The freshly kicked-in front door hangs open as the sun begins to set.
An exasperated woman recounts the events to a Unified Police Department officer. The damage, she says, was caused by her son during an explosive argument. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened.
His pregnant girlfriend stands nearby, arms folded and back turned. She glares into the street, refusing to answer another officer’s questions. The son has long since disappeared from the Millcreek home.
His pink-haired grandmother brings the girlfriend’s items from the home to a waiting car, where they exchange terse words. An older man with a limp gathers the items and loads them into the trunk as a teenage boy sits despondent in the passenger seat.
All the while, a little girl dances in the driveway.
“Coming through the blocks”
This year, Salt Lake Community College’s Law Enforcement Academy police program projects about 120 graduates, says program coordinator Rich Montanez. He estimates about 80% will join Salt Lake County’s surrounding police forces.
These new recruits will face complicated situations, just like the incident in Millcreek, which requires patience and even-tempered responses. Only so much can be learned in the classroom, and it begs the question: How does one become an effective police officer?
“The process of becoming a police officer starts with coming through the blocks,” Montanez says of the SLCC Law Enforcement Academy.
These blocks, he explains, include the Special Function Officer (SFO) module and Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) module.
The LEO block produces potential police officers and takes about 17 weeks to finish, according to the SLCC Law Enforcement Academy webpage. Montanez says, on average, 25 students start off in a class and five or six will drop out before graduation.
After becoming certified by the academy, cadets who get hired by an agency will complete three additional months of training as a Field Training Officer (FTO). Training includes in-service training and learning the agency’s computer systems and procedures.
After training and 18 months of probation, a cadet becomes an officer and is eligible to start on their own.
“I’m glad they do it this way,” says Officer Adam Melnitsky of the Unified Police. “You want to have someone who is comfortable with a good temperament. You can’t have a poor temperament; you have to let a lot roll off your back.”
“It’s meaningful work”
Melnitsky, a patrolman in Millcreek, occasionally works in other parts of town. He describes the UPD as the “Wal-mart of policing” because of the number of available resources, such as a variety of departments, specialties and technology.
The inside of his patrol vehicle is a mobile office: the front seat has a computer with a printer mounted into the dash, while the back seat has files, clipboards with various forms, and different handouts he can give to the public.
Melnitsky has been with the department now for two years and loves being a patrolman.
“It’s meaningful work,” he says, noting helping distressed families, alerting drivers of expired registration or sometimes helping with flat tires.
While driving around, Melnitsky is listening to Bob Seger, whom he just saw in concert. He rattles off an impressive list of acts he’s recently seen, which includes Sting and Ice Cube.
“I like NWA,” he says. “I don’t agree with their message, but they have good music.”
Melnitsky says sometimes, while he is patrolling, kids will give him the finger. He says it doesn’t happen everywhere, but there are sections of the city that don’t trust the police.
“I just wave,” he says. “You want people to like the police. You are here to serve and at times you need their cooperation.”
Melnitsky is aware that cooperation may not always be available. According to Utah.gov, the state ranks in the top 10 in overdose deaths over the last 10 years and Salt Lake rates are above the state average. He has had to use Narcan, a nasal spray used to reverse an opioid overdose, three times since joining the force, and two of those times Melnitsky believes he brought the person back to life.
“Things can go south quickly,” he admits. “You deal with death a lot. It makes you appreciate life.”
That’s when the call for a domestic disturbance comes over dispatch and has informed the officer that a man and a woman were shouting at one another on the front lawn, the front door has been kicked in and someone may have been assaulted.
Melnitsky knows he wants to be patient when arriving on the scene. “Talk with them,” he says, walking through his thought process as he approaches the location of the call. “‘What’s going on with you? How can I help?’ They’re terrified. There’s a reason why they call the police.”
Melnitsky has arrived on scene and is gathering information. It’s late now and the car with the pregnant girlfriend and her things have driven away. The mother of the suspect emerges from the home, almost in tears as Officer Melnitsky and the pink-haired grandmother walk towards her.
He speaks to the family and they nod. He writes down information the mother is willing to give about her son — which would turn out to be false. Melnitsky gives them a handout from his car and asks them to call if they hear anything, he wants to help.
At this moment, the girl dancing in the driveway comes bounding over and she says something to Melnitsky. They laugh and high five. He gives her a sticker. It turns out she wants to be a police officer when she grows up.