SHPD Citizen’s Academy graduates first residents

Sweet Home Police Department graduated its first class of 15 residents who completed its new Citizen’s Academy recently.

During the eight-week Academy, the participants were able to get to know more about the Police Department through presentations and workshops, hands-on experiences, tours of the department and a training simulator.

“I thought I knew what the Police Department was,” said Monica Sanders, one of the students. She learned that she didn’t really, but now, after attending the academy, she does, she said.

Another student told Community Services Specialist Gina Riley that he can put names to the officers. He’ll be also able to remember what the officer taught him during the classes.

He has a better understanding of the police as human beings, Riley said.

“I thought it was really good,” said Fay Baier, one of the graduates. “I think it was really informational.”

She found out what drugs look like and what marijuana smells like, she said. She saw the inside of a patrol car and learned how police officers work and why they do things the way they do.

She found out why it seems to take the police so long to respond to some calls.

She found out that the department has only a few officers on at any given time and they sometimes are delayed getting to less serious calls, Baier said.

She learned why people go to jail, are slapped on the hand and sent back out, she said.

She enjoyed the training simulator, which features a life-size video projection and laser technology to simulate weapons fire.

During that training exercise, police officers showed a variety of situations they may face.

She also enjoyed going to the shooting range used by the police officers for their own training. There, she learned “the importance of firearms and what not to shoot at,” she said.

The academy qualifies as the required training for concealed handgun licenses.

Baier said her interest is piqued, and she wants to learn more.

“I’m going to ride in a police car on a ride-along.”

And she would definitely take this course again, she said.

Riley said a common message that came out of the Academy is that residents didn’t really know what their police officers are up to, the challenges they face.

“You didn’t see the whole picture,” she told the graduates. “Now you do. Remember that the next time you see the boys in blue.”

“Law enforcement protecting the community can never just be police alone,” Police Chief Bob Burford said. “And it can never be just citizens alone.”

Both groups must work together to effectively enforce the law and protect the community, he said, and that’s where this program, created by Riley, comes in.

The next Citizen’s Academy will begin around the end of January, Riley said. It will probably go to 10 weeks, one day a week.

Department personnel have more ideas for activities, and the first academy schedule was already packed, she said.

“They were a very good group of people. They asked questions.”

If other groups are as inquisitive, it will probably require more time as well, she said.

Feedback was positive from the 15 who attended the first class, Riley said. In critiques, the department received complaints mainly about one thing.

The program suffered from audio-visual technical problems, Riley said. The solution will be to replace the old, infrequently used computers and hardware with new, but that will depend on the department’s financial resources.

Most presenters, different personnel in the department, received marks of eight or better in critiques each week, Riley said.

Participants also offered a number of ideas, Riley said. Among them is an idea she intends to develop: self-defense courses taught by the department staff. The course will probably take several days.

Riley also is working with Sgt. Jason Van Eck to set up a pre-teen and teen version of the academy.

“I think it really went well, especially from the perspective of the first time out,” Riley said. “They really enjoyed the hands-on activities.”

All of the participants have signed on for ride-alongs, and all are qualified to be Police Department volunteers. Several of them have indicated a willingness to volunteer. Riley said she can use volunteers for the annual Safety Fair, for example, and she also may use them to help in future Citizen’s Academy programs.

Depending on liability and other potential issues, the volunteers may be able to set up and use the radar trailer, Riley said. That’s difficult for the department to do when officers and detectives are busy on calls and cases.

Their background checks are complete, so she can call on them.

The department will limit the next class to 20 students, Riley said. It is now accepting applications, and for more information, anyone interested should contact her at 367-5181.

Students must pass a background check to participate.