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At civilian police academy in Syracuse, both sides get better understanding of each other

Tom Magnarelli
Civilian police academy at the Syracuse Police Department.

The Syracuse Police Department held a civilian police academy this week to expose some members of the public to what it is like to be a police officer. The training was an attempt by police and the community to better understand each other.

Brandiss Pearson, of Syracuse, said she participated in the training because she has a husband who is a corrections officer and teenage children who see law enforcement differently. She asked Sgt. Derek McGork during his presentation on civilian encounters, if a police officer is allowed to racially profile someone like her son.

“If all I have is a vague description, tall black male large build, I might be able to go up and ask him a question," McGork said. "He might be offended by that, maybe.”

He would be afraid, Pearson said, and she said she feels like that is the issue. There is fear on both sides.

“I don’t think there is really a definitive answer to my question," Pearson said. "There really is no way to really take away inherent fear, but maybe to increase understanding.”

And that is what Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler said he wants to see out of this.

“Once we learn a little bit more about each other and how we can function together effectively then everybody is going to be better off," Fowler said. "Law enforcement is going to be better off, the civilians we serve are going to be better off.”

The civilian police academy is meant to improve relations between police and the public.

"Just like any other urban community within the United States, we have our challenges," Fowler said. "Different from some urban communities within the United States, we have some very promising outlooks within the city of Syracuse. The biggest hope is that the people that learn what they learn here, they go out and become advocates. They will be the voice in the room that we will never be invited in."

The three days of the civilian police academy also put participants in training scenarios police officers go through when using deadly force. It is a small window into the overall, intense training an officer must complete. For Allison Logue, 21,  it is a lot to take in.

“I think my generation doesn’t understand what the police is here for because they have been brought up to fear the police and run from the police,” Logue said.

But Logue said she wants to pass on what she is learning to others, especially kids.

“Just to share that with them, help them experience as they get older, not fear but appreciation,” Logue said.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.