Two longtime Lawrence police officers Wednesday worked to prepare the department’s 13 recruits for one of the more difficult tasks they will face when they begin patrolling the streets.
“This is a tough job. You’re going to see things through your career that most people are never going to see,” said Sgt. Michael McLaren, who leads a joint city-county drug enforcement unit.
Death investigations — all of them — McLaren said should be treated as homicide investigations until foul play can be ruled out. Most of the time it is, but often as the first officers on the scene of an unattended death it will be their duty to preserve evidence and keep an open mind before they eliminate the possibility that anything suspicious occurred.
“If you ever get a funny feeling when you’re on a call, you need to go with it,” said Sgt. Michael Monroe, also a detective supervisor. “Because if things don’t seem right, they’re not right.”
Monroe said officers are called about twice a week to unattended death calls in Lawrence, and most of the time officers and coroner’s investigators are able to rule out foul play, usually because the person was elderly or had some type of medical condition. But until they can rule out foul play, officers and investigators will do their best to recreate everything that happened in the person’s life going back several days to look for anything suspicious.
That can include examining the person’s cellphone, recent events at work or canvassing the neighborhood to see if anyone nearby noticed anything suspicious.
“There are a variety of things you really have to look at,” Monroe said.
McLaren said if police are investigating an unsolved homicide they are generally tight-lipped about details with the family and media because, for one reason, they don’t want a potential suspect to use that information to impede the investigation, such as developing a false alibi.
Wednesday morning’s recruit academy session at the department’s Investigations and Training Center, 4820 Bob Billings Parkways, was the latest one I attended to get an idea of the how the new officers are trained.
The recruits are in their fifth week of the 24-week academy. So far they spend a majority of their days in the classroom learning about many different topics — such as report writing and community policing initiatives within the department — with some physical training mixed in.
Two weeks ago, Officer Matt McNemee used national statistics in his talk to recruits about the most dangerous situations for officers.
“We are up front and personal with people. We are in the mix,” McNemee said. “It’s how you work under stress that makes a difference.”
At that session, Chief Tarik Khatib said officers need to learn to strike a balance between being cautious and working to help people at the same time.
“Just be ready for anything at all times,” Khatib said, “but try not to rub people wrong.”