Citizen’s Academy

by Jay Bender

Of all the community relations efforts conducted by the Solon Police Department, perhaps the most comprehensive endeavor is our Citizen’s Academy.

In its current format, the Citizen’s Academy has been in operation since 2011. There are usually two classes per year, one in the fall and another in spring, and each class consists of up to 24 Solon residents. The class meets once per week for nine weeks and each classroom session is three hours.

Through the nine-week class, students are given an in-depth look at police work in general, and the Solon Police Department in particular. Participants are exposed to a variety of topics, taught by our in-house experts. For example, FTO Roy Cunningham, a certified Drug Recognition Expert, teaches a three-hour block on detecting, testing and apprehending impaired drivers, Ptl. Matt Troyer teams up with K-9 Stryker for a look at the capabilities of our police dog, and Chief Christopher Viland offers a comprehensive course on the legal aspects of our profession. Students also get the opportunity to participate in more hands-on activities, such as simulated traffic stops and the optional range day, where, under arm’s-length supervision, each participant gets the chance to fire a few rounds from our service pistols, patrol rifles and shotguns. Other optional activities include a trip to the medical examiner’s office. A two-hour patrol ride along rounds out the curriculum.

I have been fortunate to lecture on police use-of-force, a hot-button topic that always generates comments and questions, and often highlights misunderstandings about how, when and why police resort to physical force or compliance tools. And I instruct on range day, which truly challenges me as a teacher because of the wide range of shooting experience we’ve seen in class members, literally going from “never shot a gun before” to “lifelong shooter.”

When students leave the class, they leave with a better understanding of the Solon Police Department, and many leave with friendships that last long after the class has concluded.

So, what does the department get out of class?

For us, it’s the ripple effect. It’s putting dozens of informed citizens out among their friends, families and neighbors, where they can, hopefully, offer insight into what the police actual do and why they do it. I have referred to graduates as our water-cooler or coffee-shop ambassadors, spreading our message at a grassroots level, and that is more than enough return on the time invested.

We are midway through the spring session, but if you are interested in participating in the fall session, keep tuned in to our social media sites for enrollment in the fall class. Just a warning, though: It fills up fast!


Preventing Mass Killings

By Bruce Felton

There is a growing frustration felt by me and many fellow law enforcement officers over the incidence of mass killings in the United States, particularly those occurring at our schools.  Understandably, with each new incidence of mass murder at our schools, there are renewed conversations; conversations that prove largely ineffectual at addressing the immediate threat to our students.  It seems we have become a nation of agendas, parading those agendas at each new tragedy without any regard to efficacy of solution.  We all have opinions about gun control, mental health, bullying; these are discussions that must take place.  But they need to be separate conversations.  We need to impose practices at our schools that will protect the students yesterday!  Not tomorrow, not next week or next year.  Immediately.

If we are serious about protecting those at our schools, we need to study solutions in a realistic framework of immediate, short-term, and long-term solutions.  For instance, gun control is, by itself, a very important discussion that should be had.  Truthfully, I personally think that guns are far too easy for the wrong people to obtain in this country, and there should be intense study on realistic ways to remedy that given our history and Constitution.  But, at best, this would be a long-term (and partial) solution to mass killing in our schools.  If we were to somehow ban all guns tomorrow, the estimated 300 million guns in the United States would still find their way into the wrong hands, and would-be killers are going to continue to harm students and co-workers.  While we debate the merits and boundaries of gun control, innocent people will still be killed.

The logical solution to preventing students and staff from being harmed by killers in the schools is to provide trained, armed security forces for every school and at every school function.  This would be a short-term solution since it would take time to put in place.  In the interim, as an immediate solution, armed law enforcement should be assigned to schools until those armed security professionals could be hired and placed into the schools.  Would it be incredibly expensive?  Absolutely!  So were fire suppression systems and alarms, but we did it.  If we are serious about school safety, if we are serious about protecting our youth and the teachers that mentor them, then it needs to be an absolute priority.  Once our schools are secured with trained professionals, we would then have time to tackle long-term solutions, such as gun control, access to mental health care and, very importantly, changing our mindset about how we treat each other.  Respect; not the word, but the actual mindset, has to be returned to our society.

I have the deepest admiration and support for those who are advocating better gun control, better care and treatment for those suffering from mental health issues, and a more inclusive society.  But please, do not let these issues distract this country from real solutions on how to keep people safe.  They are all part of the puzzle, but they will not save lives now, or likely in the near future.  Let’s do what we need to so that we no longer lose young lives in what should be one of the safest environments that they should ever know.

Just Comply

By Chief Christopher Paul Viland, Esq.

I had lunch with my sister the other day.  She is a successful and educated woman with a Master’s Degree and a management job.  As happens sometimes, the conversation devolved to her asking me what a police officer “could” do based on stories and films that she had seen.  “Can they make you get out of your car?”  “Can they be on your property if you don’t want them there?”  “Can they search you or handcuff you?”  And, as per usual, the answer was, “Yes, in most cases.”  Her response, “Well that doesn’t seem right.”

The conversation troubled me because I was dumbfounded by the lack of knowledge she had about police authority and civics.  Especially someone so well educated and aware.  Then I remembered something that was explained to me in the police academy.  Police academy graduates have more criminal law and criminal procedure education than any lawyer coming out of law school.  Having graduated from law school much later in my career, I can confirm that.  If lawyers are not even educated adequately about police procedure, how could I expect my sister or anyone else to be?

Police officer trainees are consistently and professionally exposed and trained to all aspects of the law surrounding their authority and procedural restrictions.  Seminal court cases have strictly defined what police can and cannot do for decades.  No good police officer would violate Terry v. Ohio or Miranda v. Arizona.  Every good police officer knows the scope of his authority to search without a search warrant and the exceptions that courts have granted us, U.S. v. Leon (the good faith exception) for example.  Unfortunately, as a profession, we have done a dismal job in showing the public just how expert we have to be in these areas in order to perform on a daily basis.

I fear that the general public’s lack of awareness of police authority has lead to too many confrontations and bad outcomes that were easily avoidable.  I have had too many complaints from the public that were simply a lack of understanding about what the criminal justice system does and can do.  There are too many people who, without knowledge, immediately rebel and resist any display of police authority even though they are completely in the wrong and mostly because they just don’t know.  This escalation combined with understandable human behavior can and does lead to tragic consequences for everyone involved.

That being said, police misbehavior occurs.  Police officers can and do get punished for violating peoples rights.  They can lose their careers, they can be required to pay damages, they can even be criminally prosecuted.  The many ways that police misconduct can and are addressed all are accomplished after the incident itself.

I would never ask anyone to assume the police officer is always right.  I would absolutely say, however, that the time and place to dispute the officer’s actions is in a disciplinary or courtroom setting and not on the street.  If I had one piece of advice for anyone, young or old and regardless of race, sex, gender identity or anything else, it would be:  just comply.  Just comply.  Do what you are ordered to do, comply with what is happening to you, make it quite clear the things that you do not consent to or agree with, but comply.

If the police are wrong, the system is designed to deal with that.  If you have been harmed, you should be made whole.  People who shouldn’t be police officers will be relieved of their duties.  The great majority of the people we call police officers, those with whom we have invested the authority to seize things and people and to use deadly force, take those responsibilities very seriously.  And, they have become actual experts in their field.  We, as a society, must grant them that assumption.  Otherwise chaos will ensue.


Personal Protection and Awareness

by Bruce Felton

Early in December, Dayton police officer and Ohio Crime Prevention Association President Chris Pawelski came to Solon to conduct a presentation on Personal Safety and the “Run, Hide, Fight” strategy for mass murder situations.  It was an excellent seminar in both content and delivery, and everyone in attendance seemed to benefit.  Listening to Officer Pawelski speak about the two topics caused me to ponder what has changed in the past several years, and what has not.

In the late 1990’s Patrolman Jason Bender and I began conducting a series of self-defense clinics together, working with women to create their own unique plans to prevent and, int the event of an attack, craft a response.  For my part, I quickly became aware of just how women in our society are victimized, largely by people they know and too often by are intimate partners.  We taught about prevention, what to look for and how to be vigilant, and how to physically react in the event of an attack.  We taught several classes over the years, and in every class there were women who had already been victims. Sadly, this is one of the things that has not changed; women are still victimized in a multitude of ways, physically and emotionally.  Recent publicity surrounding women who have come forward to reveal their victimization by men in positions of power are a reminder of the depth and scope of this problem.

Something that has changed is equally troubling.  Shortly after we began teaching these classes, the mass murder in Columbine occurred.  It was not the first mass killing of this nature, but was certainly one of the more disturbing and publicized crimes in modern history.  Sadly, these sort of senseless events continue today, and those responsible are determined to increase the devastation left in their wake, in some bizarre attempt to achieve notoriety, to forever link their name to violent moment in time.

Finally, terrorism has become a familiar term for those in our society.  Certainly, terrorism has been a tactic used by fanatics for centuries, but on 9-11 it took on a whole new meaning for us with the realization that we were not immune to massive terrorist operations on our own soil.  While we have been spared an attack of that scale, those responsible for spreading terror have shown remarkable tenacity and creativity in their attempts to harm us on our own land.  The same people who show a proclivity towards active killing are being targeted through social media to carry out attacks here.  Known as “Lone Wolves,” these individuals have a desire to commit violent acts against others and, triggered by radicalization through social media, present a new danger as solitary terrorists.

Looking back, the common thread through all of this is and has always been violent behavior (and yes, the coercive behavior by men in power against women is absolutely a form of violence).

While there are many aspects to consider, and numerous conversations that should be had about all of these subjects, one of the most immediate and personally achievable goals is developing a day-to-day self awareness.  Having a better understanding of violent behavior and the signs that violent behavior is imminent, (pre-incident indicators), trusting your instincts, and “living in the now” can go a long way to making you and your loved ones safer.  An excellent book on this subject, and one that everyone should read, is The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. In this book, De Becker explores violent behavior and goes in-depth about how to identify indicators that may signal violent behavior is going to occur.  The book Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne is a great follow up.  Based on the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program, this book helps individuals develop situational awareness skills that can be used in any environment.

Despite the prevalence of media stories about random acts of violence, these acts are still, relatively speaking, rare.  That they are random is perhaps the most alarming part because that makes them unpredictable.  This does not make us helpless, nor should we feel powerless.  Don’t try to predict when or where violence may occur: Establish your own baseline readiness; be aware, be vigilant, be purposeful and, above all, have a plan.



A new old problem

By Jay Bender

Much of what we see in life is cyclical. Trends catch on, die out and experience resurgence. Some of that resurgence is tragic.

When I began working for the Solon Police Department in the early 1990’s, crack cocaine was the illegal drug constantly in the headlines. Heroin was around, but it was not common, certainly not as “popular” as it had been during the 1970’s and into the ’80’s. As we entered the 21st Century, methamphetamine use began to spread, in part because it can be manufactured in homemade labs. And now, heroin has made a comeback, along with a wide variety pharmaceutical opioids.

The danger of these drugs and their impact on our society is no secret. From addiction to overdoses, we are facing a problem that will not go away on its own. I don’t think that anyone has one answer to this issue: A real solution will have to come from different sources.

On March 1, at 7:00 p.m., Advent Lutheran Church and the Solon Police Department will be sponsoring a community “care-versation,” focusing on facing the opioid crisis together. Participants will include a variety of specialists, including Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson, Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office investigator Erin Worrell, Solon Fire Chief William Shaw, Cover2 founder Greg Mcneil, Safe Passages coordinator Nicole Walmsley, and Solon DARE Officer Joann Felton.

It is a group that includes a wide mix of participants, and that’s important because to deal with this problem it will take all of them. Even more importantly, it will take all of us.


Advent Lutheran Church is located at 5525 Harper Road, Solon, Ohio.

Building trust

by Jay Bender

With the holiday season in full swing, many of you will be spending considerably more time in stores, often with kids or grandkids in tow. And let’s be honest, most children would rather be doing anything  other than shopping with a grownup, which can lead to some frustrated outbursts or full-fledged tantrums. Dealing with upset children is one of the most challenging aspects of parenthood.

If you ask just about any cop, they’ll tell you about one parenting technique that usually falls a little flat: It’s when a parent uses you to frighten their children, often by pointing at a police officer in uniform and saying “If you don’t stop crying, that policeman is going to take you to jail!”

Now, a police officer must have a thick skin. We are often the target of vulgar tirades and threats, so while comments like this come with the uniform, there is a deeper issue here than some hurt feelings. When this happens to me, I usually will take a moment and talk directly to the child. I always say “Oh, I won’t take you to jail. We only take bad people to jail, and you’re good, right?” That’s usually met with a shy nod and some sniffles.

I don’t take that time because I want to feel better, but because I think it’s vital that children see police officers as people to be trusted, not feared. Within minutes of the encounter, that child could become lost in a crowded store or mall, or they might need a police officer for an emergency. Do you think that child will go to a person they fear? Or a person they trust?


Police and the Media: Part 2

by Bruce Felton

I have heard it said by those in the media that they offer a service; providing crucial information, exposing unfairness and abuses, providing educational programming.  This is true.  Yet it must be understood that modern media, in today’s forms, is still a business and driven by profit.  To be more accurate, it is about selling space that advertisers will want to buy.

That is not to say this is a bad thing; it is largely how our economy works.  Business looks to fill a demand by selling a service or commodity.  If the consumer displays a desire for a particular type of product or service, then a competent business will anticipate and look to fill that particular demand.  So if a demand arises for pink, purple polka-dotted widgets, then an astute business monitoring such trends will be ready to rise to the occasion by manufacturing and selling pink, purple polka-dotted widgets.

The news that we see and hear every day works much the same.  Many times I have heard others – and truth be told, listened to myself – complain about the content or delivery of the news.  Yet we still watch it.  We still tune in to that channel, that radio station, that website or blog.  We are the consumers creating the demand.  But instead of pink, purple polka-dotted widgets, we are creating a demand for news of a particular content and format.  We are largely creating the demand for the same news that we are complaining about.

Often the complaint about “the news” is followed by the resignation that nothing can be done about it, that we can’t control it.  But of course we can control it: We created it.  Maybe not overnight, maybe not definitively, but we can control it with our remotes, our keyboards, our radio dials, the papers and magazines we read.  We are all the consumers of the news, and it is ultimately we who control the demand.  If we want to change the “if it bleeds, it leads” atmosphere, we have to curb our appetite for the sensational and replace it with a desire for quality journalism.  There are certainly many talented journalists who sincerely wish to provide content that is useful, educational, and embodies the integrity that the SPJ Code of Ethics hopes to foster.  Let’s all work to create the environment that allows this to happen.

House Watches

by Jay Bender

One of the many services the Solon Police Department offers to our residents is the House Watch Program. Through the program, homeowners can fill out a form and turn it in at our station when they know they’ll be out of town or their house will be vacant.

Once the address is added to the list, our officers will periodically check the home and make sure it is secure. We try to get to each home at least once per shift, and we purposely keep the times random so anybody “casing” the house will have no idea when we might show up. It occasionally surprises neighbors when they see an officer getting out their patrol car, walking around a house and checking doors and windows. Some seem genuinely caught off guard to see that we actually “rattle the doorknobs.”

It’s not unusual for officers to find unsecured doors, left unlocked by homeowners eager to start their vacations, or even petsitters or neighbors. If there is access to the home, officers will contact the keyholder and enter to check the house for criminal activity. We’ve also found flooding, water line breaks and tree damage while doing these checks. While not criminal in nature, they are certainly important to the homeowner.

Again, it’s not the kind of service that gets headlines, but it’s still part of the job we do.

You can download the form from, under Forms. Once completed, turn the form in at the Solon Police Department, 33000 Solon Road.


Preventable crime

by Jay Bender

In police work, not every task is exciting or even interesting. Still, every job has a chance to help you look at things in new ways.

For example, I was recently tasked with reviewing and scanning tickets and test forms into the computer from out BAC Datamaster. The Datamaster is commonly referred to as a “breathalyzer,” which, as you know, is used to the determine the percentage of alcohol in a person’s system after they have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

As I went through the records, I started to think about how a drunk driving arrest can completely derail a life, any life. One of the aspects I noticed is that there was really no common denominator among the suspects. Ages ranged from the early 20s to the late 70s. Some suspects came from very affluent neighborhoods, and some did not. Some offenders registered blood alcohol contents just above the legal limit of .08, and many blew two or event three times that limit. Some were so intoxicated you might wonder how they could walk, let alone drive.

And even if that OVI offense injured nobody, the impact on the suspect will be immediate and costly. They will have to post bond to be released from jail, and they will have to appear in court, which will likely be only the first of many court appearances. For some, the court costs and fines are insignificant. For some, they will be insurmountable. For still others, it will be the embarrassment that hurts the most. Regardless, an arrest will affect you, and be assured that it can happen to you…it is not always somebody else from somewhere else!

What these arrests do have in common is that the crime in question is completely preventable with a simple formula: Don’t drink and drive. Even in extreme moderation, you are taking an unnecessary risk. In 24 years of police work, I’ve never met anybody who regretted NOT drinking.

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