The Waxahachie Police Department’s citizens police academy recently met, with community policing, dispatcher communications and canine units on the evening’s syllabus.

“Three components of community policing are community partnerships, organization, transformation and problem solving,” community service officer Wess Winn said. Many of you grew up where the police rolled down the road and got out and talked to people. They walked beats and they knew the community. As times changed and call loads increased, there wasn’t as much of a connection between that officer and the neighborhood.

“One of the components that I consider a part of community policing is neighborhood watch. It was first started by the national sheriff’s association in 1972 and they got grants because crime was growing,” Winn said. “When I go out to help people start a neighborhood watch I tell them that nobody knows their neighborhood better than you do. I don’t know who belongs there. Sometimes I have a good indication, but nobody knows your neighborhood better than you.”

A neighborhood watch acts as another set of eyes for the police department, with Winn recommending that anyone interested in starting a watch should talk with all of the people on his or her block because it takes everyone’s participation.

Once an agreement is reached, a group calls him so he can meet with everyone to explain how a watch works. A block captain is selected who will communicate with Winn directly on a regular basis about what is happening the neighborhood and what to keep an eye on.

Winn said he also talks to people about how they can make their home a safer place by doing things like installing more lights on the outside.

Dispatcher

communications

Waxahachie dispatcher Tina Everitt, who has had seven and half years of experience, explained the importance of providing one’s location when calling 911 off of a cell phone.

“Before cell phones, dispatchers would say ‘what is your emergency?’ and now they say ‘where is your emergency?’ for the simple fact that with the cell phones all we get is your carrier, your cell phone number and the tower that you hit off of,” Everitt said.

“On 287, you’re going to hit towers at Ennis PD, Ellis County or Waxahachie PD and then we have to determine which part of 287 are you located at, what mile marker and were you going north or south … so we usually ask where are you located at, what is your name and what is the emergency.”

Everitt emphasized the importance of providing dispatchers with the best possible description, whether it be of a person or a vehicle. Put yourself in the officer’s place and think about what they would need to know, she said.

Canine units

Department of Public Safety trooper Ricky Barber discussed the role canines play in law enforcement. A certified canine handler with DPS, Barber is partnered with a Labrador retriever named Billy.

“Billy is an outstanding service animal and has a lot of energy. Billy and I have been together for about five years now. He’s a good partner,” Barber said.

“It takes a lot of patience because these are special animals,” he said of the canines used in law enforcement. “They are chosen because they are not stupid. They are very intelligent, they know how to trick people and know how to be lazy, so you always have to challenge the canine.”

The DPS canine program started in the early 1990s and one of the first dogs in the state used in the program was stationed in Waxahachie. A canine handler’s job is 24 hours a day, seven days a week; the canine lives with the trooper, who is always on call.

Troopers are required to do eight hours a week of on-task and non-task training with their canine. Task training would be something like searching a building or a car. An example of non-task would retrieving. They also have to do 10 unknown exercises a week.

Canines must pass a pre-screening test administered by a trained DPS canine handler. Qualifications include weighing at least 50 pounds, at least 13 inches at the shoulders, even temperament, from 1 to 5 years old and have a strong desire to work. DPS uses Labradors, German shepherds and Belgian shepherds.

“We don’t buy dogs that are trained. We don’t go to another place to learn how to become a canine handler. We start with a dog that knows how to eat and sleep and that’s it,” Barber said. “All of our canines are rescued or donated. When I say rescued, we either go to a shelter and go through and identify dogs that we can pre-test or the public will call us and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a dog that might be a good one.’ But the majority are discovered at animal shelters and we get a few from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio,” Barber said.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why do you get a lot of dogs from the Air Force?’ We get their dogs that don’t meet their criteria. It’s not that the dogs don’t pass what they want, they may just have a flaw like being too hyper,” he said. “When we do our testing we take the canine out of their environment. The reasoning for that is we want see how curious that dog is and we want to see how that dog reacts out of their comfort zone because we are searching cars along the highway.”

During the selection process, canines must not be timid. They have to go in and out of vehicles without being forced and they can’t be afraid of stairs. Recently, 700 canines went through the pre-screening process and only five were selected, he said.

After his presentation, Barber gave a demonstration of how Billy conducts a search.

Contact Andrew at andrew.branca@wninews.com or 469-517-1458.