(Missouri City, Texas) -- A few years ago, as Charlotte Siems drove home from her job as a paralegal she saw a young couple in a car acting suspiciously outside an auto repair shop. She became even more suspicious when a third man emerged from the building, threw something in the car and dashed back inside.
Siems spotted a police officer a block away, told the officers what she witnessed and pointed out the car to them. Officers stopped the car and found hydraulic equipment that was stolen from the repair shop.
Before she went through training at the Citizen’s Police Academy, Siems said she would not have been so observant. She and her husband Fred are now longtime members of the Missouri City Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni Association.
“I’ve seen a lot of good come from it,” she said.
The alumni association in Missouri City and other alumni association across the country function as police auxiliary units, Fred Siems said. They carry out a range of activities from going out on patrol, to raising money to buy needed equipment for local departments, to helping with administrative work.
In one Texas town, association members patrol commercial parking lots and ticket cars parked illegally in handicapped spaces. In another larger city members helped clear outstanding arrest warrants by finding good addresses and telephone numbers for the miscreants. In some cases, these offenders only needed a reminder that they had a matter that needed clearing up.
“We do everything we can to support the officers,” Charlotte said. “We are out there as additional eyes.”
The program began in Great Britain, where the aim was to bring local business owners and managers together with police by giving the civilians a taste of police training. In 1986, an Orlando, Fla. officer who had learned of the British effort from his brother, started the first U.S. Citizens' Police Academy, which also targeted the business community.
Missouri City was the second in the country and the first that was aimed as much at residents as at the business community. The idea has spread across the country, but Texas remains one of the most active states with more than 100 alumni groups with 20 to 100 members each. Fred said the idea caught on fast in the South because police officers there are more “open-minded.”
Fred Siems is a police officer on the job as well, putting in a full week’s work as a postal inspector, although the postal police are not sworn officers. Like other members of the alumni association, he attended classes for two to three hours a week for more than two months.
Like police officers, people who apply to the Citizens' Police Academy are screened and go through a background check. Those who are accepted are given instruction in most aspects of police work, including such things as when to shoot and when not to. The training may not be as rigorous as what police officers get in their academies, but Fred said it gives those who graduate a better insight into what police face on the street everyday.
Many of those who join are retirees with time and who want to volunteer, Fred said. But younger people also join, and some communities have similar programs aimed at high school students, especially those who might consider a career in law enforcement.
Fred said that members also become advocates for the local police department and help the police department reach into the community.