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James Ferragut, Published December 10 2011

Ferragut: Police academy inspiring

Chief Keith Ternes asked a simple question: “Why did you sign up for this experience?” He was addressing the 25 people who had been selected to attend the Fargo Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy. The program is designed to help Fargo residents have a better understanding of the department.

Never hesitant to speak up, I said: “What kid didn’t want to be a cop?”

The academy was an eight-week/40-hour journey that provided insight into an organization that consists of 144 officers and 18 civilian workers. The FPD is responsible for the safety and security of more than 100,000 people in an area of 44 square miles, and expanding by the minute. The police received more than 47,000 calls for service last year.

On Sept. 13, I went on a journey. That first night, we spent three hours with officers who were assigned to the K-9 unit. I learned about dogs, their biology and their psychological motivation. I came to understand relationships with their “alpha male” (the officer) and the training that’s required of them.

The next weeks included presentations by various members of the department who worked in narcotics, dispatch, sex crimes, domestic violence and SWAT. We were able to listen to chilling domestic- violence 911 calls. We learned about traffic stops and DUI metrics.

The next week, I was left slack-jawed learning about the SWAT team, which consists of 30 specialists: paramedics, tactical strategists, negotiators, bomb squad, deployment teams, intel and sharpshooters. Their commitment to continued training backed with much- needed financial support allows our SWAT team to operate the newest equipment, firearms and cutting edge intel tools.

I was most impressed with the presentation on gangs. The complexity of gang cultures, the origins of turf wars, the role drugs and profit play, the perpetuation of the culture, right here in River City, was trumped by the officer’s knowledge of the opaque hieroglyphics of gang graffiti.

I got to shoot an M4 machine gun. I watched the K-9 unit attack a perpetrator and sniff out drugs. I rode for six hours in a squad car on a wild Friday night downtown. I observed a group of the most dedicated, professional public servants I have ever met.

On SWAT night, during a break, one of the officers said, “You write for The Forum, don’t you?” I said that I write an occasional column but I was honored to be part of the academy and I was humbled by her colleagues’ dedication and professionalism.

She said: “Thank you. That is so nice to hear … because what we get on the street isn’t ‘thanks’; it’s usually the opposite.” That never occurred to me … that the public wouldn’t be in awe and respectful of the tough, tough job these officers have day in and day out, in trying to keep the peace.

So please, when you have a chance, take the time to thank these officers for their service. It’s the least you can do.

Ferragut is general manager and marketing consultant for a Fargo advertising firm and a regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.