Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Atlanta all have police citizen’s academies, which introduce residents to the operations of their local police departments. Brookhaven police plan to host their first by the end of 2015.
Dunwoody Officer Tim Fecht said Dunwoody’s Citizen’s Police Academy gives citizens a “hands-on look into the day-to-day operations of the police department.”
Graduates get to know the men and women who serve this community, he said.
“We help explain how officers respond to certain situations and how each aspect of policing benefits the public,” Fecht said. “Those who complete our program come out with a better understanding and respect for the work done at the police department.”
Brookhaven police spokesman Maj. Brandon Gurley said classes in the planned Brookhaven Citizen’s Police Academy will last between 10 and 12 weeks. Residents will attend class one night a week.
“It’s a basic overview of police work, traffic enforcement, felony arrests, community policing and criminal investigations,” he said. “The classes will be taught by subject matter experts,” including detectives to go over criminal investigations and local traffic officers for the areas discussed in the classes.
Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura said in the future he may expand the training given volunteers in Brookhaven. He said he has been inspired by the COPs program in Sandy Springs, which gives participants the training they need to volunteers alongside officers on the street.
“I’d be interested in after they complete the citizen’s academy utilizing people who wanted to volunteer to do a citizens on patrol program in the future,” Yandura said.
While the basic program follows national guidelines on what to include, the Sandy Springs Police Department divides its volunteer training into three separate tiers. Before volunteers can get in a department-issued patrol car designed for COPs, they have to graduate the citizen’s academy.
Mark Thomas was in Sandy Springs’ second 12-week citizen’s academy class, graduating in the fall of 2009. He said he and other graduates wanted a chance to do more and be of more help as volunteers to local law enforcement.
“The COP program went live in August of 2011,” Thomas said. “The function is to be more eyes and ears on the street. We can see more things. We can do more things. We can assist the police officers in Sandy Springs.”
The COP volunteers have the same radio that police carry and they have the same in-car computer that police officers use to hear the dispatch operator with the 911 system, said Jeff Holmes, who runs the COP program.
“[Volunteer COPs] can notify ChatComm that they are there to help,” Holmes said. If it’s a minor thing, we’ll call ChatComm and one of the response vehicles can meet them instead of an officer.”
One of the rules for volunteer civilians is to always ride with a partner, Thomas said. “No matter what it says on the car, citizens think we are the real police and we aren’t,” Thomas said.
A city’s citizen’s academy works to give residents a chance to not only learn but also interact and get to know their local law enforcement officers.
“We have found that with TV shows like “CSI” and “Law and Order” and those types of shows, there’s been a huge increase for criminal justice and police work, so this is a chance to get an inside look at real police work that hasn’t been dramatized,” Gurley said.
“They will hopefully leave with a better understanding of the risks inherent in police work and a better appreciation of the police officers in their community.”