Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Departamento de policia, se habla espanol

What qualities should a person possess who is considering a career in law enforcement? Good mediation skills? The ability to relate to all different kinds of people? A desire to make a positive impact on their community?

Andrew Gault, Yellow Springs Police Department’s newest recruit, thinks integrity is the most important trait. “What you do when no one else is around,” explained Gault, “the standards you hold yourself to on and off-duty.”

Born and raised in Yellow Springs, Gault had public servant aspirations in his genes. His mother, Amy Harper, was editor of the YS News for 10 years and his father, Larry Gault, is vice president of operations for Greene Memorial Hospital. As part of his studies at Wright State, Gault was particularly impressed with a course in police procedures. So impressed, in fact, he changed his major to Organizational Leadership and graduated one quarter early in order to attend the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy at Sinclair Community College. He graduated from the Academy on May 14th and began his job as a YS police officer on July 31st.

“I loved growing up here,” said Gault, who was drawn to the career because of his interest in community relations and a strong sense of giving back to the town he loves. “I grew up knowing the [police] chief and other officers in the department. I looked up to them. [The YS Police Department] is a good place to come into.”

The Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and is considered to be one of the best law enforcement training institutions in the country. The commission regulates the 550-hour basic training curriculum for prospective law enforcement officers at numerous campuses throughout Ohio. The curriculum consists of more than 100 subjects including criminal investigation, human relations, cultural diversity, animal cruelty, defensive tactics, and the use of firearms.

As a newly-minted recruit, Gault looks to the other officers in the department for his continued training. “Everyone has something to bring to the table that will make me a better officer,” he said. “They’re strengthening what I’ve learned from the academy, teaching me departmental policy and procedures, and how to do my job the way they want it done.”

But Gault brings something to the table as well — a skill that makes him a rare commodity in law enforcement agencies not only in Greene County but throughout Ohio.

Gault is bilingual.

“He’s more bilingual than me!” jokes Gault’s training officer Naomi Penrod, who was born in Puerto Rico.

“Since the Spanish-speaking communities are growing in Springfield, Fairborn, Dayton and Xenia,” explained Gault, “being bilingual is very helpful.”

“Since I’ve been here,” said Penrod, “I’ve had people call and [request the services of] a bilingual officer.” Both officers appreciate the town of Yellow Springs — and the YSPD — for being ahead of the curve in terms of anticipating needs for law enforcement personnel and the people they serve. Having two bilingual officers in one police department is extremely rare and saves the department from having to contract out these services.

Penrod is a rare commodity herself as the department’s lone female police officer. A 2005 graduate of OPOTA through Clark State, she is currently celebrating her one-year anniversary with the YSPD.

Gault is the first in his family to choose a career in law enforcement. Penrod’s father was a correctional officer for many years in southeastern Ohio and three other family members worked for the NYPD including an uncle who was chief of homicide. Her first career was in nursing, working for eight years first at Children’s Hospital and then Grant Hospital in Columbus. After having a child and staying home for a few years, she took a job at the Fairborn Police Department as a dispatcher in 2004.

“People don’t realize what an important job that is,” explained Penrod. “The officers’ lives are in the dispatcher’s hands. The dispatcher gets all the information the officer needs to make going out on the call as safe as possible.” According to Penrod, a lot of people start out in law enforcement as dispatchers. They want to help people and make a difference in their community but they also want to stay safe behind the bullet-proof glass. Once they get into the dispatcher’s chair, however, and see what a difference they can make, they will often get “the law enforcement itch.”

“That’s what happened to me,” she said.

Penrod, who lives in Fairborn, continues to keep her dispatch and jail credentials up-to-date and still works part-time at the Fairborn Police Department. This full circle of service provides a background that is beneficial for Penrod, the new recruits she trains, the department on the whole, and — ultimately — the Yellow Springs community.

“Right now, [YSPD] has got a younger, very thriving group of officers,” said Penrod. “There are a group of us constantly going to trainings. We’re very fortunate to have that here in YS. We can take that training and train other agencies.”

Both Gault and Penrod appreciate the opportunities that have been given to them through Police Chief Grote. “He’s really opened a lot of doors for us,” said Gault.

“If you make a mistake,” explained Penrod, “he’s the kind of chief who will say, ‘Okay, let’s see where your mistake is, let’s learn from it, let’s teach you a better way.’ I feel very fortunate to have Chief Grote as our leader.”

Officers Gault and Penrod acknowledge the personal accountability that comes with the job. “We not only represent ourselves but we represent Yellow Springs and most important, we represent our chief at all times, and to the best of our ability,” said Penrod. “Our conduct on duty is just as important as off-duty.”

For more information about the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, contact (937) 328-6050 (at Clark State) or (937) 512-2270 (at Sinclair).

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.