Citizen Police Academies

By Maffe, Steven R.; Burke, Tod W. | Law & Order, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Citizen Police Academies


Maffe, Steven R., Burke, Tod W., Law & Order


Police "academies" for citizens are the latest hot item for law enforcement. Citizen police academies enable the residents of a community to become more familiar with the day-to-day operations of their police departments. Participants gain a better understanding of the procedures, responsibilities, guidelines, demands of personnel and the policies and laws that guide decision-making. They become better informed as to the actual role of the police.

The first recorded U.S. citizen police academy, in Orlando, Florida, dates back to 1985 when the Orlando Police Department recognized the importance of citizens understanding its operations. The Orlando program was modeled after a citizen police academy in England, which began in 1977.

The benefits of a citizen police academy are significant and foremost is the power of proactive policing within the community. The only exposure most citizens have with a police officer is usually when a motor vehicle violation has occurred and a traffic citation is issued. This is usually viewed as a negative experience.

Proactive law enforcement, such as a police citizen academy, places officers in a positive light. Understanding and cooperating with citizens is vital for effective police-community relations. Pro-activity is the critical foundation of understanding, and a citizen police academy bridges the gap between the citizens and the police.

According to Sergeant Mike Miller, Bedford County Sheriff's Department, Bedford, Virginia, before a person is eligible to participate in their citizen police academy, he/she must pass a criminal and motor vehicle background check. Additionally, each participant is fingerprinted. This practice is common among agencies offering an academy, including departments in Concord, California; Roanoke City, Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona; Orlando, Florida and Bedford County, Virginia.

While class size is dependent upon convenience, they are usually limited to 12-25 participants and meet once a week in the evening for approximately three hours. Breaks between sessions include refreshments provided by local organizations. The donated supplies fall within police department guidelines, but some agencies list refreshment supplies in their annual budget.

There is no cost to attend an academy, which varies between 10- 16 weeks, depending upon agency resources and time allocation. The age of the participants varies, with some agencies allowing attendees from 16 to 80 years old.

Sergeant Ron Ratcliffe, Roanoke City, VA, Police Citizen Academy, explained that curricula within the academy may be broken down by weekly topics that consist of, but are not limited to:

WEEK I - Introduction

An introduction to police operations and personnel includes a welcome by the chief, introduction of the command staff, review of officer recruitment and selection, tour of the academy facilities and rules of conduct while attending the citizen police academy.

WEEK 2 - Patrol A familiarization of the duties and responsibilities of the patrol division includes uniform, bike, mounted and animal control sections. Topics cover allocation of manpower, calls for service, geographical boundaries, mobile patrol units, canine support, the role of evidence technicians, community policing efforts, special dangers and training, special assignments, public relation efforts and equipment display and demonstrations.

WEEK 3 - Investigation

Discussion of the role of the Detective Division, including Youth and Vice Bureaus, may explain manpower, sexual offenses, child abuse, child neglect, runaways, assault, theft, property damage, vice crimes, narcotics, prostitution, gambling, organized crime, pornography, alcohol/weapons violations, intelligence gathering, gang activity and surveillance techniques.

WEEK 4 - Services The role of the Services Division might include topics related to the Criminal Investigations Bureau such as:

*Specialized units (crimes against property and crimes against persons) *Records Bureau (criminal warrants, arrest records, UCR data, accident reports, subpoenas and fingerprint identification)

*Property Room (maintenance and accountability, property and drug evidence, drug test results, destruction of drugs, bike registration, gun returns and state treasury)

*Planning and Analysis (tracking offenders, grants, directive revisions and maintenance, accreditation and city policy) *Internal Affairs (responsibility for handling citizen com

plaints, internal complaints and critical incidents, evidence collecting, written investigation reports, recommendations and the review process)

*National Accreditation (directives, rules and regulations, proof of compliance, staff inspections and unannounced inspections)

WEEK 5 - Control An explanation of the Control Continuum from verbal to use of deadly force may include handcuffing, take downs/come-along methods, and chemical agents, such as pepper spray (purpose, procedures and first aid). …

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