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LYNNWOOD — You may have heard about police citizens academies. You may have even attended one to learn more about your local police or sheriff’s department. Perhaps you’ve even fielded calls from residents urging you to begin such a program in your city. But then again, maybe this concept is altogether new to you. What is a police citizens academy and how will it benefit your city?
A police citizens academy is an educational program for residents offered by their law enforcement agency. The aim is to familiarize citizens with the mission, procedures and daily activities of their police or sheriff’s department. Classes are held one evening a week for 10 to 16 weeks and usually there is no cost. The intention is not to train citizens to be police officers, but rather to increase their knowledge and understanding to assist law enforcement.
The City of Lynnwood, a suburb north of Seattle, has conducted 23 police citizens academies since 1994. Each session was filled with up to 85 students. Due to the success of our program, many other cities and law enforcement agencies came to us for advice and we are always willing to share our curriculum.
We discovered that not only the police department, but the entire city realized strong benefits from this program including:
- We gained supportive voters who recognized the importance of adequate funding for public safety agencies.
- We gained community advocates who understood the mission of their police department and are willing to speak out in their favor.
- We gained a source of well-screened, committed volunteers who serve not only our police agency, but other city departments as well. (During one year alone, our volunteers worked over 21,000 hours, the equivalent of 10 employees working full time for a year!) What a boon that can be to stretched city budgets.
- We gained a city-wide reputation of openness and willingness to partner with the community.
- Our citizens got to know and respect their police officers and the officers also became more aware of concerns and feelings of the community.
- Our citizens academy graduates become more involved in city politics, boards and commissions and in the general support of city government.
- A majority of our graduates went on to attend other city educational programs, as well.
- Those who attend a citizens academy spread the word about what they are learning and the word multiplies. Typically each person discusses details of weekly classes with at least six other people in their lives. It is not just the person sitting in class who learns about your police agency and city government. You can multiply the number of students by six to get a realistic overall effect of this class. With this multiplication factor in mind, why would any city not offer a citizens academy?
When you begin the conversation about a police citizens academy with your chief of police or sheriff the first concerns will be expense, personnel and content. Most law enforcement budgets and personnel are already stretched thin and it can be difficult to envision how a program like this can be created and staffed. Although law enforcement officers are experts in their field, they may not know where to begin, which topics are of greatest interest to civilians, how to present the material and how to structure and promote the class.
I have put together a new 300 page, spiral bound manual contains all the information any law enforcement agency, large or small, rural or urban needs to offer a topnotch citizens academy easily and at low cost.
The 70-page section on getting started includes program set up and promotion, ideas for field trips and schedules for 10 to 16 week sessions. Following that are 150 pages of time lines and complete notes for 14 of the most common topics in law enforcement that are of greatest interest to the community, plus 9 additional subjects, if time permits. The Appendix contains forms that can be personalized and downloaded free of charge, plus 17 personal safety topics.
To view the manual go to www.policecitizensacademy.com and see the Table of Contents, 50 sample pages, 2 complete lessons, and the Appendix that can be reproduced at will.
Trudy K. Dana was the Crime Prevention Officer for the Lynnwood, Washington Police Department from 1994 until she retired in 2011. Working out of Lynnwood, a suburb north of Seattle, Dana produced 21 citizens’ academies and advised more than 100 law enforcement agencies from thoughout the country. Sixty of her former students have become members of various law enforcement departments.