After working with the Williamston Police Department as a field-training officer, Officer Don Freels joined the Lansing Township Police department. Freels has worked as a police officer in the greater Lansing area for 18 years, the last 4 months at the Lansing Township police department.
Freels became an officer because he enjoyed being active. As a student at Michigan State, Freels first studied computer science, but he was worried the jobs he’d get after graduating would not be physically active enough for him, so he changed his major to criminal justice.
“It didn’t seem active enough,” said Freels, “so I looked for something else, and this is it. It continually presents mental as well as physical challenges.”
Freels worked for Williamston as the field-training officer, where he stressed the importance of officer safety, communication and observation. Freels said he trained about 30 certified officers while at Williamston.
Now at Lansing Township, Freels is the firearm range instructor. Freels said he decided to work for the township because he was interested in a new challenge. Many police officers in the greater Lansing area start their career working part time at smaller departments like Williamston. After a few years, they find full time work at larger departments around the city. Freels joins four other police officers that moved from Williamston to Lansing Township.
The most important skill for a police officer is his observation skills, according to Freels. He said that officers “can’t observe like a citizen anymore.”
“You can’t drive down the road looking down the road because you’re not going to catch anyone doing anything if you’re just looking down the road,” said Freels. “Observation is an active skill that takes self training and discipline to be able to do it the best you can.”
So Freels practices active observation. When driving, he constantly looks between houses and down alleys, looking for suspicious activity. When he patrols a community, he keeps track of the garage doors that are closed in case someone attempts a burglary. While driving past buildings, he flashes a light at the windows; if there is no reflection, then he knows someone smashed a window.
Freels also teaches active observation to his fellow officers. Officer Matt Birr trained under Freels while working in Williamston and now works at Lansing Township Police Department. Birr said Freels taught him “when-then” mindset. Unlike “what-if” thinking, where an officer would assume possible scenarios, in the “when-then”mindset, Birr tries to approach every case expecting any possible scenario. Birr said that when he and Freels worked together, they listened to the radio for calls to other officers, and would discuss how they would handle the case if it were their assignment.
“There’s not much that I do that he hasn’t taught me,” Birr said. “He’ll see something you might have overlooked.”
Officer Michael Sykes also trained with Freels when he worked at Williamston. Sykes said that Freels taught him to think outside the book. “He teaches you to slow things down,” said Sykes, “look for things out of ordinary.”
Freels stresses the importance of safety for his fellow officers, which ranges from knowing how to approach an armed opponent to where to park when pulling a car over for a speeding ticket.
“You have to know what you are doing,” said Freels, “before dealing with it.”
Freels also feels that officer safety relies on the ability to communicate with one’s coworkers. Birr said Freels reminded his partners to talk about anything suspicious they notice in order to act effectively.
Although he no longer holds the official title, Township Police Chief Kay Hoffman said that his ability as a field-training officer would be put to good use. “We have a really good group of officers who are very bright, who work hard and want to do everything the right way for the right reasons.”
Sykes said he is excited to work with his old training officer. He said he feels more comfortable working with previous partners he trusts. Birr also appreciates working with his old training officer because of how much experience he brings to the department.
“He’s always thinking one step ahead,” said Sykes.