Standing inside a building Tuesday night, Brownwood police narcotics detective Aaron Taylor watched the white crystal substance turn purple as he mixed it with a chemical from a field test kit — an indication that the substance was methamphetamine.
Aaron had bought the meth from a dealer as part of a narcotics investigation. Despite the positive field test, he will submit it to a crime lab for an analysis that can be used in court.
In the same building, another detective, Doug Hurt, lifted fingerprints off of compact discs.
This wasn’t a crime scene. It was another Tuesday night session of the Brownwood Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy, and about two dozen participants listened as Hurt and Taylor talked about the art and science of police work.
The two are among numerous instructors at the academy, which allows participants to get a behind-the-yellow-tape view of law enforcement. The academy began Feb. 7 and runs Tuesday nights for nine weeks, plus a Saturday session that includes a trip to the firing range. Participants are also invited to do ride-alongs with patrol officers.
It isn’t an annual event but typically is put on around this time of the year when it does occur.
Beyond the light-hearted humor and good-natured barbs the instructors sometimes toss at each other, some things are evident: the officers are passionate about their jobs and they take their responsibilities extremely seriously.
“Too many times in the media, there’s a portrayal of the police against the public,” Hurt said. “For us to interact and get to participate with you and share some time with you and break bread with you guys — for us, that is a thrill and we enjoy that. We enjoy interacting.”
Added Taylor, “more than anything, in Brownwood, we’re team. Bottom line, at the end of the day, we’re a family and we want to go home.”
In the introductory session, Police Chief Terry Nichols, who has been on the job since July, asked participants to summarize their reasons for enrolling in the academy. “I’ve wanted to do this for years — just a way to broaden my horizons,” participant Tim Airheart said.
Another participant, Janet Nash, said she’s “always wanted to do this. I think what you all do is fascinating — would never want to do it, but I’m real excited to see what it is.”
Nichols said he’s “absolutely blessed to be here” and said friends have asked “what’s it like in Brownwood?”
“I inherited an incredibly stable, great organization,” Nichols said. “Good people, incredibly conservative community. We have some really, really good people here.”
Nichols said he’s passionate about training. “The better trained we are, the more confident we are,” he said. “The more confident you are, you make better decisions — especially under stress. Some of the things that we do in law enforcement can be stressful. If you’re confident in your training and confident in your abilities, you will have the confidence to make the right decisions at the right times, under stress. If you haven’t been well trained, you’re more likely to make mistakes.”
n Patrol and traffic enforcement.
n Criminal investigations and narcotics.
n Communications/911 and mental health.
n School resource officer and juvenile investigations.
n Criminal prosecution (district attorney) and domestic violence.
n Training and civilian response to active shooter events.
n Fire marshal duties and animal control.
“Patrol is very interesting,” patrolman Noe Acosta, an engaging San Angelo native, told participants. Acosta said he likes to have fun, has a passion for his job — and takes “every bit of it extremely seriously.”
Acosta talked about issues including pursuits and deadly force, noting that officers are required to know not only the law but the policies and procedures of the Brownwood Police Department.
Taylor is a Brownwood native and third-generation police officer. His grandfather worked for the Brownwood Police Department from the 1940s to the ‘70s and reached the rank of lieutenant. His father, Joe Don Taylor, served as Brownwood police chief from 1984-1990.
The first thing to understand about narcotics work, Taylor said, is patience. Taylor compared the job with being a good fisherman.
“The other night I got a call and I sat out there on the highway in the middle of nowhere … and five hours later, I drove home with nothing to show for it,” Taylor said. “That’s the way dope works. We work on what we call dopers’ hours. That can be any time …
“I started one day in Brownwood and I think it was two or three days later I ended up next to a cactus in Possum Kingdom. We were lucky that day. About a quarter-pound of methamphetamine landed. You have to have patience, you have to be adaptable and you have to be flexible. You have to understand, it’s going to change at the last second … you’ve got to have social skills, you’ve got to have interpersonal skills, you’ve got to be able to talk that talk.”
Taylor described scenarios in which he was unarmed and working undercover, and had to rely on his wits and ability to improvise to talk his way out of danger.
Hurt said fictional television shows about police work show detectives working, and solving, a single case in the hour-long show. Detectives actually carry multiple cases, Hurt said.
Lt. Randall Kpoun explained how a police interview actually works. Unlike on television, detectives don’t walk up behind a seated suspect, and bang their hands down hard on the suspect’s shoulders, Krpound said. The interview room is small, and the detective and suspect sit across from each other, nearly knee-to-knee, Krpoun said.
In interviews, Taylor said, every detail is thought out and methodical. Details including the clothes he’ll wear, his vocabulary and even how he holds his hands are planned.
Hurt said, “You’ve got to build rapport with somebody. You can’t just start making demands.”
“Doug lulls you in, and the next thing you know, you’re involved in the grassy knoll,” Aaron said, comically referring to the famous “grassy knoll” that is often part of JFK assassination accounts.
“I’m kind of pastoral,” Hurt, a former pastor, replied. “‘It’s OK … we’ll make it through this … it’s going to be OK. We just need to get ourselves straight.’
“Everything that we do, there’s a purpose for it. We learn from each other. Pastoring and police work is all about people, and it’s all about people in need. When a victim calls you, there is a need. They need your help.”