Citizens’ Police Academy, Week 5: Weapons and warnings
Published 12:00 am, Sunday, October 16, 2016
WESTPORT — In the basement of Westport police headquarters, I slowly raised a .22 handgun. Officer Charles Carr watching at my side, I took my first-ever shot, hitting the cagey-looking, hunched man with a handgun pointed my way that was printed on the paper target in front of me.
A few minutes earlier, I had heard a gun go off in person for the first time. Though one of the smaller handguns, the .22 was louder than I expected, its flash more jarring. I shot the gun once, then Carr loaded three rounds for me to shoot consecutively. A few minutes later, I stepped forward to try one shot with a Smith & Wesson .45, the type of gun issued to Westport officers.
As an optional part of the course, two Citizens’ Academy classmates and I stepped into the in-house range on a Thursday night before Week 5’s class. Other class members will get their chance for an hour of training, information on how Westport police are armed and trained, and a try at shooting two guns at a target.
For me, I thought taking my first shot would be the most impactful moment, but it was shooting the .22 three times with short breaks and the gun still raised that was the most jolting. Overall, the experience was oddly dissociating for me, as if somehow the gun hit the target but my pulling the trigger did not feel completely connected.
While I would need far more training to be anywhere near proficient or comfortable handling a gun, the experience was a good introduction to understanding the feeling of taking a shot. In the range, officers do training drills where they shoot in low light or turn on strobe lights to imitate patrol cars flashing next to them. If shooting the gun consecutively had me shaking, I cannot imagine those types of distractions or the real fear and anxiety of facing someone with a weapon pointed your way.
During their six months in the police academy, Carr said future officers get just one week of firearms training. Westport conducts training sessions four times a year, more than most other departments, he added.
We saw various equipment, weapons and ammunition that officers carry. The vests patrol officers wear at all times on duty resist some bullets. For certain situations, the department has more protective vests that can stop some rifle bullets. My classmates and I struggled a bit to pick up the heavy vests, along with the weighty holster cops wear for their handcuffs, tasers, gun, ammunition and more.
After the hour, my two classmates and I headed upstairs for a class focusing on the detective unit and scams. Lt. Jillian Cabana, detective commander, spoke about the unit’s roles, including investigations, managing the town’s sex offender registry, pistol permits, the youth commission, the juvenile review board and free civilian fingerprinting — a service for which most departments charge. Detectives’ jobs include death notifications, which Cabana said is one of the hardest parts of the job.
“Safeguard your Social Security number like it’s God,” Taylor said, adding even when legitimate places ask for it, it is best to ask why they need it and how they will safely store it.
And those pesky scam calls? No one is immune. Taylor said he has gotten scam calls on his direct police line. He tries to keep the scammer on the phone while he does other work, figuring the longer he wastes their time, the fewer people they can try to scam.
In general, the detectives recommended hanging up on questionable calls and giving absolutely no personal information, then calling the official number for the company the call supposedly came from, whether it is supposedly the government, police or utility company. Never use a number provided by the caller. Scammers will go to people’s doors in person, and Taylor said the area has seen a rash of in-person scams.
“When in doubt, don’t open the door,” he said.