Citizen Police Academy gives behind-scenes view of police work

Patrol Sergeant Steve Seidel, Bern Township Police, giving instruction during the Citizen Police Academy on March 6.
Patrol Sergeant Steve Seidel, Bern Township Police, giving instruction during the Citizen Police Academy on March 6. Roxanne Richardson - Digital First Media
Barbara Conrad, Muhlenberg resident, dusts for fingerprints on a glass during the Citizen Police Academy on March 6.
Barbara Conrad, Muhlenberg resident, dusts for fingerprints on a glass during the Citizen Police Academy on March 6. Roxanne Richardson - Digital First Media

Bern Township, Muhlenberg Township, Northern Berks Regional and Laureldale police combined forces to host Citizen Police Academy, providing the community an opportunity to go behind the scenes and experience police work.

Designed to be informative, interesting, thought provoking and fun, Citizen Police Academy is an annual eight-week course for residents 18 and older from Bern, Maidencreek, Muhlenberg and Ontelaunee townships, and Laureldale and Leesport boroughs. Starting on Feb. 13, academy classes are held every Tuesday night at Muhlenberg Township Municipal Building.

The first four weeks dealt with police structure and law enforcement, patrol operations and traffic enforcement/MCSAP (Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program), vehicle and crimes code. March 6 was about crime scene investigations and criminal investigations.

Patrol Sergeant Michael Wiley, assisted by Patrol Sergeant Steve Seidel, both from Bern Township Police, covered Crime Scene Investigations. Detective Ramon Caraballo covered Criminal Investigations.

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“Everything we do is to preserve life and maintain safe community for people and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily look like that’s what we are doing, but there’s a good reason as to why,” said Wiley.

Processing of a crime scene begins with the first officer and is continued until the crime scene is released and the detectives then carry on the case. The integrity of the evidence needs to be maintained to prove someone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The responding officer must think how to handle the scene from other officers arriving to civilians, even witnesses, in or near the scene. The first responder needs to neutralize the crime scene and make sure it’s safe. They have no idea if someone is still present inside.

“It’s the unknown. Every time they get called for a domestic situation or every time they pull a vehicle over for a check, it’s that unknown,” said Stewart Lerch, Muhlenberg. “Everybody watches CSI and it’s a lot more intense than what you really see on TV.”

There is a list of priorities. Once the crime scene is neutralized, medical assistance is provided; the number one priority is providing help for somebody. Evidence can get tainted in the process and police need to be aware of that.

The police may need the assistance of the media to inform the public of a situation, put a description out, or encourage witnesses to come forth. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

“News media comes to us for a lot of what they want to sell their medium with. When people see that, they draw conclusions,” said Wiley. “In today’s world of social media, you just can’t do anything without it spreading like wildfire and this gives us the opportunity to explain to people this is why we do what we do rather than the public as a whole making assumptions about why we’re doing it.”

Wiley said he enjoys being able to educate people. He said a lot of people draw what they see in the news.

Information leaked too fast or inaccurate stories spread can affect the outcome of a trail. Wiley said there were some cases where a high profile trial had to be moved to other locations because of this.

“We respond to an incident and we have people coming out of the woodwork trying to see what we are doing and there they are with their cameras,” said Wiley.

Perimeters are set to push people back to keep the scene out of the public view and maintain the integrity of a search.

Ramon Caraballo, Muhlenberg Township Police and Berks County Detective, said, “There is no formula to solving a crime. It normally takes people coming forward and providing information as small as a clue can be that would lead us to solve very serious crimes.”

Caraballo said police work in partnership with the community in order to solve crimes.

Muhlenberg resident Barbara Conrad learned much about different types of crimes and what police have to do.

“What really impressed me last year was how they have to make decisions in a split second and that can be so, I imagine for them, terrifying because you don’t want to kill anybody if you don’t have to, but if you feel threatened and so it was like we got an insight into all those different things,” said Conrad, who has respect and appreciation for police, but even more so since coming to class.

Kathy Seyler, Muhlenberg resident, said, “It is nice to know all these people are out there looking out for us and taking care of us.

Sergeant Joel V. Marino, community services officer, Muhlenberg Township Police, hopes the academy participants gained knowledge and appreciation about police work.

“Hopefully we give people a new perspective on all the things that we do right and how hard it is to do it right,” said Marino. “It’s a good inside look at what police do without actually getting behind the wheel of a police car and strapping on a gun belt.”