Summit County offers law enforcement training through Latino Citizens Police Academy
Summit resident Bayron Montealegre cautiously approached the black SUV, flashlight in hand. Dragging his hand along the side of the stationary car, Montealegre successfully procured a license from the sunglassed driver, ending the simulation.
“This is the most dangerous part of law enforcement,” said Silverthorne police chief Mark Hanschmidt as he taught a group the steps required to safely pull over a car. “You don’t know what’s in the vehicle, what the driver’s history is, or if they are intoxicated.”
More than 20 participants at Summit County’s Latino Police Academy learned to conduct traffic stops, dust for fingerprints and identify forged checks during the second day of the program. Wednesday’s event brought a sizeable turnout, as part of a program intended to foster better understanding between local police and the community.
Hanschmidt, Breckenridge police officer Esteban Ortega and Dillon police chief Mark Heminghous taught participants to park the police car slightly offset from the vehicle they pulled over, to give them some coverage in the event of an attack. The cruiser’s tires were angled slightly, to prevent it from hitting the officer if it were rear-ended by another car.
Those playing the officer were taught to approach a vehicle both on the driver’s side and the passenger’s side, standing just behind the window with a flashlight angled in to prevent being attacked. Hanschmidt also taught participants to drag their hand along the side of a suspect’s car, leaving a handprint in the event that something should happen to the officer.
“I found out that traffic stops are not easy,” Montealegre said. “Most people usually make it easy on the police, but some people can be angry, drunk, or really hard to deal with.”
Breaking out magnifying glasses and rulers, the group learned next to identify forged signatures on checks. Breckenridge police assistance chief Dennis McLaughlin and Jerry Del Valle, a network administrator at the Summit County Communications Center, taught the group to compare characteristics such as the slant of the writing and the shape of letters.
As the evening progressed, Breckenridge police detective Caitlin Kontak broke out the brushes and powder to teach participants to dust for fingerprints. Using either a white powder or a black magnetic powder, each group dusted oily prints on water glasses before using tape to stick them to a piece of paper.
“I appreciate that they’re doing this,” Montealegre added. “When I heard about it I immediately said, ‘I’m in.’”
Montealegre has considered the idea of policework for the past several years. He joined this year’s citizen police academy after hearing about its effect on other community members.
“People change their perception of the police when they do things like this,” Montealegre said. “Some people, I don’t know why, they don’t call the police and try to deal with things on their own.”
Officer Ortega, who helped lead the event in both training and translating, has served with the Breckenridge Police Department for nine years. Ortega said he originally started his police career as a community service officer with the department after moving to Summit from Mexico.
“They were calling me all over to translate,” Ortega laughed.
Two years later, Breckenridge police sent Ortega to the Denver Police Academy, an intensive 26-week training program to gain the skills needed to become an officer.
“If someone has an interest in law enforcement, there are roads to make that happen,” Breckenridge police chief Shannon Haynes said, adding that one of the previous Citizens Police Academy attendees now works as a deputy with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “We’ve had folks who want to help or volunteer in some way, or just want to be a positive force for law enforcement after what they learned.”
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