Fourteen members of Coon Rapids Police Department’s seventh annual Police Citizens Academy graduated Nov. 14.
The 10-week free program began Sept. 12 and took place on Wednesday evenings.
The academy is an educational tool to show the public the role of modern law enforcement, according to Sgt. Daren Keasling, academy coordinator along with Sgt. Ben Bautch.
Over the nine sessions – the graduation ceremony in the Coon Rapids City Council chambers was the 10th – participants learned a variety of topics through lectures, demonstrations, tours, ride-alongs and hands-on exercises, Keasling said.
This was the first year that Keasling has taken charge of the program and he tweaked it from previous years by reducing it a week so that it ended before Thanksgiving, he said.
A tour of the Anoka County Jail and Central Dispatch was eliminated, but a presentation by Det. Brad Johnson, who is also police liaison officer at Coon Rapids High School, was added, according to Keasling.
“Brad has been in two officer involved shootings and he talked about how that had affected his life,” Keasling said.
Based on feedback from the class of 2012, further tweaks of the academy program are likely to take place for next year, according to Keasling.
In addition, he and Bautch will be looking at ways to recruit more people to sign up for the academy, Keasling said.
“We would like to see 25 people,” he said.
The academy is open to Coon Rapids residents and business owners as well as others that work in the city.
But not all applicants are accepted after a background check of driver’s license, contacts with police and criminal history takes place.
This year, for example, 17 people applied and two were turned down following the background check, Keasling.
A third had to drop out early in the academy schedule for family reasons, but plans to sign up for the academy again in 2013, Keasling said.
“We had a great group,” he said.
“They asked great questions and made up a good cross-section of the community.”
The academy graduates got an inside look at how the police department works and what it does to keep the community safe, Keasling said.
“They saw that it was not like TV shows, like ‘CSI,’ where cases are wrapped up in an hour,” he said.
A highlight for many of the academy participants was the individual ride-along with police officers.
Some were more exciting than others, according to Keasling.
For Colleen Boughner it was an eye-opening experience because the officer with whom she was riding became involved in a pursuit of a vehicle with the lights of the squad flashing and the siren blaring.
And when the vehicle stopped in the driveway of a home, the suspect fought the officer, who was trying to arrest him, the struggle at one time ending up on the hood of the squad car while she sat inside, according to Boughner.
“That was an experience I will never forget,” Boughner said.
On his ride-along, Richard Simmons said the officer he was with had to use a Taser to subdue a suspect.
One of the class sessions involved a Taser demonstration with a volunteer from the Coon Rapids Police Reserve taking the electrical charge, while another session to demonstrate the DWI-arrest process had a volunteer from the police department in a controlled drinking environment, so that he would exceed the .08 blood-alcohol threshold level during the breath test portion of the program.
At the graduation program, Keasling, Bautch, Police Chief Brad Wise and Coon Rapids Mayor Tim Howe thanked the 14 academy graduates for their willingness to take the time to learn about the police department and their commitment to the community.
“It shows that you care about the community,” Keasling said.
According to Keasling, about half the officers in the department were involved in the academy program.
“They love to do it,” Keasling said.
This was Bautch’s first year of involvement in the academy – his wife, Cindy, was one of the 14 graduates – and he said he had learned a great deal himself.
“This was a great class and lots of fun,” Bautch said.
Before he was police chief, Wise worked with Capt. Cary Parks, who launched the police academy seven years ago, on the program.
Now, as police chief, Wise said he has become a “paper shuffler,” whose job is to make sure that police officers have the right tools to do their job “and make Coon Rapids as boring as I can” so that it is a safe town.
The city is better for having “engaged citizenry” like the police academy graduates, according to Wise.
One of the best parts of his past involvement in the citizens academy was getting to know the participants, who greet him when they meet no matter where he is, Wise said.
“It is a real benefit to have this kind of relationship with officers,” he said.
In Howe’s view, Coon Rapids has the best police department in the state and it does a good job in making the city safe, he said.
And the academy graduates have made the city a better place by their participation in the program, Howe said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, all 14 graduates were presented with certificates and invited to stay after for a reception of cake and refreshments.
The graduates were Cindy Bautch, Colleen Boughner, John Johnson, Caroline LaCoursiere, Doris Miller, Michelle Schroeder, Richard Simmons, Valerie Weaver, Jeffrey Sibinski, Michael Fournier, Jennifer Fournier, Ethan Campbell, Arnie Entzel and Julie Fandel.
The goals of the program are five-fold.
• Enhance public safety.
• Help citizens understand law enforcement strategies and problems.
• Reduce crime and present crime prevention materials.
• Build relationships with the community.
• Create police ambassadors to the community.
The police citizens academy is sponsored by the Coon Rapids Crime Prevention Association, which comprises members of the community that provide support to the police department by purchasing equipment that is not included for in the city budget as well as providing reward money to help detectives solve crimes.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]