Palm Springs Citizen’s Police Academy – Second Week

September 22nd, 2007
The academy assistant coordinator, Officer Marc Melanson, started the session off by introducing himself. He’s been with the department since 1982 and started as a Community Services Officer. Officer Melanson welcomed our new class members, including City Council candidate Vic Gainer, who missed last week’s first session. He presented class members with special notebook binders together our with the first set of handouts. Afterwards, we were treated to a visit by Police Chief Gary Jeandron who provided an overview of our 13 week course. The Chief noted he started his career in the department as a police dispatcher. He left with a promise to be with us once again after our final session early in December. 
The first of our two 90 minute evening classes was titled “Communications” and presented by Police Dispatcher Sylvia Rivera. She’s been with the department for 17 years and proved to be an enthusiastic representative for it and the Communications section. From her presentation it became clear the Communications, or Dispatch, section is the nerve center of the department. Three or four dispatchers are on duty at all times answering phone calls and monitoring police radio frequencies. The 911 emergency number is responsible for most of the calls.  Callers using the 911 line may be reporting a fire, a need for an ambulance or paramedic, a crime or disturbance, a non-emergency incident, or it may be the occasional crank call. Callers on the department’s regular business phone lines usually report non-emergencies. Calls from officers in the field come in by radio and other radio frequencies are monitored for incident reports which may prove applicable to the Palm Springs area. All caller reports are logged into a computer and then, on a prioritized basis, assigned to a police department representative or passed along to the appropriate fire, paramedic, or search and rescue unit. The sound and activity levels in the dispatch section are such that the work is quite stressful and job burnout is quite common. We learned the job requires a year of training and there are currently 14 dispatchers together with 2 supervisors assigned to the section. The presentation concluded with a sound tape of conversational activity between dispatchers, police officers in the field and callers on phone lines. The tape provided convincing evidence of the high noise and activity levels prevalent in the Communications section.

Officer Kyle Stjerne (pronounced “stern”) presented our second class. His subject was the Patrol Operations unit. He’s a sworn officer and a 5 year veteran of the department, a patrol car officer, and also a member of the department’s SWAT unit. He made good use of the blackboard to describe the various patrol car shifts, staffing levels, and coverage areas. His presentation excellently portrayed patrol operation activities. The operations are divided between into four overlapping ten hour periods designated as Day Shift, Late Day Shift, Swing Shift and Graveyard Shift. The city coverage area is divided into three patrol districts – North, Central, and South – which are served at all times by a minimum of two patrol cars in each one. The unit includes bicycle patrol officers in the downtown area, officers stationed at the airport, K-9 teams, and Community Service Officers who handle assignments which do not require sworn officers. He explained the three priority level codes the department uses for incidents. Priority 1 refers to an in progress event; a 2 refers to a suspicious circumstance report (such as a burglar alarm); and priority 3 is the code used for everything else. Officer Stjerne stated he particularly enjoys his SWAT unit assignment and we learned from him that it’s a joint operation with Cathedral City. The team has 30 members with 20 from Palm Springs and 10 from Cathedral City. They train on a regular basis and are ready to respond when needed to handle emergency situations. The work is potentially highly dangerous and all team members are officers who have volunteered for the assignment.

Enrollment in the Academy is open to all who are at least 18 years old and without felony convictions. More information and a class application form may be found at the Palm Springs Police Department’s website.

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Palm Springs Citizens’ Police Academy

September 12th, 2007

I enrolled in the Palm Springs Citizens’ Police Academy and this week attended my first classroom session. It’s a 13 week course which meets for 3 hours each Tuesday evening in the department’s training room facility. Enrollment in the course is free to anyone without felony convictions who is at least 18 years old. The academy has been in continuous existence since 1993 and it has graduated hundreds of students from all sectors of the community. The classroom is able to accommodate 45 students, however, as is sadly common about free offerings, after signing up, too many fail to keep their commitment and do not attend. That is certainly true of the current class, for our first session consisted of just 23 students.  
The first hour of this week’s session started off with a welcome by Sgt. Mark Stafford, the Academy Director. He was followed by a Police Detective who lectured about police ethics, departmental policies, and personnel recruitment requirements. He forewarned us his subject would prove to be the least exciting part of our academy experience.

The second hour was devoted to the K-9 program and we were introduced to a couple of youngish police officers and their dogs, Big Mack and Oreo. We learned the dogs in the unit are all male German Shepherds. The animals are usually acquired from kennels in Germany, though one of the two dogs we saw came from Czechoslovakia. They live with their police officer handlers who communicate with them using the same command language (usually German) used by the animal’s original trainers. The officers said the dogs are most often used for search and apprehend functions in situations where sending an officer might be dangerously unwise. Our session included an outdoors demonstration of each dog pursuing and grabbing a running suspect (the suspect was another police officer wearing protective clothing, who had volunteered for our benefit). It costs around $12,000 to acquire and train a new police dog and the last one was made possible through the efforts of a citizen community fund raiser.

In our last hour the class was divided into two groups and led on separate tours of the many police department functions within the main Police Headquarters building. We saw the jail facility, training rooms, computers, police dispatchers, interrogation rooms, work-out equipment area (these guys appear quite serious about staying in shape), Search and Rescue Team area, and several general administrative areas. The facilities occupy a main floor and a basement sub-floor area and all appear both modern and well maintained.

Among the interesting tidbits we learned was how much the department depends upon and has benefited from the generosity of the public. The extremely well equipped workout training room was made possible by community donations. The Search and Rescue Team, stated to be a critical component of the department, is comprised entirely of volunteers, and their vehicles and equipment were all made possible from community contributions. If ever there was a doubt of the good relations the Palm Springs Police Department has with its community, the many contributions from the public clearly provide ample evidence of that positive relationship.

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A description of the Citizens’ Police Academy together with an application form are available online at or by phone at (760) 323-8131 Ext. 8679.