Citizens' Academy Still a Hit With Police, Participants
by KRISTEN ARMSTRONG, Staff Writer
|Police sirens and cops in
uniform make some people uneasy, hostile or just plain curious - the
officers from the Arlington Police Department know this.
In an effort to de-mystify the work they do, the department has offered a Citizens' Police Academy for Arlington residents for almost 10 years.
“It's important for the police department to build a relationship with the community,” said Sgt. Darrin Cassedy, the department's supervisor of training and career development. “This is one way we can work with the community so they can have a better understanding of what we do.”
“One of the best benefits of the academy is that it corrects the many misconceptions that people have about police officers,” Chief Douglas Scott said. “We want the public to understand that our goal is to help them and to work together with them to make Arlington an even more attractive place to live.”
Arlington began offering the academy in 1998, and generally offers two sessions per year. The 16th session recently graduated.
Classes are capped at around 25 people, but attract as many as 100 applicants per session. Those who don't make it into one session can be put on a wait-list for future sessions.
The 12-week course meets once a week, usually on Wednesdays, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Since 1998, approximately 285 Arlingtonians have graduated from the program.
“There are a lot of things behind the scenes we don't know about,” said Eric Dobson, a community activist who recently completed the program. “I learned that there are some pretty incredible people who love what they do as police officers for the county.”
The curriculum has remained relatively constant over the past nine years, but as new technology presents itself or new policeunits are added, some changes have been made to the course syllabus.
The approximately 20 topics covered include the history of the Arlington police department, emergency response, defensive tactics, the K-9 unit and home and school safety. The K-9 demonstration is probably the most popular, Cassedy said, but participants from the last session had other highlights to report.
“The communication center was very interesting - how they are equipped to get the right people to the right place fast,” said participant Rob LaPointe. “It had a sort of ‘wow factor' to it.”
“One topic that I thought was really neat was the bait car,” participant Julie Pearson said. “The police are really trying to help the community, and that has to be a tough area.”
The department also has offered the program in Spanish, to meet the needs of the county's immigrant community. Cassedy hopes that in the future, one in three sessions will be in Spanish.
Some program participants, like Edgar Gil, would like to see the program taught in even more languages, such as Vietnamese and Cantonese.
Although the academy does not actually train citizens to become police officers, the police department wants its graduates actively using the knowledge they've acquired.
“The department does not take this program lightly,” Scott said. “We believe that the information learned during the academy is valuable, and our hope is that each graduate will take the message back to their respective communities to further educate the public.”
While the program is not aimed at recruiting police officers, it has attracted a number of successful applicants, including at least one to the regular force and others to the volunteer reserve force.
For more information, visit the Arlington Police Department Web site at www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/Police/PoliceMain.aspx.
VIDEO: See more on this story at “Video News” on the Sun Gazette's Web site, www.sungazette.net.
Members of the Citizens' Police Academy at the graduation ceremony.