By Brooklyn Draisey
In just 14 weeks, members of the community can learn what it’s really like to be a member of law enforcement.
Created in 1998, the Citizens Police Academy is a 14-week program designed to teach members of the community about different topics related to law enforcement, such as the bomb squad and drug enforcement. Participants also have the opportunity to ride along with a patrol officer.
The 20th-annual program will start Jan. 22, and meetings are every Monday from 6 to 9 p.m.
The Coralville, Iowa City, North Liberty, and University of Iowa police Departments, as well as the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, collaborate on the planning and execution of the program.
New presentations have been added throughout the years based on evaluations given by participants. Iowa City police Officer Ashten Hayes, one of the program directors, said the diving team presented in 2017 on water-rescue operations, and this year, the Iowa City Animal Services will be added to the list.
“Every week had a different focus, and it taught me that they’re doing so much in so many different target areas,” participant Polly Spencer Horton said. She was part of the 2017 program with 37 others, making up one of the largest groups in the academy’s history.
Horton said she grew up in a small town in which there was a relationship between law enforcement and the public and less tension as a result. Here in Iowa City, it’s not so easy to establish connections with the community, she said, but programs such as the citizens Academy and Coffee with a Cop help bridge that gap.
2017 participant Jim Burnham also said the academy creates a more positive relationship between law enforcement and the community by giving everyone the opportunity to interact in a relaxed environment.
“It was really nice to sit around in that calm atmosphere where no one was getting arrested or anything and talk with the police,” Burnham said.
He said citizens usually only interact with the police when some sort of crime/infraction has been committed, which can create tension. The program allows the police and the public to talk as individuals and get to know each other.
“Of course, there were literally hundreds of questions asked by the people who were attending the course, because it was the only time in their lives they’d ever had a chance to sit around and talk with police,” Burnham said.
Hayes has been a director for the Citizens Police Academy for three years, and she said she hopes the program will continue to grow in the coming years. The community really only sees law-enforcement personnel when they’re out in public, she said, and not much of what happens behind the scenes. The Citizens Police Academy pulls back the curtain some, she noted.
“The community doesn’t really see what we do behind the scenes, they just see us in our patrol cars and uniforms … they see us out on the street,” Hayes said. “They don’t know what really happens inside all of our jurisdictions and what we do as a police department, so this is a great way for the public to get a better idea of what we do.”