Springfield Police Department Engages Residents with Citizens Police Academy
As the Springfield Police Department’s website puts it, the Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy is one way for residents “to better educate themselves about crime, and how the police deal with it”... the Citizen’s Police Academy “was created in the spirit of community policing to bring citizens together with their police department.”
The 2015 Citizen’s Police Academy held its first class in a new 12-week session Thursday September 10 at the Springfield Police Department South District Station, 2620 W. Battlefield Road. The SPD’s Volunteer Coordinator, Officer Shawn Andrews, heads up the program. Actually, as he says, “I do a lot of stuff around here: I handle the Cadet unit; I’m the supervisor for all the volunteers in the Department; and I assist with the training staff downstairs in the Police Academy.” He only took on the duties of Citizen’s Police Academy Coordinator about 10 months ago—“this will be my first year, so...” he says, laughing.
The Academy hasn’t been offered every year, but the SPD has been trying to make it an annual event, as Police Chief Paul Williams told the class in his introduction to the first session. The Department had offered it for “years,” then “it went away. And we re-instituted it four years ago to do just what we’re doing here: reach out to people in the community and say, ‘Would you like to know a little bit more about the Police Department?’ It gives us a chance to connect with you, and you a chance to learn about what we do and really connect with us.” As Officer Andrews put it to me, the class is designed to offer “a better understanding of why we do some of the things we do—‘Why did the police do this?’ or ‘Why did they do that?’ or ‘Why didn’t they do this?’ So maybe when (the students) come away from this after a few weeks, they know why—and they can inform their friends.”
Of course, the fact that the Department can only handle about 25 people in the class pretty much ensures that the information must be passed word-of-mouth, because it’s impossible to reach a mass audience this way. Officer Andrews agrees. “It’s hard for us to communicate with the public on why we do some of the things we do. So that’s why things like this are so important.”
Chief Paul Williams reminded the class that they all had to pass a background check before being admitted to the course. They chuckled when he congratulated them for passing the background. “There are 25 of you who were selected for this, and we capped the class at 25. We had 46 applicants. And we do a background, because we’re going to give you some insight, and let you look into some things the general public doesn’t get (access to). And without fail, there’s at least one in every application process who’s a convicted criminal who’s trying to gain some insight on how to do his job better! And we’re not going to let that happen. [To be eligible for the class you need to be a Springfield resident, 18 years of age or older, and have no previous felony convictions.] So I rest assured that none of you are convicted criminals, all right? And you can speak freely and have fun with each other, okay?”
The 12 week course on Thursday nights will continue until the week before Thanksgiving, according to program coodinator Officer Shawn Andrews, along with a couple of Saturday excursions thrown in with field trips to the SPD Firing Range, tours of both the main SPD headquarters on Chestnut Expressway and the South District Station where the classes take place; the Old Calaboose downtown; and the 911 call center. Students in the class spend about 40 hours total, says Officer Andrews.
So what can the students expect to get out of their investment of 12 weeks and 40 hours? I asked Betsy Miller, who took the class last year and now volunteers at the Police Department, assisting Officer Andrews and the Citizen’s Police Academy staff. She says she’s also helping Chief Williams implement a foundation for the SPD to raise funds to support the Department as a whole “where the budget falls short.” Betsy had never volunteered at the Police Department before taking the Citizen’s Academy class last year—but she says she’s had a longtime interest in law enforcement, mainly due to having an uncle who is a police officer in another city. “In fact, I went on a couple of ride-alongs with him my uncle many, many years ago. And it was... terrifying, to be honest,” she says with a laugh. “But it was really interesting.
“The great part about the class is that it kind of touches on all the aspects. They talk about probable cause, and pulling someone over, and those kinds of things. And then it gets more in-depth and they talk about the Homicide department and the Cyber Crimes department.” They also teach the classes various defensive tactics—and Betsy made sure to mention the visit to the Shooting Range as well. “And they get to hear lots of cool stories. I mean, let’s be honest—we all love to hear the stories.”
Other topics covered in the Citizen’s Police Academy include traffic and DWI enforcement, crime scene processing, narcotics and gang investigations, the Department’s organizational structure—in short, the challenges involved in providing a safe community.
One of the students in this new 2015 class is Brandon Greene, who works as a compliance analyst for an insurance company but, like most all the people there, has long had an interest in the law enforcement process. “I appreciate the job that the police officers do in the community. So I thought, what better way to even appreciate what they do all the more, than actually learning more about them?” He expected to gain from the course “a better understanding of what a job in law enforcement entails. I hope to learn more about their daily job, and what their role is beyond what we just see on television or hear about... the behind-the-scenes information that you can’t pick up unless you actually either know a police officer or go through the process of learning about it.”
Dates for the 2016 Springfield Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy haven’t been finalized yet. To find out more, visit http://www.springfieldmo.gov/171/police, and enter “Citizen’s Police Academy” in the Search box.