Pop culture can sometimes lead the public to hold misconceptions about local police departments.
With that in mind, the Buckeye Police Department implemented a program to keep the community educated on how it operates.
The Buckeye Citizens Police Academy offers a close look into the inner workings of the police department. Participants participate in interactive classes with experienced police officers, sergeants, crime scene investigators and detectives. The academy will begin Wednesday, September 4, and runs six consecutive Wednesdays through October 9, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Coyote Branch Public Library.
Don McWilliams, neighbor and family services manager for the BPD, said, “This police academy is open to the public, and it is a bridge between the police department and the community.”
Although people normally notice police officers, McWilliams said people don’t normally hear from other departments. He hopes the academy will help remedy that lack of information, which will lead to a better understanding and appreciation from other less-known factors.
McWilliams said the program will expand on specific aspects of the department like its patrol operations, criminal investigations, K-9 units, traffic investigations, SWAT team and others.
“They hear anything from administration to investigation, from dispatch to SWAT. They get to hear from experts, and we have found out by doing this program it has really opened the door with the community,” McWilliams said. “It has made a huge difference in the support that we have from the community.”
McWilliams said a popular topic during these academies, which have been taking place since roughly 2005, is the crime scenes. People’s ears tend to perk up when experts speak on what cops look for and why.
“We have a crime scene manager that has been doing police work for over 40-plus years in crime scenes,” McWilliams. “He talks about some realities and some real cases from the past (not from Buckeye).
“They can expect an in-depth look at the BPD, the policies, procedures, the everyday goings of the police department, and what we do and why we do it.”
Because participants learn what cops look for, McWilliams said, once they have completed the academy they are more likely to help the police department on a daily basis by being alert to their surroundings and actually calling in tips of potential leads.
“We talk about what our officers are looking for when they’re out there on the road,” McWilliams said. “Once a person has gone through the academy, they are more of a supporter of the police department when it comes to calling in those tips.”
BPD prides itself on using a wide range of resources to keep everyone safe, including perpetrators. The department uses less-lethal weapons when possible. Rather than going in quick and rough, officers take their time, analyze situations and come up with a plan on how to either diffuse a situation or handle a perpetrator with the least amount of harm possible.
Participants will learn about this less-lethal program, as well as PBD’s SWAT and how that team operates.
“Our SWAT actually teaches them what we look for when we’re going into a building and they teach them how to actually properly handle a gun, and they take them through those scenarios,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams said BPD also seeks to forge relationships with the community in the hopes that they will become part of its family. Officers view training and informing the community as the perfect way to find the right type of volunteers.
“We have gotten tremendous support here in Buckeye. We have put over a thousand people thus far through our Citizen Academy, and it just worked out great,” McWilliams said. “We get our best volunteers from our academy because now they understand the inner workings of the police department and all the things that are behind that.”
McWilliams said many people enjoy the academy so much that they take it more than once. Taryn Malone, a Buckeye resident who is due to graduate from ASU in December with a major in criminal justice and a minor in social welfare, stressed the importance of a healthy relationship between a police department and its community.
“It brings us together with the police department, and I think if the police department has the community’s support, they can do their job a lot better and protect us a lot better,” Malone said.
Although she has studied aspects of law enforcement in her classes, she understands hands-on experience is crucial when it comes to learning about a police department.
“You can only read and study so much, so actually being able to get in and meet officers and see what actually is going on, especially in my city, is really nice,” Malone said.
Some of her favorite aspects of the academy include learning about K-9 units and how officers build relationships with their companions as well as learning about the SWAT teams.
“We got to shoot the paintball guns and go through this house like we’re clearing it, and that was fun,” Malone said.
The academy has also helped her learn how to react in certain situations. She understands why a cop she encounters may be acting a certain way and she is ready to educate others.
“If I’m driving around and I see them doing something, I can explain to my friends or whoever may be with me why they’re doing this,” Malone said.
By allowing participants to experience the everyday lives of law enforcement officers and why they operate the way they do, citizens learn how to take care of their neighborhoods more efficiently and proceed in challenging situations.
“Buckeye is not only one of the fastest growing cities, but also one of the safest cities. That’s not just because of the department, it’s because our citizens are actually getting involved,” McWilliams said.
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