When my wife, Judy, and I packed up the Jeep and headed for Mount Pleasant, we were relying on luck to guide us. Except for a whirlwind weekend trip to purchase a home, we knew nothing about the Lowcountry. We later learned that many of our new friends had vacationed here, had children and relatives here and had all kinds of other roots in Mount Pleasant. The only local we knew was our real estate agent, who, like us, moved here from Los Angeles.
So, as strangers in a strange land, we sought out opportunities to participate in our new community. One of Judy’s choices was the East Cooper Newcomers Club. At first, she was dubious whether this would be right for her, but, in a matter of weeks, she was the public relations director for the club and making many new friends.
I, on the other hand, had nothing. I’m no longer a golfer, and I’ve never been much of a fisherman, but I knew I didn’t plan to spend my declining years on the front porch whittlin’. Then I saw an item in the newspaper about the Mount Pleasant Citizens Police Academy. I’ve always been interested in law enforcement and coordinated executive security for my previous boss, so, once I checked it out, I convinced Judy to join me. She’d spent many years working for the California State Lottery, so she was familiar with background checks, security and fingerprinting.
The night our class began, I was excited to be a part of this new enterprise – maybe too excited. When we encountered the lieutenant in charge of the class, I lifted my Hawaiian shirt to expose my holstered Kimber .45 pistol and said words to the effect of, “I’m ready, Loo. Put me in.”
After backpedaling about 10 paces, he ordered me to “Put that thing away.”
I replied, “But I have a concealed carry permit.”
He responded, “Well conceal that … thing in your vehicle, or you can’t come into the police station.”
A bit flustered, I shot back, “But you guys all carry weapons.”
His answer, “Sure, but that’s our job – not yours.”
It turns out the Citizens Police Academy isn’t meant to train Joe and Joan Normal to be useful members of the SWAT team. It’s a 10-week course, two to three hours every Wednesday night, to familiarize even knuckleheads such as me about aspects of our local police force ranging from traffic control to narcotics, to special weapons and tactics and much more. Plus there are opportunities to play cops on ridealongs. Full disclosure: On Judy’s ride-along, her unit pulled over a DUI 18-wheeler, arrested a lynching suspect and investigated a suspected burglary, which turned out to be a pizza delivery man who’d gone to the wrong address. My ride-along yielded a barking dog complaint and my cop partner and I sharing burritos in a parking lot by the Park West recreation center.
A highlight of the experience was when we were all given our bright yellow MPPD polo shirts and our photo ID cards attached to Mount Pleasant Police Department lanyards. We had a graduation ceremony, at which I was honored to be the valedictorian, and now we’ve joined the ranks of alumni.
No, we don’t go breaking down doors and capturing bad guys. We leave that to the pros. But we do participate in year-round special events – especially those involving kids, who are always thrilled to meet a real cop – or even a fake cop – and to get goodies such as MPPD pencils and pens, junior officer badges, safety brochures and refrigerator magnets.
The idea for the academy came from legendary chief Roland Perry, who had observed a similar program in Florida. He tasked Lieutenant (now Captain) Stan Gragg with making it happen. The first class graduated in 1998.
“I can honestly say it has been one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my career, and I am proud to have been a part of it,” Gragg commented.
Crime Prevention Officer Donald Calabrese, who currently oversees the academy classes, echoed Gragg’s sentiments.
“Personally, it is rewarding to know that there are busy, hardworking people who take time out of their schedules to want to learn about the profession I chose. Professionally, the CPA is a great asset to the Police Department. At the end of each program, we have informed citizens who can help be our eyes and ears in the community.”
The Mount Pleasant Citizens Police Academy is now on its 22nd class and some 300 adults have graduated from the program. Classes, held at the Mount Pleasant Police Department, are limited to 20 students.
For more information, contact the Mount Pleasant Police Department at (843) 884-4176 or visit www.tompsc.com.
By Bill Farley