The course would begin with an introduction to the command staff and a tour of the current facility, located at 178 W. Main St. As the lessons continued, participants would dust for fingerprints, watch traffic stops and be faced with the decision of whether to apply force when responding to a call. Some may have left with the same opinion of officers as they possessed when they arrived, but others left with a new outlook on the men and women behind the uniform.
What does it take?
Those aspiring to become police officers at CPD can expect a lengthy, in-depth process that includes a variety of tests to prove their worth and strength. Col. Darrell Tomlin oversees much of the employment process and described the steps to citizens in attendance, explaining that in some ways CPD is more stringent than the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"We're very tight and stringent on former drug use," Tomlin said. "I'm not saying the FBI slacks at all. It's just our standards are tighter and that just shows you a little bit about the chief's beliefs and what it takes to become a good police officer."
What does it take to become a good police officer? According to Tomlin, it takes a "special" type of person who understands that the occupation is not for the faint of heart.
"It's not something that you wake up one day and you think you want to try that and if you have to be talked into it," Tomlin said. "We deal with different situations. It's not something someone can come in off the streets and do."
To qualify for a position with CPD, an applicant must be at least 21 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. That person also must not have a felony conviction or a series of misdemeanors or even a driving record as they all show a "disregard for the law."
The lengthy application process includes an intense background check, earning at least a silver score on a Georgia Work Ready exam, several interviews with different groups of people, a polygraph exam, a physical exam, a psychological exam, a drug test and a physical agility test through an obstacle course - not necessarily in that order. The application itself is roughly nine pages and requests multiple references from friends to family to neighbors.
"The physical agility test is [a certain number of] sit-ups [and] push-ups in a minute, then a quarter-mile run. You might be thinking, 'That's easy,'" Tomlin said. "Then we have an obstacle course, and you're required to start off, we'll say [at] the 50-yard line, and as you're running you weave through cones, and you might say, 'Alright, I'm with you so far.' Then we have a 100-pound dummy and you have to grab that and drag it about 20 yards, and then, you have to negotiate a lot of stairs. Then, once you get to the top, you have to come back down, drag the dummy back where you started from, then weave back through the cones then finish at another flight of stairs where you started from and you're thinking, 'I can do that.' Well, do it in 45 seconds. That's the hard part."
A question was raised as to why the drug and psychological screenings were not performed sooner in the applicant interview process and Tomlin described how the department tries to see the real person, not just the mask.
"There's a guy that I work with and he's an HR [Human Resources] director for the city of Cartersville, and he says whenever you're trying to pick an employee, it's a lot like dating because all you're going to see is what that person wants you to see," Tomlin said. "... We try to do so many interviews that eventually we're going to see the real you."
The chief's goal, though, is to find the very best people for his department. In doing this, he also requires that applicant's take an integrity test.
"It's a validated test and it's done by an outside organization, but that gives us an idea of what this person believes basically about stealing from their employer, lying and cheating. Because it's a job of public trust, and if someone has the intent of violating that public trust, I don't want them," Culpepper said. "Now, stuff happens, people change, but if they're coming in with that intent we want to rule that out. We want to eliminate all the liability that we possibly can."
Once an applicant is hired they either attend the police academy if they are not previously mandated or they go straight to a field training officer. At the academy, the new "police officer" learns the laws and how to enforce them. After that training, the field officer has the applicant ride along with him or her for six weeks to learn how to apply what they know from the academy in Cartersville. The FTO also teaches the new officer how to write reports and safety.
"We get a lot of the officer safety issues in traffic enforcement," Tomlin said. "We want to be sure before we turn somebody [out on the road] that they're gonna go home at the end of the day. They came here and we want them to do the opposite, go home."
Television v. reality
As the nation's fascination with crime and investigations grows, law enforcement faces a tough challenge in their day-to-day work. Television shows like "CSI" and "Criminal Minds" do not necessarily tell the whole story or show what investigations are in reality. Only about 80 percent of what is shown on television and in film is true, the other 20 percent of the entertaining features are unrealistic as officials battle manpower and economic issues.
"[Turnaround from the crime lab] is not immediate," CPD's Lt. Hubert Ledbetter, an investigator with the Criminal Investigations Division, said. "You can get information back from [a case in] six months to a year. ...
"Unfortunately, the Cartersville Police Department is just one department in the state and the crime lab handles thousands of cases. I wish it worked like it did on TV [where] you get the print and stick it under a magnifying glass and it gives you a photo and tells you who he is and where he was born. It don't work that way and it's frustrating for us, too."
Those who attended the academy were able to gain a hands-on experience in crime scene investigations, though, to see how investigators obtain fingerprints and which types of material allow prints to be lifted.
"There's three different types of fingerprint -- a whirl, a loop and an arch and there's two types of arches, a tinted arch and plain arch," Maj. Jason DiPrima said. "Nobody has the same pattern."
Materials available for participants to search for prints on included wood, paper, an aluminum can, plastic water bottles and glass. Some material, such as the can, plastic and glass, were not as difficult to lift prints from as opposed to the absorbent material such as wood and paper.
"A fingerprint is basically sweat off your fingers that transfers to a surface," Capt. Michael Stewart, also with CID, said. "A lot of times people ask if you can get the door knob. Well, everyone handles that so it's hard to get a print. As investigators, we look to the point of entry and try to dust for prints around those."
Prints, though, are difficult to use in naming a suspect if one has not already been identified. Fingerprints are only on file if a person had been printed for legal purposes or arrested.
Fingerprints are not the only evidence that can be collected. Ledbetter told the group that DNA is oftentimes able to be taken from a scene as well.
"When I work a burglary when glass is involved, I like to look for blood," Ledbetter said. "That's about the best evidence you can get. We use a method where we take a swab like a Q-tip and take a saline solution or plain water and wet the Q-tip and roll it in the suspected blood, saliva or sperm. That's collected and put into evidence, and at some point when you name a suspect or you obtain a known sample from the suspect, you submit it to the crime lab."
DiPrima is currently head the Uniform Patrol Division and works with his shift supervisors in developing methods to reduce crime at the street level. Within the division is the Special Operations Unit, a team that patrols higher crime areas and works more aggressively on traffic enforcement.
"The Special Operations Unit is specifically designed to be really aggressive toward traffic enforcement and we use that unit to assist in operations plans if we have an area that we see has got a high crime rate," he said. "We develop a plan to attack that."
Officers in the patrol division are divided among four zones throughout the city. Each zone represents a specific ward who serves on the city council.
"The zones are set up to cover two different wards," DiPrima said. "Zone 1 covers wards 1 and 6; Zone 2 is for 4 and 5; Zone 3 covers ward 2 and 3; and Zone 4 is over wards 4 and 6. Two of those wards are mentioned twice, so what do you think that tells you? We have more activity in wards 4 and 6, so there's some extra coverage there for them."
In determining where criminal activity occurs, the department is working to implement a new software system that also is expected to increase communication between officers.
"...It's going to allow us to take the incidents through the incident reports and map them on a city of Cartersville map," DiPrima said. "We can look at different locations specifically [and] it can tell us which [crimes] are on the rise and which ones are decreasing and by doing this it allows us to allocate our resources as needed depending on where officers need to be."
Currently, each officer is responsible for knowing what happens in the zone he or she is assigned to. However, when they are off for a few days at a time and return to work, they may not necessarily know what has happened while they were away. The Crime Mapping software will solve that problem and allow an officer to quickly catch up on what they may have missed.
"There could have been a ration of entering autos in Zone 2 in the past three days [that the officer had off]," DiPrima said as an example. "When the officer comes in and logs on the computer system in his or her car and pulls up Zone 2, it will show all the crimes. It will be mapped out and once you put the cursor over the pinpoint on the map it gives you specific information about each one of those crimes. So, he or she gets first-hand information about what's going on and what they should be looking for. It's a better way of communicating."
There's no such thing as a routine traffic stop
Sgt. Lynn Wade may surprise unknowing citizens when she approaches their vehicle from a different side than anticipated during "routine" traffic stops. Her approach is cautious, careful and calculating as she is aware that the second move toward a vehicle is the deadliest.
"You don't know if the person is under stress or if they have narcotics and just don't want to go to jail," Wade said. "They'll do whatever means they think they can do to avoid going to jail."
While speaking to the academy participants, Wade shared video footage from traffic stops other people have performed that show how quickly things can change. Then she shared her own experiences.
In three videos, three very different situations were showcased. Keeping in mind that the offenders in the film are innocent until proven guilty, she presses "play."
"Hey, how are y'all doing? Can you step out of the car and talk to me for a minute?" Wade asks a variation of the same question when she approaches a suspicious vehicle in a high-crime area. Sometimes, people are compliant and the stop goes smoothly. Other times are different.
In her first example, the driver of a stopped vehicle and his two occupants had narcotics in their possession. At least one of them was on probation. The two passengers were polite and their pat-down for weapons and illegal objects or drugs passed with ease. The driver, though, resisted.
"Get down on the ground! Get on the ground!" Wade orders as she attempts to secure the suspect, who wiggles and runs out of view of the camera. A back-up officer is on the scene and together, after a long struggle, the suspect is arrested.
A second video shows Wade driving through an area near Main Street when she spots a vehicle related to a previous call. She follows the truck, calmly listening to a favorite radio station when the music stops and she begins a conversation with Bartow dispatch. The car's blue lights come on and the driver, suddenly, flees the vehicle without putting the truck into park.
"Bartow, I'm 10-80. Stop!" Wade calls as she runs after the offender. As the footage continues to play on the screen, the suspect's truck rolls farther and eventually crashes to a stop.
Wade is known through the department for her chases.
"It seems like she's always running after someone," the chief said with a smile. What remains unspoken is the danger that Wade and her fellow officers come in contact with every time they attempt to stop a vehicle.
The final day of the academy opened with a video of a traffic stop that took a turn for the worse. An officer is behind a speeding car at night. He turns on the blue lights and walks to the driver's side.
The driver steps from the vehicle and is, at first, polite and cooperative. When the officer begins to question the speeder if he has any weapons and requests to perform a pat-down, the much larger man resists. The offender was armed with a firearm. Their struggle falls to the ground and the officer takes a bullet that enters under his protective vest. His aorta is ruptured and viewers watch him die.
The death of Trooper Mark Coates changed how night-time traffic stops are performed -- now all traffic stops performed after sunset have two officers present unless the responding officer tells the back-up officer not to respond.
War on drugs in Cartersville
Prescription medication and illegal drugs remain in demand even after the closure of a pill mill in 2011. To combat the rise, the Bartow-Cartersville Drug Task Force is not the only team in CPD's arsenal. Currently, two officers from the Cartersville department are assigned to the Drug Enforcement Administration in Atlanta. By being a part of that team, CPD receives a wealth of benefits and plays a role in illegal drug reduction nationwide.
"Why would the Cartersville Police Department send one of their officers to work on a DEA task force? Well, drug trafficking organizations usually deal in a lot of drugs and with a lot of drugs comes a lot of money," McCann said. "We get a lot of money forfeited to this department and that money is used to buy equipment for law enforcement; it can be spent on cars, guns, vests that sort of thing. We've been very fortunate here to have people assigned to that task force and reap the benefits."
The DEA in Atlanta is designed for different types of enforcement groups. Cartersville's two representatives are assigned to two different groups, allowing the city to receive benefits from two different sources of revenue. Those officers also gain experiences from the task force they serve as a part of that their fellow Cartersvillian's cannot.
"If their case takes them to Mexico or L.A., [they travel there]," McCann, who was a part of the DEA task force before becoming the assistant chief, said. "They go all over the country but they report to work in Atlanta. The cases normally start in the northern district of Georgia. The northern district is kinda like a line from Newnan all the way up to the state line and from there it goes on. Mainly, what they're working on at the DEA is Mexican drug trafficking organizations. They're bringing thousands of kilos in cocaine into Atlanta. Atlanta has been the epicenter for the country for drug trafficking, specifically Gwinett County."
Locally, the DTF battles a variety of drug problems and in 2011 made more than 450 arrests, seized more than $30,000 in cash and the street value of drugs they took off of the streets exceeded $300,000. Their accomplishments in the previous year stemmed from an eight-person staff, which has since expanded to 10 people.
"We're part of the Northwest Georgia Criminal Enterprise Task Force, which is an FBI-ran task force," Assistant Commander Lt. Leslie Cheek said. "The great thing is, it doesn't require us to go to a main office. We get to work it here, which gives us the ability to work outside the county if something inside this county goes out."
The DTF performs a variety of functions in their attempt to keep Bartow safe and free of drugs. Those operations, on a daily level, include controlled purchases, buy busts and responding to calls that are received through local tip lines.
"We get call-ins all the time and those are tips and ways we get communication," Cheek said. "We do work off of that. A lot of it is the personal knowledge of the people who are in that group and the people who are getting arrested. On the patrol level, when they arrest somebody, for any drug arrest they ask those people certain questions. Then they make a phone call and here we come out to talk to them and gain all the information we can to make that a better issue."
With the Mexican cartels transporting drugs across the border, methamphetamine is easier and cheaper to purchase than it is to make.
"Meth labs as a whole in Bartow County are way down," Cheek said. "It's not as prominent."
As the need for methamphetamine moves beyond Bartow's borders, prescription pills have moved with it. In 2011, a local pill mill was discovered and the case included an indictment on not only the people working at the alleged pain management clinic as well as the doctor, but the owners as well.
A "pill mill" is a business that staffs a legitimate doctor and dispenses prescription medications outside the realm of medical standards. Meaning, prescriptions are often times handed out without a medical examination in exchange for cash instead of accepting health insurance, credit or debit cards, or checks.
The clinics are now forbidden in the city of Cartersville, whose easy access from Interstate 75 made the area a prime location.
"It was huge. I had never seen anything like it," Cheek said. "People would drive for hours and hours and hours, and sometimes there would be people who would be there before it opened and be in there the whole day and not get seen and go outside and pitch a fit and get in fights in the parking lot. They would come from South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida; we had some people come from Texas and Oklahoma as well as local people from Georgia. But I would say 80 to 95 percent of the people that were going there were from outside the state of Georgia."
To shoot or not to shoot?
The final day of the academy found participants at the jointly used firing range where Cartersville and Bartow County officers regularly train. Here, they would witness videos of fatal traffic stops, witness a demonstration of weapons officers have at their disposal and be placed in scenarios where they would have to make a split-second decision on whether to use deadly force.
"Use of force falls under the Fourth Amendment," Capt. Jeff Black said. "We don't shoot to kill. We shoot to stop."
The decision to use force falls to the officer's discretion after surveying the scene. A process is in place for the responding officer to consider and follow, but there is no step-by-step approach as every call is different.
"In a rapidly evolving situation, it [can take] seconds to determine what to do and that's the way a lot of it goes," Black said. "We're kinda at a disadvantage. The bad guy knows what he's fixing to do. We don't know what he's gonna do until he does it and then we're having to respond to that situation depending on what they do."
An officer's use of force begins with his or her presence. From there, force can go to a verbal command; soft hand, where they are touching someone to lead them further from the main conflict; hard hand, where a little more force is applied in the form of pressure points; or joint holds, the use of impact weapons such as a baton or OC spray and then deadly force.
"The way they used to teach this is like a sliding rule, up or down depending on the circumstances. The thing they didn't want officers to get in the habit of you had to go step by step with this because that's not the way it works, that's not the way it was intended," Black said. "You can arrive and be at officer presence and immediately go to deadly force in a split second. We didn't want officers getting in the mindset of thinking this is the first step, this is the second. You draw to whatever level of force you need for the particular situation you're in. You always want to use the least amount of force that is satisfactory to complete the job."
In Cartersville, officers are taught to give verbal commands throughout the entire process to give offenders the option to comply.
If an officer's actions are challenged and a court case ensues, the court will follow a three-prong test set forth in a Supreme Court ruling of Graham v. Connor where Graham was suffering from a diabetic condition and asked a friend to drive him to the convenience store for orange juice to offset an insulin reaction. According to the case presented to the high court in 1989, Graham received multiple injuries after officers used excessive force when a nearby police officer at the convenience store believed Graham's quick entrance and exit of the store to be suspicious. In reality, Graham saw a number of people ahead of him inside the store and decided to ask to be driven to a friend's house instead, causing his swift exit of the store. After the case, a test was put into place to be used when a question of excessive force rises in the future.
"If we go to court on a use of force [case] this is what the court is going to ask, 'What was the severity of the situation you were dealing with? Was there an immediate threat to you or the public? Were they actively resisting or trying to escape?'" Black said. "It's an objective-type of approach. It doesn't matter what the officer's intent was, what his mindset was when he used the level of force is not important here. The question is, was what he did under those circumstances reasonable?"
The question of reasonableness simply means, would any other officer have the same reaction when placed in the same set of circumstances? When deadly force comes into play, however, a different set of conditions for questioning arise.
"To use deadly force, [the suspect has] got to have the ability to hurt you -- they've got to have a weapon, they have to have an opportunity, and [once] they've got the ability and the opportunity, they [have to] place you in jeopardy where you feel like you're going to be hurt," Black said. "It's looking at the totality of circumstances. The question is, when are you in jeopardy?"
Determining when one is in jeopardy can change based on the totality of the circumstances surrounding the situation.
"The way they used to teach it was [the suspect] may have a gun in [his or her] hand and [they've] got the ability and opportunity to hurt [the officer] but [the officer is] not in jeopardy until that person makes a conscious motion to raise the gun in [the officer's] direction. But, depending on the totality of circumstances, if that person has just killed somebody else and they're standing there with a gun and there's other people, whether he raises that gun in my direction or not may not be a factor for how I need to respond."
In those difficult situations, more often than not officers tend to be scrutinized for their actions where people not involved in the moment question why a warning shot or a shot in the person's arm or leg was not made instead of a more aggressive approach.
"Everybody can tell you we do not train people to shoot arms and legs. We don't train to shoot warning shots. We shoot to stop the aggression," training officer Lt. Mark Camp said. "People ask, 'Why didn't you hit him with the stick? He only had a knife.' That knife can cover 21 to 25 feet in a second and a half and by the time I draw and get on the person -- which it takes about a second and half to draw -- they can slice me before I get the gun out of the holster."
Questions swirled in the academy regarding discrimination on age and sex in a use of force situation. If an officer who is 6 foot 2 inches tall and weighs 300 pounds uses force against a frail, elderly woman, then his actions may be questioned. However, in that same situation, there may be factors in play that cause the officer to use a more intense type of force such as if the woman has a gun or knife and is using the weapon in a threatening manner.
"That knife does not discriminate and it cuts just the same whether that lady is 80 years old or it's an 18-year-old male, and the same results can happen if she goes to cut that officer or the teenager goes to cut the officer," DiPrima said.
Coming to a close
After four weeks, the chief closed the session by handing out certificates of completion and Cartersville Police Department badges. Earlier in the academy, he shared with participants that CPD is more in-depth than they may realize and by the end many agreed with that statement.
"Policing Cartersville isn't just policing Cartersville, it's policing the globe," Culpepper said. "We have to be prepared and we constantly look to improve."
Before their final departure, many remarked that they wished more people would be involved in the course and learn about law enforcement. Some commented that they enjoyed the drug presentation the most while others enjoyed lifting fingerprints. In the end though, one acknowledged how the academy changed his viewpoint.
"I never really thought a whole lot about local police departments until I've been here the last four weeks, but I've changed my opinion about that now," James Filhart said.
At the end of the day, though, police officers are just like every other citizen.
"There're so many misconceptions about us," Black said as participants began leaving the parking lot. "People think we're some kind of three-headed monsters. We're folks just like anybody else. We've got families and kids and we work."