by Bob Kelley
In the often fickle arena of public opinion, acceptance sometime boils down to one key ingredient: respect. Rodney Dangerfield couldn’t get enough of it, Aretha Franklin topped the music charts demanding it and law enforcement teams across America strive to earn it every day.
Throughout much of the 20th century, the image of the nation’s “men and women in blue” ran the gamut from the lovable, helpful cop on the neighborhood beat to Depression-era “coppers” to the Blue Meanies of the turbulent 1960s.
But 25 years ago, police enforcement agencies across America, large and small, began using Citizen Police Academies (CPAs) as a viable community relations tool to bring admirers back into the fold. Through these programs, area residents are given the opportunity to take a close look at what police officers do and even learn a few of their skills. Since 1985 the concept, borrowed from England, has educated thousands of Americans about everyday efforts to protect and serve citizens and fight crime.
Today, as America tightens its fiscal belt, crime labs are closing, officers are being furloughed and services are being cut. More and more police departments, including some in Georgia, are looking to CPA alum volunteers to help lend a hand with community support services, freeing officers to address the more dangerous, critical issues. In the Atlanta area, one of the best CPA courses can be found in Doraville and residents who have completed the academy rank among its biggest and most ardent supporters.
The Doraville Police Department’s CPA is a relative newcomer in terms of the American citizen police academy historical timeline. Only three years old, it has steadily gained a local reputation of how the ideal CPA should be structured and conducted.
Home to nearly 10,000 residents, Doraville bills itself as “a great place to live” and no doubt owes part of that distinction to the ongoing efforts of its police force. The once brisk drug trade is down as traffickers steer clear of the area because of its growing reputation for successful drug busts. Officers patrol city and neighborhood streets with response times to suspicious criminal activity at about five minutes or less.
Under the leadership of Chief John King, a veteran of multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Doraville PD strives to stay current on the latest crime-fighting tactics and maintain current technology. Many of the department’s assets, including its new police training center and its bi-annual CPA classes, are funded from seized drug money.
To King and his team, the launch of the Doraville CPA program in 2007 was a natural extension of its highly rated police force. “We strive to maintain a positive and productive relationship with our citizens,” said King, “and the experiences gained from the CPA classes, along with the ensuing two-way communication, further our efforts to improve the quality of life for Doraville residents.”
Doraville CPA Coordinator Sgt. Brandi Rogers echoes King’s sentiments. “Our CPA classes are designed to build a bond of mutual trust and respect between the police department and our neighborhoods,” Rogers said. “The more our citizens know about the day-to-day operation of our department, the better the chances that our community remains free from the fear of crime. CPA participants quickly learn that our job is not all glamour and high speed chases but consists of many smaller pieces that come together to get our job done.”
The Doraville CPA was created, according to Rogers, with three goals in mind: it had to be educational, fun and free to area residents.
“We try to convey to citizens exactly what a Doraville police officer goes through on a daily basis,” she said. “And I believe this is reflected in the CPA curriculum. Not only do we have presentations that offer an inside, candid look at local law enforcement, but we try to add a hearty dose of interactive demonstrations and practical hands-on experience to help everyone understand the person behind the badge. I believe we accomplish this most effectively through our officer ride-a-longs, K-9 and less lethal force demonstrations and the ever popular Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, night.”
The typical Doraville CPA is held twice a year, three hours a week for 11 weeks. Participants are immediately introduced to the criminal landscape with a tour of the city jail, complete with padded cells, observation cameras and top-notch criminal identification technology. In the jail’s control center, lighted display maps show the location of every active patrol car in the city at any given time (think of Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map).
Meeting weekly in the city’s sparkling new training center, CPA attendees receive detailed information about 911 operations, accident investigation, emergency response, crisis negotiation and crime prevention. Other topics like the complexities of constitutional law, street gangs, vice/drug enforcement and less lethal weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray are also a part of the CPA experience.
This is part one of a two-part series on Doraville’s Citizen Police Academy. In part two, which will be in the Dec. 9 issue of The Champion, participants talk about their experiences in the CPA.