By Jacob Mathias
I enrolled in the Portage Co. Emergency Services Citizens’ Academy because my editor made me.
I’m a full-time student with 15 credits; I’m married; I work three part-time jobs: as a reporter for the Stevens Point City Times, customer service and prep at Ski’s Meat Market and as a substitute teacher in the Stevens Point Area School District. Giving up three hours every Thursday night for three months wasn’t something I was super pumped to do.
After the first class, I’m irritated I didn’t sign up sooner.
The Citizens’ Academy is a series of classes and hands-on experiences, all designed to teach the average citizen about the duties and inner-workings of the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, along with fire and police departments in Stevens Point and Plover. It’s like a behind-the-scenes look at the people whose job it is to protect our community.
The first thing that should be noted is how much passion the men and women in our emergency services have for their jobs, and how much compassion they have for their community. They all love what they do and take their jobs very seriously.
As the leaders of different offices and departments, like SPPD Chief Marty Skibba, Plover PD Lt. Ryan Fox, SPFD Chief Robert Finn and Portage Co. Chief Deputy Dan Kontos introduced themselves, I could hear in their voices that these were not just their jobs, these were their lives.
Being part of that passion immediately turned my passive interest in the academy into something I couldn’t wait to start.
The first class began with a lecture on force science by Fox. Force science is the study of how the human body can and will react in a high stress situation such as a police encounter requiring use of force. Fox explained that high stress situations can lead to tunnel vision, time dilation and memory loss.
The newly-founded science is attempting to explain why officers might react the way they do in certain situations. Fox pointed out that the science is used to explain officers’ behavior and use of force in high stress, not exonerate them.
We were also given a presentation by Denise Schultz, manager of the Portage County Communications Center, often referred to simply as “dispatch”. Learning the true scope of a dispatcher’s job and of the over 130,000 calls their center takes every year was awe-inspiring. I quickly determined it was a job I am not cut out for and in fact, studies show only four percent of the population can indeed be a successful dispatcher.
My first class at the Citizens’ Academy was fascinating, eye-opening and inspiring. Please join me each week as a recount my experiences at the gun range, fighting real fires, evasive driving tactics and so much more that our law enforcement and emergency services encounter each week.