Community Members Rally Behind the Avon Citizens Police Academy
In 2008, patrol Officer Mike Wittl with the Avon Police Department (APD) suggested that the department offer a Citizens Police Academy that would familiarize community members with what the APD does. The academy is designed to dispel myths often portrayed on television of police officers being the bad guys, since in real life the complete opposite is true.
The 10-week program is packed full of valuable information and memorable experiences. During the first eight weeks, participants meet one night per week for three hours. Week one is orientation, and the class gets to know one another and learn the history of the APD. Week two involves traffic, and the patrol division teaches patrol tactics and traffic stops. Then they set up various traffic-stop scenarios outside where participants get to role play as police officers who conduct the traffic stops.
“We provide guidance but let them do it naturally,” says Avon Chief of Police Sean Stoops. “We then do a debriefing, which sparks discussion. They have no idea how difficult it is to do different kinds of traffic stops.”
Week three is devoted to emergency vehicle operations, which tends to be a favorite because attendees go to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield and drive on the emergency vehicle operations course.
“They get to drive around the track in a police car with sirens,” Stoops says. “They do simulated police pursuits and felony vehicle stops.”
Week four involves the investigations division and provides an overview of what investigators do compared to patrol officers, and the class reviews two disposed felony cases. Week five introduces a homicide case that the class reviews, as well as an in-depth view of developing relationships and mentorships beyond the arrest.
Week six is a physical tactics evening, and the class also learns about case law that supports the use of force at the federal and state level. Week seven is the taser and K9 block. On this night there is a K-9 demonstration and K-9 officers explain the jobs the dogs might engage in, such as narcotics detection, tracking, and search and rescue. On this same night the class also learns about the less-lethal taser, how it works, and when it should be deployed and used. The class has an opportunity to volunteer for exposure to feel and understand the effects of the device.
During week eight participants receive firearm instruction, and use Simunition firearms that are similar to those officers carry but shoot colored soap pellets rather than bullets.
The department has a firearms training simulator room, where the instructor runs students through different high-definition, control-based scenarios projected onto a giant wall with simulated weapons that provide recoil and sound. The instructor controls how many rounds and whether the gun has a jam. All scenarios are success-driven. In other words, they are not set up for failure in a shooting situation.
“Most of them are shoot/don’t-shoot scenarios to help officers make good decisions at a faster pace than the average person would,” Stoops says. “If the officer makes a good decision, each scenario can branch off to a successful resolution or branch off to a higher-level use of force, whether that’s pepper spray, taser, a physical baton strike or a firearm.”
Everything is digital, measuring the number of hits, number of shots fired and number of misses. It tracks the muzzle of the weapon through the entire scenario.
“That night really pulls together everything they have learned through the weeks,” Stoops says.
For weeks nine and 10, participants do ride-alongs with officers. Then they have a graduation night with refreshments, where the APD hands out certificates and shows a class video comprised of footage shot during the entire course.
Because it’s such an extensive class, it’s only offered once per year in the spring. Unfortunately, because of the size of the training room and the fact that the staff wants to maintain the high quality of the course, the academy is limited to just 15 participants. The academy is so popular that when the department opens it for registration, it fills up within minutes.
“It’s like going to Ticketmaster and buying a front-row seat for Elton John,” Stoops says. “People literally sit at their computer waiting for registration to open.”
The class draws all demographics, as people of every age, race and religion show interest in participating.
“We’ve had kids fresh out of high school who took the Citizens Police Academy and that helped them decide to pursue a career in law enforcement,” Stoops says. “We’ve also had people in their 60s and 70s. We’ve had husbands and wives take it, and fathers and daughters. You name it.”
As for Stoops, he couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of this program, now in its 14th year.
“I can’t possibly place a value on this academy,” Stoops says. “It’s been instrumental in developing a positive relationship with the community and helped us develop a positive culture in our department as well.”
For more info, go to avongov.org.