Bloomington Police Department is accepting applications for their Citizens Police Academy, a program that gives citizens a look at the inner workings of Bloomington’s law enforcement.
Citizens Police Academy is an 11-week free program where Bloomington residents learn police protocol, handle equipment and interact with officers. The program is made up of 11 two-and-a-half hour classes on Tuesday nights and includes a tour of the police department and seminars taught by members of the narcotics, traffic and detective divisions.
“They can get a glimpse at what we do, how we do it and why we do it,” Capt. Steve Kellams said.
An emphasis at this year’s academy is education of police procedure so that encounters with officers are less confusing and tense.
“A lot of times when people are questioning or getting angry it’s due to a lack of knowledge,” Kellams said. “But once you understand what is happening, that fear goes away.”
Kimberly Massengill, a former Bloomington resident who attended Citizens Police Academy in 2014, said the experience made her understand that police officers are humans that have protocol to follow.
“As an outsider, you kind of have a perspective of what it is like to be a police officer,” Massengill said. “But to see things from their side and what they have to go through changed that for me.”
Getting the community to see officers in a new light is one of the goals of the academy.
“Law enforcement, as a general rule, tends to deal with the worst times in people’s lives,” Kellams said. “Citizens only see police in the worst lights, so this breaks down that unintentional wall that gets built.”
BPD has been putting on different versions of the program for more than 20 years, but originally got the idea from another department in California, Kellams said.
In 2011, the Hawthorne Police Department in Hawthorne, California, launched Coffee with a Cop, a program where officers meet and discuss safety with the community, according to its website.
“We’ve always been a pretty progressive police department,” Kellams said. “Being progressive means not living in a bubble. You have to get out and also see what other people are doing.”
Kellams said he believes the 11-week format of the program works well for building lasting relationships within the community.
“By the time the two weeks is up, we’ve gotten to know each other and engaged in some good conversations,” Kellams said. “Not only do we get to tell the citizens what we do, but we get to figure out what is happening with them in the community.”
Messengill had one of these lasting interactions with Lt. Mick Williams while attending the program. After classes ended, they became friends on Facebook. Recently, Messengill had a woman show up in her driveway and start taking pictures of her house, and she posted about it. Later, Williams commented on the post saying she did the right thing.
“I now have a connection with someone who can help me with the law and safety and reassure me,” Messengill said. “It’s nice to have that.”
Through these types of connections, the police department is not just looking to engage with the community but also learn how to better protect it, Kellams said.
“We want to encourage everyone to get involved because we cannot do this alone, and we need help from the community,” Kellams said.
The Citizens Police Academy will take place 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays starting Sept. 4. The class is limited to 25 people. You must be over 18 years old to apply and you must pass a background check. Contact BPD for more details.
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