April 16, 2007

LPPD blue: residents get a look behind the scenes in LP

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

Several prominent Lester Prairie residents have been seen riding in squad cars and spending time at the McLeod County Jail recently, but not because they have suddenly become scofflaws.

They were participants in the Lester Prairie Police Department’s citizens police academy, an eight-week program that gives city residents a hands-on opportunity to learn about what law enforcement officers do.

Ralph and Donna Machemehl decided to sign up for the program rather than spending time in Arizona this winter on the recommendation of friends who participated in the program last year.

“It is something more people should get involved in,” Ralph said of the program.

This was the second year the program was offered.

Shirley Dibb also took the course this year, and said participants learned a lot about police work, and had some fun in the process.

Participants in the program had the opportunity to go on ride-alongs with Lester Prairie police officers.

Dibb explained that when she rode with Officer Brenda Conzet, Conzet stopped to investigate some tracks in the snow near a residence that Conzet knew was empty because the owners were on vacation.

She checked the doors and windows and made sure the house was secure.

Dibb said she hadn’t even seen the tracks until Conzet pointed them out. Dibb added that she was surprised at how many things the officers pay attention to while on patrol.

“I have seen a lot more of Lester Prairie (through the program). It is amazing to see all of the things they check,” Donna Machemehl commented.

During one session, Conzet and Officer Mark Thiry explained how Tasers work, and how police officers determine when to use force.

“Brenda said that people respect the Taser more than they do her .45, because they know she will not hesitate to use it,” Dibb said.

“They (Tasers) shoot barbs up to 25 feet, and the barbs enter the suspect’s skin,” Ralph commented.

During the class, participants learned to use the Tasers, and shot silhouettes covered with aluminum foil.

During another session, class participants toured the McLeod County Jail.

They observed 911 dispatchers at work, toured the booking area, holding cells, and a court room.

Preventative medicine

“They are very involved in the school,” Ralph Machemehl said, adding that police officers work with teachers, the principal, and county officials to help resolve issues related to students.

Donna Machemehl said one of the objectives of the police department’s work with students, especially younger students, is to give kids the opportunity to get to know the officers so they are not afraid of them, and can come to them when they are in trouble.

The police department also works with churches and other community groups to help young people, Ralph Machemehl noted.

Tough, but compassionate

“People are unaware of the protection they give us,” Donna Machemehl commented.

Class participants learned about the training that officers must go through, and learned about the danger they face in the line of duty.

“They put their lives in danger,” Dibb said.

“They never know what they are going to get into when they make a traffic stop,” Donna Machemehl added.

One of the most difficult and challenging situations law enforcement officials face is responding to “domestics,” Dibb and Machemehl observed.

“They show a lot of compassion, especially for the kids and the trauma they are going through,” Dibb said.

“Brenda is tough, but compassionate,” Donna Machemehl agreed.

The program was a learning experience for those who participated.

“We were totally unaware of what they do,” Donna Machemehl said.

Other things that surprised participants included the number of grants the department has received, and the weight of the equipment they have to carry.

Conzet allowed Donna to try on some of her police gear.

“Then she said, ‘now try to run,’” Donna Machemehl laughed.

“People are unaware of the protection they give us. They are there when we need them,” she added.

“No matter what your feelings are about the police department, we encourage people to get involved with this program,” Ralph Machemehl said.

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