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Citizens see the world from the other side of the badge

CITIZEN ACADEMIES: They learn about how radar guns work, but not how to avoid them.

Detective Frank Hackler of the Piscataway (NJ) PD's community policing section talked to P-1 about their department's Citizen Police Academy. The hugely successful program, now in it's eighth year, consists of a 12-week hands-on training course designed to give citizens a better understanding and appreciation police work (see article below).

"This is a nucleus of citizens who get behind-the-scenes insight into what, exactly, their police department does," Hackler says. "The students consistently represent a cross-section of our community."

Piscataway is a diverse community with a population of 50,000.

The program has been so successful, in fact, departments around the country have developed citizen academies based on their model. Academy students learn it all, from preventative patrol and general investigations to special victims and motor vehicle law.

The course also includes firearms simulation training—the experience is a major eye-opener for citizens, who begin to understand use-of-force issues, both legal and psychological. After the training, Hackler says people turn to him, astounded, and say, "I never even realized I shot off 11 rounds!" They now have some real-world experience with which to process mainstream media accounts of officer-involved shootings.

In the last class, the nearly minted graduates put their skills to the test in role playing practicals. "They are astounded at what police officers have to deal with on a daily basis," Hackler says.

Word-of-mouth has made the program the great success that it is. "Neighbors tell neighbors, friends tell friends. Perceptions about what police do have changed, that's for sure!"

With close to 100 graduates, there is now a citizens academy alumni association; even better, the Piscataway PD has brought on a few alums as volunteer officers at special events, like 4th of July celebrations and Memorial Day parades.

"It's resulted in very positive community relations," Hackler says. "And it's amazing how it's spawned other initiatives."

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