BPD and students switch roles at BC

Crystal Valdez, Reporter

Bakersfield College hosted a Hill Zone Community Meeting that discussed what the Bakersfield Police Department experiences on a daily basis through the college student’s perspective.

The meeting was held on Oct. 15 at the east forum at BC from 6 to 8 p.m. About 100 people attended the event and many were criminal justice majors at BC. There were a series of speakers, all active members of the BPD who focused on introducing new ideas to the audience.

Subjects such as the purpose of the meeting, proactive community policing, and BPD programs were discussed in depth. A citizen forum in which students acted as police officers also took place during the meeting.

Chief Greg Williamson discussed the purpose of the event. The objective of the meeting was to prevent people from victimizing themselves.

It tried a different angle of depicting what police officers experience and the tense situations they are forced to go through on a daily basis.

“Hopefully, you’ll understand why our job looks so easy, but really it’s very difficult. We also want you to see how fast things can happen,” said Chief Williamson in reference to the citizen forum.

The citizen forum, mediated by Sgt. Daniel McAfee, took students by surprise as roles were reversed.

Students dressed in police uniforms were expected to act as they saw necessary in potentially dangerous situations, and officers were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, acting as civilians.

The first scenario was titled “Behind Closed Doors,” and consisted of a woman, portrayed by Officer Jessica Villareal, coming home to a drunken husband who was portrayed by a fellow officer.

The scene escalated and quickly became violent, as the wife gave her husband a “black eye.”

The BPD then received an artificial call about potential domestic abuse, and the student actors were called to the scene.

The actors hesitated as they walked onto the scene. Dave Wescott, one of the actors, tried handling the situation the best way he knew how but was still overshadowed by the wife and husband.

“I didn’t know what to do. I walked in not knowing what my limits were. Do I grab her? Was I supposed to use force? I didn’t know if I should stay at arms reach,” Wescott said after the scenario.

McAfee pointed out an important aspect of the scene witnessed by the audience.

“You never know when someone’s going to turn on you. The husband in this scenario could have been the one to make the call. As soon as he [Wescott] tried putting his hands on her, her husband said ‘Don’t touch my wife.’ You go in expecting one enemy, you might leave with two.”

The second scenario was titled “Cincinnati,” and was based on true events. For the sake of relativity, it took place at the Farmer Boys on Haley Ave.

A group of four BPD members acted as college students on their phones as they discussed what to order. They then noticed a man, portrayed by another officer, acting very strange.

The student actors were then called to the scene.

There was hardly any response from the student actors as the situation escalated.  As the man’s behavior intensified, the ‘college students’ became more afraid and began documenting the situation on their phones. The strange man grabbed one of them, reeking havoc among the college students.

Still there was no response from the student actors who were supposed to handle the scene as police officers.

Criminal justice major Naomi Edwards was one of the student actors who were assigned “Cincinnati.”  She felt she got the most difficult scenario to deal with.

“I was not expecting this at all. I thought they were going to walk us through the steps, but they just threw us in there! I was scared. I felt like he was gonna attack us. I know it wasn’t real, but I was still scared for my life. These police officers are putting their life on the line everyday. I usually saw them as trying to harass us, but now I understand what they go through. It definitely opened my eyes,” Edwards stated after the meeting.

McAfee did point out that this situation was difficult, but related it back to the actual event that occurred.

He said, “I could see your heart rate speed up and you tensed up. This was a controlled environment. When this actually happened back in 2003, the man was over six feet tall, 350 pounds, and ended up having PCP and other stuff on board. As officers respond to this, we have to decide what kind of action we are going to take. Often times we don’t get a lot of information. All we get is the information presented right there: suspicious behavior.”

The third and final scenario was titled “A Day at the Park.”

Detective Alex Valles played a man who was suspect of vandalism at a local park. The student actors were presented with a scene that seemed calm, but soon escalated. As the suspect’s temper shortened, student actors did what they could to calm him down.

Criminology Club president Kenneth Mireles, one of the student actors, was surprised when the suspect pulled out a knife. As a response, he “pepper sprayed” his attacker.

McAfee acknowledged Mireles’s attempt, asking for a round of applause. He pointed out Mireles’s posture, specifically his hand rested on his gun.

“When we have our hand on our gun, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re ready to shoot. Sometimes it’s just how we feel comfortable, and we don’t even realize we’re doing it. But we understand how it could seem threatening,” McAfee stated.

He also mentioned that this scenario is an example of perception.

“Perception is key. If you were walking by, you’d think we were harassing him. He [Mireles] got dispatched there. Also, I’m sure none of you expected that knife, and it happened in a matter of seconds,” added McAfee.

“A Day at the Park” was the final scenario that took place at the Hill Zone Community Meeting. McAfee concluded the citizen forum.

He emphasized the idea that these are scenarios BPD created, and they are reminiscent of what the BPD confronts on a daily basis.

“We accept the inherent dangers that come with being a police officer. It’s our job. I love what I do. Everyone here loves what they do. We’ll be there whenever 911 is called with a threat. I promise you that…we’re human. We make mistakes, but we learn from those mistakes. We hope those mistakes we make don’t result in someone being hurt such as ourselves or a community member.”