Civilian Police Academy graduates

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
Local citizens completed their sixth and final class of the Cambridge Police Department’s Civilian Police Academy on Wednesday. The group heard from State’s Attorney Bill Jones, the Honorable Judge Brett Wilson and the Honorable Judge Melvin Jews.

CAMBRIDGE — A group of local residents is now more knowledgeable about law enforcement, after completing on Dec. 18 their sixth and final class at the Cambridge Police Department’s Civilian Police Academy. The free class, held periodically at the department, meets once a week to cover aspects of the profession.

Included in previous sessions were simulations of traffic stops and a demonstration by drug-detection dogs. Class members take an active role in the activities, coming away with a fuller appreciation of the challenges faced by officers.

Barb Brooks attended with her husband Joe. “You can really see the dedication,” she said.

County Courts
The emphasis of the final class was on the court system.
State’s Attorney for Dorchester County Bill Jones has served in his post for nearly 13 years, after almost a decade as a police officer and a sheriff’s deputy. “It’s been one of the great privileges of my life,” he said.

Not that it’s a light burden. “I’m responsible for the safety and welfare of all 35,000 people” in the county, he said.

Among his office’s function is to collect police reports, identify witnesses and coordinate prosecution in the name of the state. As the six attorneys in the agency do that, they cooperate with Dorchester’s police forces.

Mr. Jones said, though, that he reminds his staff that they are separate. “While we work closely with the police officers, they don’t work for us,” he said.

‘One voice’
Cases are tried in the county in either District Court, where the Hon. Melvin Jews presides, or in Circuit Court, where the Hon. Brett Wilson is on the bench. Circuit Court “cases tend to be a little weightier,” and are often jury trials, Mr. Jones said.
Nearly all cases begin in District Court, though. If necessary, they can be sent to Circuit Court.

“We’re about the business of solving problems,” Judge Jews said. As a man born and raised in Cambridge, he said, “I have a vested interest” in resolving issues, many of which are related to families, children and drug use.

He spoke at some length on the condition and behavior of children, and the guidance — or lack thereof — that some receive.

“We have to speak with one voice,” Judge Jews said. “Children are out of control in some parts of the community.”

Some of that behavior is the result of the children’s traumatizing experiences in their homes, which can result in criminal charges against parents, he said. But if a child is born with fetal alcohol syndrome, or addicted to opiates or affected by the mother’s use of methamphetamine, the damage is done.

The physical results of the abuse and neglect can create a student who exhibits poor or even violent tendencies.

Judge Jews referred to behavior in schools, and urged that parents, educators and community members at large promote a common message of respect and dignity. “When that teacher says something, that’s the law,” he said.

Support teachers
“Young people are not respecting elders,” Judge Jews said. “And elders are afraid to confront young people when they act out. I say this to you: We have to support our teachers.”

He recalled that when he was young, if a student was punished in school, there was more when the child returned home. “My parents never challenged a teacher,” Judge Jews said. “But now I see the parents are getting aggressive towards the teachers. That’s not good. The teachers are there to provide the children with support and to create a learning environment.”

“Children need to know what we expect of them. It should be clear,” he said. “We expect them to go to school to learn, to listen to the teachers and to be obedient. That’s old fashioned to a lot of folks, but that’s what I believe. I think if we hold the line on that, things will get better.”

“But teachers now feel that we don’t support them, and I think we should,” he said, as he urged citizens to tell teachers and law enforcement officers that they are appreciated. “At least we can say, ‘Thank you.’”

Health issues
Judge Wilson told the group he is also a product of the county’s public education, as a graduate of North Dorchester High School. Beginning his time on the bench as a juvenile master in 1996, he was appointed to the Circuit Court in 2004.

Now, he said, much of the cases before him involve hard drugs. “It seems like half of my docket is connected to opioid abuse,” Judge Wilson said.

He noted the irony of a society that has been based on the pursuit of equality, which has reached some measure of that, but through the widespread effects of addiction.

“It takes a lot out of us,” he said, to see the losses from drug use. “We truly care about the people who come before us.”

“It’s a very grave responsibility,” Judge Wilson said of his duties. “We all love Dorchester County, we love the people of Dorchester County, and we want them to be safe.”

Safety and health issues extend to local schools.
“We have a crisis in mental illness,” he said. “We have seriously sick kids.”

Judge Wilson said teachers have to instruct children, “who really can’t help how they’re acting, because their brains don’t work. One of the things we’re trying to make judges more aware of is the role that trauma plays in people’s lives, especially kids’ lives. We’ve seen brain scans of kids who’ve been traumatized. They’ve been traumatized by seeing dad beat mom…They’ve seen people sticking needles in their arms.”

“They are trafficked. In this town, we had a grandmother who pimped out her 15-year-old granddaughter to a sex offender who just got out of jail, in return for crack. How is that young lady ever going to have a normal life?”

Work as community
“When we look at these brain scans, there are voids,” Judge Wilson said. “The only part of the brain that is really working is the hippocampus, which is sort of the prehistoric, Neanderthal brain, the basic survival part of the brain. The parts that teach them to love, to have impulse control, which is contained in the frontal lobe, never get developed.”

“They are in fight-or-flight mode,” Judge Wilson said. “Their brains very much resemble those with Alzheimer’s. This what police officers deal with on the streets, what Mr. Jones deals with. We have to try to balance punishment with treatment.”

The presentations at the last class, and the activities during the previous five, made an impression on those attending. “It helped local citizens realize and appreciate all that our Cambridge police officers endure, accomplish and strive for,” Ms. Brooks said.

“If we work on these issues as a community, we can solve these issues. We can, we really can,” Judge Jews said.