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Students get insight into police work

Created by Cohasset Mariner reporter Mary Ford on 9th December 2005, 10:02 pm

Two Cohasset police officers were back at the high school Tuesday morning but not to talk about the recent bomb threats or vandalism.

In fact, uniformed police officers make regular visits to teacher Jack Buckley's "Introduction to Law" class as part of the class curriculum to talk about everything from probable cause to Miranda rights.

The program also includes a class visit to the police department headquarters on Elm Street and a tour of the Plymouth County jail. Although it's not a requirement, students - who have signed parental permission slips - are also invited to join police on a two-hour, ride-along.

Much of the discussion in Monday's class among the students and Officer Pat Kenney and Sgt. Bill Quigley surrounded illegal drugs, sale of drug paraphernalia, domestic violence and whether the town had serious crimes like murder.

An interesting aspect of the discussion also centered on when to "tell on" someone who may be abusing drugs or someone involved in domestic violence in order to get them help.

Officer Kenney also noted that he views an officer's job as going after the people selling drugs and said police want to work with parents of youngsters who may be on drugs to get them the help they need.

"My job is not always to jump out of the cruiser and put handcuffs on someone," he said. "My job is to serve the town."

Kenney, who joined the Cohasset Police Department last February, said Cohasset people don't appear to be afraid to get involved. He said police recently had 20 cell phone calls about a family argument occurring in public that appeared to be getting out of hand.

He also explained police are mandated to report suspected incidents of child abuse.

The officers also led a discussion about legal issues surrounding when to draw the line regarding the sale of items that can be used for criminal activity although that may not be what the product is made for.

The prime example is the sale of double-wide, tobacco rolling paper and flavored cigars, dubbed blunts, that are available for sale in Cohasset and could used for smoking marijuana. Kenney asked hypothetically if the sale of switchblades and stiletto knives should be banned; student consensus was they should be because of their potential for abuse. However, one student noted banning products could get out of hand and suggested whip cream could be banned because the aerosol can could be used to get high.

When the class started in September, students were asked their opinions on police-community relations. Most of the responses were fairly positive with the majority having good feelings about police officers. The students also thought people in general could be more cooperative with police. The survey also reflected that students think police officers generally did not have a positive opinion about teenagers.

Buckley, the students' teacher, said the same survey would be given later this week to see how students' impressions had changed after taking the class.

In an interview after Monday's class, Kenney described the class as "a great group." He said he was surprised at how well the students thought of the police in the pre-class survey.

Sgt. Quigley said the key to changing perception is communication. "It's all about communication and face time with the kids," he said. "Then if the time comes we are dealing with kids on a call - we have a rapport."

Quigley said he was impressed with the questions the class asked that often put them on the spot.

For example, the students wondered why student backpacks and bookbags were checked and not those belonging to the teachers in the aftermath of the recent bomb threats.

Kenney said the officers explained the target group of potential suspects was not believed to be teachers.

Buckley said the class "Introduction to Law" is an elective offered only during the first semester and is part of the Social Studies curriculum.

As part of the class, students studied a real case about a Cohasset woman who was arrested and ended up being incarcerated. The students also each prepare a fiction, research paper detailing 15 steps of a crime (such as OUI or embezzlement) and prosecution, from probable cause to the arrest, court hearings and appeal, Buckley said.

Earlier in the term, state Rep. Garrett Bradley, who represents Cohasset, spoke to the class on the new tougher drunk-driving law, Melanie's Bill, and the legislative process.

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Cohasset, Massachusetts