Citizen’s Police Academy: Providing Information and Insight

Written by Christina Keaster

When you see a Russellville Police Department (RPD) officer out in the community, you might witness the officer pulling someone over or issuing a ticket. While those tasks are the majority of an officer’s job, there is a behind-the-scenes aspect of the Police Department that few rarely see. 

In 2006, the RPD introduced the Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA), a free eight-week program designed to provide insight to the public on the responsibilities and operations of the department. The goal of the CPA is to open channels of communication between the citizens of Russellville and their Police Department through training and education, as well as to help the citizens develop an understanding of the police role in the community.

The department recently completed its fifth annual program in November, and has graduated 78 citizens from the program to date. “We invite 20 citizens of the community to participate in the program after reviewing their applications. We try to choose citizens who represent different industries in the River Valley, so that once they graduate from the program, they are able to be a voice for the Police Department in their respective work place, church, home, and everyday life,” explains Joshua McMillian, public information officer and program coordinator. To apply, the applicants must be 21 years of age or older prior to the academy start date.

RPD officers cover various topics each night and provide many “hands on” experiences for participants as well. Participants learn something new each night about the RPD. The department covers topics including: department responsibilities and history, emergency vehicle operations, patrol tactics, accident investigation and traffic enforcement, special response team demonstrations, criminal investigation, crime prevention programs, and handling mock scenarios.

Week one is the introduction, course layout, and department overview. The administrative staff shows participants how the department in organized, as well as the rank and pay structure for officers. After being welcomed and given an overview, participants are given a tour of the Police Department to learn about the facility and its capabilities.

During week two, participants learn about the department’s control division. A total of 32 out of 55 officers are assigned to the control division, which is the largest division in the Police Department. Participants are informed about how officers respond and react to calls, and then get to experience a traffic stop practical in which they sit in a police car, approach a truck, and make a decision based on what they see.

“Because each traffic stop we (the RPD) make is different, we make each scenario different for each participant. Some of them might get the scenario where the guy has a gun, or the guy isn’t the nicest guy in the world, and others may get the guy who is the nicest guy in the world,” says McMillian.

“There’s a lot that goes in to making a traffic stop and the participants come away from that experience realizing the danger of the stop and understanding the protocol we must use each time.”

Week three explains the department’s criminal investigative division. Participants learn how the RPD investigates crimes, including methods used to process crime scenes and the required solvability factors related to each crime. The department also presents information about its cybercrime unit, including how the unit finds sex offenders and internet predators.

Participants learn during week four about various crime prevention programs offered by the RPD to the community.

“We have more than 57 programs for crime prevention. A big part of policing is not only responding to calls and being reactive to crimes, but preventing crimes,” says McMillian.

“Week five is always a highlight for us; it’s our DWI (driving while intoxicated) night. The class invites friends or family to participate with them in a controlled environment where they are administered alcohol. Some participants are brought to a certain level of intoxication, and others do a field sobriety test to see how exactly how hard it is for officers to rate that person’s blood-alcohol content level. Again, it is a controlled environment in which this experience takes place,” explains McMillian.

Participants get to travel out to the RPD’s firing range during week six. They get to fire the actual weapons the officers use, learning the impact that each different gun has, and why the department uses the guns they use.

Week 7 covers the use of force and defensive tactics, including non-lethal weapons. Participants learn how the officers arrest people, and how they make the decision to be “hands on” with that person.

McMillian explains that “Participants learn that deciding the use of force is not a situation that the RPD takes lightly. If we go hands-on with a person, it is because that person has created a situation where we have to respond in that way.”

Week eight is the active shooter and high- risk incident training. Participants learn about the worse-case scenarios an officer may face. They then each experience a mock scenario where an officer is the bad guy, and the participant must make the decision to shoot the person or not based on how the situation presents itself.

The program concludes with a dinner and graduation ceremony in which participants are congratulated for their achievement of finishing the program, and are encouraged to go out and inform others about the RPD and its behind-the-scenes operations.

Many former participants willingly chimed in when asked to give their opinion about their experience in the CPA. Roy McSpadden of Burris Office Products said, “The CPA has been one of the most enjoyable and enlightening experiences I’ve had. Every citizen should consider going through this program. We are very lucky to have the motivated professional officers that make up the RPD.”

Russellville Mayor Bill Eaton agreed, “I enjoyed the demonstration of the SWAT team as well as going to the range and firing a different array of weapons. I liked all aspects of what was presented to me during the program.”

McMillian concludes, “The rewards have been never-ending since we established the CPA. It has evolved since the first academy, because we use each participant’s feedback to improve. The program has improved substantially over five years, and it gets tougher for us every year to find ways to make it better. It’s pretty cool for the community to know what we do and what we’re capable of.”

Russellville Police Chief Tom McMillen believes that by creating open lines of communication with the community through the graduates of the CPA, the RPD is able to send better-informed citizens back into the community with accurate knowledge of the department’s many responsibilities and functions.

Chief McMillen says proudly, “The Citizen’s Police Academy is our “showpiece” for the Russellville Police Department.”

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