As a dispatcher, I talk to citizens all day long over the phone when they call to report complaints and request police assistance. I am often surprised to hear many of their complaints concern matters that are not police related. I am even more surprised to learn from citizens the misconceptions they have regarding how their local police department should operate to serve them.
Maybe it is Hollywood. Let’s face it, people only call the police when they need help, and when that time comes they expect police to do for them what they have seen in the movies… kick doors down, go in guns blazing, makes arrests, and instantly resolve problems. Although this makes for an entertaining movie plot, it is usually far from the reality of how real-world police work is done. It is for this very reason that many police agencies have created a citizens academy at their respective departments.
Newly hired police officers go through a police academy for training. A citizens academy is the same principle, but designed for citizens. It gives the general public a behind-the-scenes look at how police agencies work. Citizens academies vary in length depending on the hosting agency and that agency’s goals; some can be as short as 4 weeks, while others can be as long as 16 weeks. Citizens usually meet at the particular agency one night a week for classroom style training. Every week a different member of the agency comes down and teaches the class about different working roles at the department. One week, a homicide detective might teach the class about the work the homicide division does, while a collision investigator might teach the class the following week about DUI investigations. Larger agencies might have longer programs because they can have several specialized units: patrol, dispatch communications, investigations, proactive suppression, K9’s, SWAT, air support, and search & rescue. Smaller agencies might have shorter programs but have the benefit of allowing citizens to personally get to know employees at the agency.
The primary goal of a citizens academy is education. In the last two decades, police agencies have become increasingly more proactive with public relations, specifically education. The idea is to achieve transparency in order to build trust and a working relationship with the community being served. In other words, if a police agency opens its doors to show “Citizen Joe” how it operates then Citizen Joe will have a better understanding and appreciation of how police work to keep his community safe. The more eyes there are watching a neighborhood to report suspicious or criminal activity, then the safer our communities will be.
I always try to share with citizens about the opportunity to attend my department’s citizens academy. It increases social awareness and brings people together by encouraging them to work with their local police department with other available resources to solve problems in the community. Contact your local police agency today and inquire about their citizens academy. What better way to build an alliance between citizens and the police?