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Mount Vernon Citizen Police Academy Teaches Locals About Law Enforcement

As a BlackWestchester reporter and resident of Mt Vernon, I participated in the latest class, there are things you thought you knew that you really don't know until you take the class.

The Mount Vernon Police Department slated it’s 7th 10-week program that educates residents on what it’s really like to be a member of law enforcement.

Mount Vernon Citizen’s Police Academy is lead by Detective David Clarke and assisted by Detectives Johnny Camacho, Michael Plunkett and Richard Arzon. This program has been going strong for the past four years and with seven classes graduating.

As a BlackWestchester reporter and resident of Mount Vernon, I participated in the latest class of roughly 20 people that participated in weekly sessions ranging in length where lessons are presented on subjects like active shooting, crime scene investigation, community outreach, crime prevention and police paperwork.

This class started in October and ended in December.

The citizen’s academy is a course designed to provide citizens with a better understanding of the operations of our police department. At the end of the course, the MVPD encouraged graduates to stay involved and assist in identifying problems and solutions to crime issues that affect our community.

Participants were allowed to ask questions through out the course. We were often able to partake in role play exercises where our new knowledge was put to the test as part of the curriculum.

The class members began their first day with an overview of police department along with a tour of the facilities.

MVPD currently has 212 active members. Yet some say, that’s not enough.
Detective David Clarke, a 14-year veteran of the force and training instructor took the class inside the jail cells, were they monitor the inmates and how the process new inmates.

One of many challenges the police department is facing is the lack of jail cells available for inmates. Some cells are inactive due to broken toilets clogged by inmates stuffing tissue into the toilets.

We discussed recruiting and how it’s been difficult to recruit citizens of Mount Vernon to become police officers. Det. Clarke, a Mount Vernon native, attended a citywide event and claims he only handed out three applications.

We were then ushered into the radio room and given a tour of how calls are being taken and dispatched. It’s clear our police dispatchers enjoy helping others, and takes pride in the job that they do. Mount Vernon Police dispatchers keep a professional tone and remains courteous when taking calls or complaints from citizens, while playing a vital role in ensuring officer safety, and enhancing public safety in an incredibly demanding environment.

However what was alarming and disappointing to see was the lack of force and resources inside the major case squad. The squad only consist of three members and only two detectives handles cases. There are over 20 unsolved murders in Mount Vernon.

The lead detective of the major case squad made it very clear that one of their biggest challenges when it comes to solving crimes is not getting help from the community. Yet, neither the lead detective and the police chief didn’t provide goals or a plan they have in motion to bridge the gap between the community and the police.

We discuss internal affairs, narcotics, opioid abuse, popular drugs on the street and Cyberbullying.

The ESU Emergency Services Unit which is under the supervision of Detective Tommy Gallagher, a 23 year veteran says his unit handles multiple calls stemming from vehicular extraction, emotionally disturbed individuals and rope rescues. Sadly, the department lacks resources and faces budget constraints.

The class has been put together so well and is so organized, said one participant Mathais White who was also elected valedictorian of the December class.

As a participant, I felt the program really connects the community with what the police do as an agency because law enforcement is always operating under this shroud until an incident occurs and then people ask – Why did they do that?

The use of force was the subject matter of one session, held earlier in December. As well as, the lack of force, leadership and resources the department is facing.

Participants also spent time doing target practice. There are a litany of things that an officer has to process in a “microsecond” to decide whether or not a scene is safe, how to approach it and what, if any, type of force they have to use.

Attendees were given a “unloaded gun” and told to respond to a mock domestic disturbance call being projected in the basement of the police department.

This piece of the program was a little frustrating but it makes your heart race and also gives you even more respect for people who do this for a living.

That’s the kind of split second decision making police have to make everyday when assessing whether or not they’re in danger.
We also participated in a ride-along – which is considered to be the programs favorite session. There are 49 passage ways the city’s finest have to monitor.

Towards the end of the program, everyone in the academy seemed to agree that the course has been an eye-opening experience.

Throughout the ten sessions, department members and students joked around and had clearly formed a tight bond in just three meetings.
The class was scheduled to graduate Tuesday December 8th, 2018 at the Mount Vernon City Hall rotunda.

Det. Clark was thanked immensely for opening up the departments lives and station to let us see what they go through every day.

Police Commissioner Sean Harris spoke on the importance of activities like the academy and the impact it has on our community. Harris has been with the department for over 20 years and is well known and respected by many.

It’s very seldom that officers get to have these conversations with the public.

BW’s Atif K. Coleman being presented Certificate from Mayor Richard W. Thomas and MVPD Commissioner Sean Harris at graduating ceremony. [Black Westchester]

During Tuesday evening’s graduation ceremony, students were presented with certificates and recognized for their efforts at being involved in the community as well as learning more about local law enforcement.

The graduating class considered this as a wonderful experience. There are things that you thought you knew that you really don’t know that you will learn through out the class.

What was also special was seeing the entire Mount Vernon City Council partake in the course too. They got to see for themselves the poor conditions of the non working shooting range, the lack of resources and the need for more funding to better equip officers to do their jobs.

Commissioner Harris asked for greater community support as transparency from MVPD is on the decline. His comments come during a divided community conversation about whether who is actually running the Mount Vernon Police Department.

If you would like to participate, you can apply in person at the Mount Vernon Police Department. Please ask to speak to someone within the training department.

Another citizens academy is scheduled to happen in February of 2019 with an application period beginning this month. It will be promoted on the department’s social media pages and anyone over age 18 is encouraged to apply.

Those selected by Mount Vernon Police Department will have to fill out some paperwork.

The program is free.

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About A'tif Khalil (18 Articles)
A'tif K. Coleman is a lifelong resident of Mount Vernon who has become a Mount Vernon Columnist for Black Westchester. A'tif's passion and love of the city he was born and bred drives him to wanting to inform the residents and speak truth to power and corruption. Mr. Coleman is also one half of the founders of the Save Mount Vernon movement.
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