IOWA CITY — For more than two decades, the Citizens Police Academy has been fostering a better relationship between the people of Johnson County and its law enforcement community.
Hosted by the Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and University of Iowa police departments and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, the 10-week course is now in its 22nd year. The latest session begins Jan. 27.
Ashten Hayes, the Iowa City Police Department’s outgoing Community Relations Officer who has represented the department during the academy the past four years, said the academy offers participants a chance to interact with police officers beyond when they are doing a traffic stop or responding for a call for service.
“They get to see the ins and outs of our jobs they typically are not going to see when they see us on the street,” Hayes said. “They get little details about each (police) program that most people don’t know exist.”
While course facilitators are always evaluating and modifying the citizens academy to ensure the topics covered meet the interests of participants, some core topics remain the same from year to year. Participants have the opportunity to learn about crime scene investigations, drunken driving and traffic enforcement, special response teams, K-9 officers and the bomb squad. While most classes are held at the Johnson County Joint Emergency Communication Center, participants also take a tour of the Johnson County Jail one week.
Hayes said the most popular topics tend to be the ones that include active participation, such as when the bomb squad comes in and participants can try on the bomb suit or operate the bomb squad’s robot.
“Lots of people are hands-on learners,” she said. “So, when they can get their hands on something and do something physical or see it done, that’s what they really enjoy doing.”
The academy also has a ride-along component in which participants schedule to ride along with police officers outside of the academy hours. Hayes said that experience reinforces what participants learn in the classroom.
“They get to physically go on those calls and see how the officer interacts while they’re on the job rather than just presenting at the citizens police academy,” Hayes said.
Both Hayes and K-9 Officer Travis Neeld, who will be replacing Hayes as Community Relations Officer, said that police benefit from the citizens academy by breaking down barriers between them and the public.
“To me, the best part about CPA is the opportunity to educate and just give some understanding and perspective of what our day is like,” Neeld said.
After more than 20 years, participation in the citizens police academy is still going strong. The capacity for the program is 50 participants and Hayes said they hit that mark last year for the first time.
“We actually received 63 applications, so we had to turn down 13 of those,” Hayes said.
Hayes said the program wouldn’t be possible without the support of the department heads and staff who contribute to the citizens academy. She said each department “has a different piece of the puzzle.”
Hayes said there are about 22 people signed up for this year’s citizens academy, which meets every Monday night from 6 to 9 p.m. Anyone interested in the $25 academy can register by 5 p.m. Jan. 20. Applications can be found at the participating police departments.
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