WINTER GARDEN Winter Garden resident Bill Reese holds significant experience when it comes to the safety sector of public service, so the Winter Garden Police Department surely had a high standard to meet when he enrolled for its free Citizens Police Academy this spring.
“I always respected the police officers – I'm retired from the military,” Reese said. “As a matter of fact, I used to supervise about 450 cops myself. But the police department here is really good.”
Reese raves about each of his 27 hours in this program, spread across Wednesday nights from March 2 to April 27.
“A friend of mine down the street suggested that I attend with my wife, and we both took the class,” Reese said. “You had to be dedicated to do it for nine weeks. … It's completely transparent. They show you everything that they do, how they do it, why they do it, how they're here to help and protect and serve – you really believe that.”
He said that started at the top, with Chief George Brennan on hand to greet the class every week.
“I look at this thing having been a leader; I'm still a leader in the job I'm at,” Reese said. “He's such a great example of leadership ... By doing that, his leadership filters down to his lieutenants, to his sergeants, to his detectives, to his regular police officers, all of them. And you could see it in the way they conduct themselves, the way they operate.”
He said Brennan's welcome to officially begin the first academy session involved an explanation of how enclaves near city borders are actually off limits to WGPD for patrol, unless a crime is physically occurring. This was one of several points outlining the difficulties police can face in keeping the peace.
Communications, K-9 and especially patrol were the other topics Reese enjoyed most in March.
“Our communications center in Winter Garden is so good that they are taking care of Ocoee, Windermere and Oakland (911 calls),” Reese said. “I did (K-9) in the military with my cops – I put on the suit and everything, and I also helped them certify their dogs for explosives and narcotics. That was fun. … I did a ride-along with Officer (Leigh) Mathisen, and I had the best time with him.”
In that one hour, Mathisen had stopped two cars zooming through parts of the city Reese would not want to be, but Mathisen masterfully calmed the situations, Reese said. Even subjects of a domestic dispute and an eviction became calm at his presence.
During that same ride, Reese witnessed an arrest on drug-related charges and a response to a traffic crash, which he thought was a lot. But Mathisen called it an easy night, which Reese said was no surprise, given WGPD leadership.
“What these police officers are faced with every day is not what I think a lot of people have an understanding of – or appreciation of what they do,” Reese said, noting it is more difficult than what he faced with military police. “They've got a tough job. That they go out there every day and night and conduct themselves the way they do is simply amazing.”
Reese explained how Mathisen had to respond to dispatches, stay aware of any information from their radios, check their on-board computers and, of course, drive – all while the potential lingered for a split-second decision. Yet he maintained a professional demeanor Reese said was consistent through the entire program.
“Every one of these people that came in and presented to us did a fabulous job,” Reese said. “They were well-prepared. Every night, they provided us a meal from a local restaurant. I'm not talking about 'Here's your bologna sandwich.' They had salad, meats, pastas, desserts – it was just crazy. … Every citizen that qualifies … should attend this.”
Although he appreciated every bit of it, Reese said some aspects he would never want to do again, such as a chilling April 13 tour of Orange County Jail. But the following two weeks' action surrounding investigations excited him.
“On the last day … they had a scenario set up, this mock crime scene,” he said. “They give you clues, and you have to go out and perform certain tasks. Like you go into a car, and I had to find the drugs; I had to find the weapon that was in there.”
Reese found drugs under a pile of other items in the center console and a gun behind a loose panel for the fuse box by the driver's console, drawing praise from the official leading the activity, he said.
“This was a lot of fun,” he said. “Every night I went, I enjoyed it … It was an amazing experience.”
Now Reese displays photos with WGPD personnel, his graduation certificate and a special medal – not as a personal accomplishment, but more in respect for those who spent time off educating him and his classmates on the myriad functions of a police department he is proud to call his.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].