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TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: academy.txt

Visiophones: French High Tech Security

                   CITIZEN POLICE ACADEMIES                         


                  Martin Alan Greenberg, M.A.                                 
            Chairman, Department of Criminal Justice
                Ulster County Community College
                     Stone Ridge, New York  
     During the past 2 decades, law enforcement has expanded the
involvement of private citizens in community-based crime
prevention efforts.  The nature of the public's involvement
depends on the individual department.  Usually, local police
departments center their efforts on one or two programs and
invite the public to participate.  One such program for citizens
is the citizen police academy.

     Basically, citizen police academies provide a mechanism for
educating the public about the criminal justice system and the
ways to resist crime.  The overall goals are to gain support for
police work, explain the operations of police agencies, and
encourage private citizens to undertake appropriate security
measures.  Typically, police personnel conduct the classes,
which are coordinated by community relations units.

     This article gives an overview of citizen police academies
and describes their inherent advantages and disadvantages.  It
then addresses ways to expand the scope of such academies.


     In 1977, the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary designed a
program to familiarize private citizens with the nature of
police work and the organization of the police system in the
United Kingdom.  The course, known as the "Police Night
School," met for 10 consecutive Wednesday evenings and was
conducted by police personnel on a volunteer basis.  The success
of this program prompted other British police departments to
imitate it. (1)

     Eight years later, in 1985, the Orlando, Florida, Police
Department organized the first citizen police academy in the
United States.  Modeled after the British Police Night School,
the academy convened one evening a week for 10 weeks.  Also,
participants were given an option to complete a short course on
the use of police sidearms and to ride as observers with
officers on patrol. (2)  Graduates of the citizen police academy
received a departmental cap, certificate of completion, and a
commemorative paperweight. (3)

     Other U.S. communities followed Orlando's lead.  The
Missouri City, Texas, Police Department introduced its first
citizen police academy in 1986.  Media announcements attracted
academy participants, who were screened through background
checks.  This program's success resulted in the expansion of the
academy to 11 evening sessions and the incorporation of firearms
practice and safety training as a regular part of the
curriculum.  Several followup activities implemented by the
police department, such as a quarterly newsletter and special
invitations to police public relations activities, kept interest
in the program alive.

     In Commerce City, Colorado, the police department recruited
participants for its first citizen police academy through
personal contacts.  The curriculum, initially based on the
regular police academy schedule, was condensed into 11 nightly
sessions and some weekend activities.  The extra sessions were
devoted to firearms practice and safety training, ride-alongs,
and the use of department vehicles on the department's driving
course.  From the outset, departmental officials, personnel from
other criminal justices services, and community members (e.g.,
news media representatives) served as instructors or special
guest lecturers.  Police department instructors also
volunteered, but were given compensatory time off for their

ADVANTAGES OF CURRENT PROGRAMS                                    

     The public's involvement in a citizen police academy
expands community-based crime prevention efforts.  Academy
participants become better prepared to cope with criminal
incidents, are more willing to report crime, and realize the
need to testify when they observe a crime.  They also gain an
understanding of police procedures that is more reflective of
everyday police work than what is portrayed by the media.  This
helps to reduce complaints about routine police matters.

     Participants in academy classes also learn how they can
help to make their communities crime-free.  They become sources
for new ideas or provide ways to better educate the public.  For
example, a bank executive, who participated in a citizen police
academy, offered to include crime prevention messages in the
monthly statements mailed to depositors. (4)

     For police departments, citizen police academies provide an
avenue to learn about the concerns of community members.  These
academies encourage police interaction with the public, which
can augment police job satisfaction and provide a measure of
accountability to the community.

     At the same time, police departments can use a citizen
police academy to recruit individuals into the profession.  They
can also emphasize specific problems in the course of
instruction, that is, types of crime that are specific to the

     The use of guest instructors from other agencies furthers
interagency cooperation.  In addition, these academies are a
means to increase morale within a department as a result of the
internal cooperation necessary for organizing the academy


     While citizen police academies offer several avenues to
police departments to encourage community support, they also
have their disadvantages.  First, two of the existing programs
have been designed for suburban communities with relatively low
populations.  Consequently, the programs reach only a small
number of residents and probably are not suited to urban areas.

     Inherently, some academy instructors could lose sight of
the goal of citizen police academies.  They might overplay the
public relations aspects and curtail the delivery of more useful
information about the realities of policing and the ability of
the criminal justice system to contend with crime.

     At the same time, planning activities for the academy, such
as preparing curriculum and screening applicants, may detract
from the time and resources needed for routine police work. In
addition, local liability considerations may limit or eliminate
high-interest activities, such as firearms instruction and
ride-alongs.  And while the expenditures needed to maintain a
citizen police academy are supposedly minimal, instruction may
be costly if volunteer instructors are unavailable.  For
example, in Commerce City, Colorado, firearms training was
preceded by a 3-hour orientation class, and individual
instructors were provided for each student while on the firing

     Police departments need to maintain citizen interest when
the academy ends.  This is difficult unless followup activities
are planned.  A few months after completing the academy, some
participants may be disappointed if all they have to show for
their efforts are a cap or T-shirt, a certificate, and memories.

     Academies could also turn into victims of their own
success.  Participants could become so overzealous in their
concern for justice that they engage in conduct that undermines
departmental policies and programs, e.g., establishing a
vigilante-type neighborhood patrol organization.

     Another area of concern is the number of requests for crime
prevention speakers and home and business security surveys that
academy participation may generate.  While this is not a
disadvantage, per se, such requests could over-burden officers
by increasing their workload.


     The existing citizen police academies demonstrate a
willingness on the part of local police departments to share
information with the general public.  However, their efforts
should merely be considered as a beginning, especially if large
metropolitan areas adopt this initiative.

     Obviously, achieving the support and cooperation of diverse
segments of a metropolitan population will require more than an
annual course for a few hand-picked participants.  A better
approach would be for urban police departments to use their
resources to train and certify classes of citizen volunteer
instructors who would then be qualified to offer a series of
continuous free courses to the public.  This would allow for all
age groups, sooner or later, to learn a variety of self-help

     Moreover, since graduates of the certification program are
expected to become future teachers of citizen police academies,
concern about followup activities diminishes significantly.  And
if departments want to maintain close supervision of citizen
instructors, they could include the program as part of a new or
existing auxiliary or reserve police unit.

     Another recommendation is to apply a much broader term to
these academies, such as "neighborhood police academy."  This
term emphasizes the importance of people working together for
the betterment of the community and works to broaden the format
of the academies.  Future participants might be drawn from
occupations holding peace officer status, such as correctional
personnel and reserve officers.


     By expanding the role of these police academies, most of
the current disadvantages would be reduced.  For example, newly
certified citizen instructors would be more motivated to
concentrate on crime prevention topics and less likely to
overemphasize public relations.  Their services can be used to
develop new curriculum guides or to expand and revise current
materials for diverse populations.  They could also serve to
augment the department's personnel resources as crime prevention
speakers and home security inspectors.

     If made part of a police auxiliary or reserve unit, the
department maintains the interest of volunteer instructors.  In
turn, upon completion of a certification class, highly qualified
reservists could increase the availability of firearms
instructors for one-on-one safety instruction and practice.

     Also, in the event regular patrol officers are unavailable
to accommodate a citizens' ride-along program, auxiliary or
reserve officers could be used.  Finally, the existence of a
volunteer police unit that has been thoroughly trained, closely
guided, and given meaningful assignments would reduce the
possibility that overzealous course participants might establish
their own independent vigilante-type patrols.


     As FBI Director William S. Sessions stated, "We need
citizen involvement more than ever today." (5)  Therefore,
police agencies should not hesitate to enlist the services of
their law-abiding community members.  Without the cooperation of
victims and witnesses in reporting crime and testifying about
what they saw, criminals would be virtually held unaccountable
for their actions.

     Moreover, additional human resources are urgently needed to
provide educational programs in urban areas (e.g., family abuse
prevention, etc.).  By expanding the current model of citizen
police academies, departments take one step forward in resolving
many of the crime problems facing their communities.


     (1)  R. Ferguson, "The Citizen Police Academy," FBI Law
Enforcement Bulletin, vol. 54, No. 9, September 1985, p. 6.

     (2)  Ibid.

     (3)  Ibid., p.7.

     (4)  J. Seelmeyer, "A Citizen's Police Academy," Law and
Order, vol. 35, No. 12, p. 28.

     (5)  W. Sessions, "Directors Message," FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin, vol. 57, No. 10, October 1988, p. 1.

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