe SL Patch a thank you…

From reading SL Patch I was aware of the fact that April was Distracted Driving Prevention Month. I won a spiffy SLPD coffee mug for that correct answer. I now enjoy coffee from that mug every workday morning. Thanks Tom! From that point we broke into small groups, talked about who we were and then introduced a peer to the group as a whole. Then it was time to talk about some of the department's programs.

San Leandro’s Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program

The concept is simple, crime-free addendums in leases with eviction clauses for those that are basically raising hell on the property, property inspections to be sure lighting/exterior conditions are good for residents, and a social event hosting all the tenants to talk about maintaining a safe/crime-free environment for themselves and their neighbors for everyone’s benefit. This is VERY time consuming for Officer Kerri Kovach, but IT PAYS OFF. The poster-child for success of this program is a story she told us about an apartment complex that had a 90% drop in calls for officers the first year after it completed certification. It had been constantly generating calls for on-property crime/disturbances taking hours of officer time every shift.

I've lived in a building like this- long ago. I WISH there had been a program in place that could assist the lanlords with cleaning it up, especially for children. Kids don't deserve to live in fear of going home. An additional benefit to this program is that it also increases officer safety by maintaining a database of issues and contacts for individual complexes. You know who you can talk to at a complex that is currently certified or in the process of certification/recertification. Visit the webpage if you’re curious about it- http://www.sanleandro.org/depts/pd/prevention/cfmhp/default.asp

I hear Alameda County Sheriff's Office has a program like this, I'm curious who is in charge of it and how (or if) it's progressing?

SLPD HQ & Jail

The tour of the SLPD building was another highlight. Apparently this has been pushed back or truncated in other class sessions, but not tonight, we received the full experience. From the briefing area to the shooting range, dispatch to detectives area, we received the full tour… except the jail. That took place a couple weeks later. Here’s what that was like…

Battleship gray- that’s how I would describe it. It’s clean but gloomy, not someplace I’d want to spend the night. I’ve been aboard my share of Navy ships on tours, from carriers to subs, they feel comfortable to me oddly enough- Functional, with a purpose. But not this, this was NOT comfortable even if it was far more roomy than a WWII submarine. It’s very important to note that this isn’t because of the staff, the jailers were great people that remind me of very nice bouncers (yes, this is a compliment!) I’m sure you know the kind, the big teddy-bears… until someone starts throwing drinks and punches. They’re intelligent people that know their job and I believe they do it well. But they also have a look in their eyes, stone-faces when not smiling. My advice if you end up on the business-end of the jail: Don’t pick a fight with them. You'll lose. Badly.

This jail is under the building, no direct sunlight. You can feel the fact that if you’re here, you’re here because you really messed something up in your life in at least the short-term. Not even the cute little smiley faces on your jail-issued slippers (no joke, I'll get a picture of them if I can) can cheer you up down here. The meals are pre-packaged, some requiring a microwaving, and you aren’t going to be left hungry by them and the milk, juice, and other items. It beats bologna sandwiches, that’s for sure! No TV/Cable here, no entertainment. Meals, a toilet, and a bed, behind a locked door. This is what my idea of a jail was, and that's exactly what this place is. I hear about “high-risk youth” being scared straight by large angry inmates… I think some would be “bored straight” visiting these cells void of anything that related to text messages, Tweets, Facebook, or television, in stays that last for up to 96 hours- the limit for this facility.

In closing

The opening week and the facility/jail tour was excellent. The staff, including the person in charge of this program, Sgt. Luis Torres, has simply put in a ton of time and effort into being a first-rate host and organizer, and it shows. Even the coffee is good, courtesy of some vanilla coffee creamer that takes standard police issue coffee and brings it up a couple notches (trust me on this one if you haven’t had fire/police brewed-coffee before, it can be a crime by itself).

Send in your comments or questions, I’m happy to relay them to the folks that can answer them for you.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

M. K. May 23, 2012 at 08:00 PM
You paint such a vivid portrait of what the San Leandro Citizens' Academy is like! Do you have to have any particular credentials to sign up? Does this exist in other cities? How did Citizens' Academy get started? How might I sign up for the next class? Does it cost anything? Thanks for your help. :)
Fully Fry May 23, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Love the Crime free multi-housing program expectations and real neighbors who know each other make a difference. Well done. Fully
Michael Allen May 23, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Thanks for reading! I can outline my experience- No credentials! This is for San Leandro city residents, with waivers available if you happen to live just outside of the city limits (I'm 2 blocks away but since I do most personal business in the city and there was an open seat, I was given a waiver to attend). Other programs- Alameda County Sheriff's Office has a program as well. I hear that might include tours of county facilities such as the Santa Rita Jail, Coroner's office, and more. They have multiple offices (sub-stations), are in charge of courthouse security, some Oakland Airport security, etc. I'm sure that class is quite different from SLPD since Sheriff's offices have more ground to patrol and types of duties to perform... It doesn't cost a dime, though we did potluck food prep in rotation (3-persons signed up to bring in food for one session). That was the only "cost". Sign-ups, I happen to have heard about this during a "Coffee with the Cops" Q&A session, and found the sign-up form on the SLPD site. Sgt. Torres or a delegate might jump on here to tell us when the next session is. The time spent there has been very enjoyable, and I cannot tell you enough how it takes the "mystery" out of what happens inside the station and "on the beat". One big take-away so far: They're just like us, and are held to exceptionally high standards. Poor, or even average conduct damages the public trust. More to come on that last statement in Part 2!
Michael Allen May 23, 2012 at 11:51 PM
I'll make sure Ofcr. Kovach gets the kudos! It seems to be like fire fighting- Prevention is the less glamorous side but does more to improve living conditions than REACTING to incidents once they have already started.

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