by Sean Miner
Police officers are tasked with preventing crime and promoting public safety, in their community and beyond. These responsibilities, however, are not theirs entirely.
Communities are best protected by collaboration between police and an informed citizenry that plays its part in keeping the community secure. To help with exactly that, West Hennepin Public Safety (WHPS) has organized the Citizens Police Academy.
The program has been running annually since 1999, and this year’s course begins Thursday, Feb. 19. The sessions run from 7-10 p.m. for the following eight Thursday evenings, ending in a graduation ceremony on April 9.
A recent WHPS press release described the program as a “great opportunity to meet your peace officers, fellow citizens, and other members of government to learn why we do what we do.”
The release detailed the many topics covered, including DWI and traffic enforcement, home security, use of deadly force, which includes a demonstration of the Taser gun and FATS training (firearms simulation), Hennepin County Dispatch Center, court procedures including testifying before a Judge, K-9 demonstration, narcotics investigations and many other areas related to law enforcement.
The course meets at the WHPS headquarters, located at Independence City Hall, but also features several field trips to other relevant locations.
The class has included forays to the Hennepin County’s dispatch center, jail, and medical examiner’s office, as well as training facilities located in Edina and Maple Grove for some of the more in-depth demonstrations and activities.
Nearly all of the sessions are taught by police officers, giving the citizens a chance to get to know the police force as well as learn from them. The frequent excursions to other relevant locations allow participants to meet government officials and learn about their responsibilities and how they contribute to public safety.
The course is designed to be very interactive. The most notable hands-on experience offered is the FATS training. This simulation involves a screen with different scenarios and potential threats, and arms the participant with a laser gun that interacts with the simulation. The participant must then choose which scenarios require the use of the weapon, and which call for other measures.
Other activities include the demonstrations, as well as tours of the WHPS headquarters and a squad car. Participants will also learn the history of WHPS along the way.
WHPS Director Gary Kroells commended the program in a recent interview, remarking, “If I can get you in the door for the first one, you will anticipate the next one, and you will enjoy every second of it.”
Kroells highlighted the course as an excellent way for community members to learn more about law enforcement in their community, and how they can contribute to public safety.
He also said that some participants become interested enough to serve their community as volunteer reserve officers, and mentioned that there were openings in this force.
The course is entirely free to participants, and is funded in part by the Crime Prevention Fund. WHPS recommends that attendees be at least 18 years old.
Graduates are given a certificate upon completion of the course and become members of the Citizens Academy Alumni network.
The program is recommended as a “must” for citizens living within the WHPS’ jurisdiction of Maple Plain and Independence, but enrollment is open to citizens from surrounding areas as well. Some participants have already signed up, but space is available for more to join the course.
Interested citizens should contact the West Hennepin Public Safety Department at (763) 479-0500 between the hours 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. for more information. Space is available but limited.
Contact Sean Miner at [email protected]