How about that 5.8 earthquake last week…
I’ve had lots of interactions with the Vienna Police Department lately. No, not for speeding. I just completed a women’s self-defense class (Rape Aggression Defense System or RAD) offered by the Department and the Town. I also met with Officer Bill Murray (Bill), the Public Information Officer for the Department, to learn about what the officers do to help keep us safe. It turns out the Department is doing a lot more than just patrolling for speeders skirting traffic on 123.
I first met Bill while I was preggo, when he checked how we as-yet childless adults had installed the baby’s car seat. He also did another check when we switched Bug into the bigger kid car seat. Car seat checks are a free service offered to Town residents – just contact Bill to schedule. Last week, Bill came to my house to conduct a home safety inspection – another free service for residents.
Bill went around my house, checking the doors, windows and outside to see if there were opportunities for break-ins to easily occur. He gave me suggestions for home safety improvements but overall, our house is pretty safe. Yay! Then Bill and I had a chance to talk about the Department and his work there.
Headed by the Chief of Police (colonel), the Department’s 41 officers range in age from mid-twenties on up. There are four women on the force. Officers work on the traffic squad, the night shift and administrative work, and some are undercover doing drug and gang work. The VPD opened in 1947 when Langley and the CIA were being established and expanded as a result of the Korean War, resulting in growth in the Vienna area. It takes a lot to become a cop – graduate from the academy and then pass a written test, a polygraph, and other physical and mental exams. When officers are finally hired, they tend to stay where they are for about 20 – 25 years. For Vienna officers, much of their work focuses on the traffic squad, which not only lets officers keep streets safe but allows them the opportunity to look for other infractions, like drugs and theft.
Now Bill is a person who loves his job: raised in Vienna, he’s been with the Vienna Police Department for over 20 years. Four years ago the Department saw a need for better communication with the public, so they created the Public Information Officer position – Bill has held the job from the start. He works regularly on the DARE program with fifth graders, gives presentations as needed to various local groups on any related issue, and provides weekly Highlights on the Department’s Web site each Friday with a bit of humor to them. In fact, his penchant for humor has earned him recognition as far away as California – where he was a guest on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show! He’s featured in an upcoming piece in the Washington Post, too. He’s happy to meet the needs of any resident or community group, so if you want a presentation or class about any aspect of safety, he’s your officer (wmurray at viennava dot gov).
So, about this RAD class: it’s a four-class course, each class three hours over two weeks. The first night is a lecture. The second and third night are when we learned and practiced about two dozen self-defense moves, including hand and leg strikes, and how to get out of bear hugs and choke holds. The lead teacher was an awesome young woman on the Vienna force. I thought it was great that the class was not only taught by a woman, but a young and powerful police officer in our community. It was weird that at times the class was fun and other times scary. And frustrating: as a woman who brought life into this world, as millions of other women have, I got angry about how some man might someday try to dishonor me, and women in general. I certainly see life through the lenses of woman and mom now more than ever.
The last night of class is “fight night” where we test out what we’ve learned on real men. The four men who were our attackers were in these padded suits that made them look simultaneously like Transformers and sumo wrestlers. One was our teacher from the class, and the others where either VPD officers or volunteers. You could see that everyone was nervous. I was nervous. I was trying to psyche myself up to not be scared, to confront the attacker and push forward.
We had to go through three scenarios that increasingly got more difficult. The first scenario had just one guy attack me, the second had two guys attack me and the third had me starting out with my eyes closed and then being attached by three guys. Afterwards, I felt like I didn’t use the moves I’d learned – I was just flailing and missing my targets. But I did really hurt the palm of my hand, so I thought at least one shot was dead on. Smartly, we were videotaped. Turns out when you’re in a fight, your short-term memory shuts down because you don’t need it. Your brain focuses on other things like engaging large gross muscle groups and not getting killed. Watching the video, I saw that I did in fact have some good shots. As we were reminded throughout the class, this is one step on a path of practice and learning about self defense.
I highly recommend the class – it’s only $5 for in-town residents, with a $15 materials fee. Once you complete the course, you can go for free to any RAD course nationwide, for either some or all of the classes in the full course, to help you hone your skills.
Next time you see an officer around town, remember that there’s more to VPD than flashing lights and speeding tickets.