Brownsburg Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy Teaches Participants Various Aspects of Law Enforcement
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Fifteen years ago, the Brownsburg Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy provided community members with a brief overview of what it means to work in law enforcement. Over the years, however, the program has been lengthened to give residents a working knowledge of the department, including police procedures and protocols, as well as hands-on opportunities to participants.
“We’ve revamped it quite a bit since Cpl. Tony West became the training coordinator,” Major Andy Watts with the Brownsburg Police Department (BPD) says. The BPD offers the interactive academy annually towards the beginning of the year, though they have considered increasing it to twice a year since the class is capped at 30 participants.
The academy is an eight-session program that runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. for four consecutive weeks.
“It gives a realistic understanding of what our guys do on a day-to-day basis,” Watts says.
The first couple of nights is comprised of classwork. Not only are participants given a lot of information, but it also enables class participants to get to know one another.
“You learn who is comfortable making comments in front of the group and who is not,” Watts says.
They cover accident reconstruction, which is interesting to a lot of people.
“We talk about how accidents work and how outcomes are generated,” Watts says. “Then we transition into an overview of criminal law and traffic law. We basically offer that 5,000 ft. view of the amount of knowledge our guys need to know as they move into their positions.”
They then jump into less lethal things, offering demonstrations of equipment their agency utilizes such as tasers, OC (pepper) spray and impact munitions which are sponge-like rounds.
“On the news, police are often portrayed as immediately getting out our guns and hastily pulling the trigger, but we always use these other means first, when applicable,” Watts says. “Therefore, we show our class these other options.”
The Emergency Response Team or SWAT team does some demonstrations with the weapons and tactics they utilize. Then, investigations come in with the K9 unit to show what they do. During the academy, they also do vehicle stops and OWI investigations.
“For our field sobriety instruction, we bring in drunk goggles and if a participant is willing to put them on, we will do a field sobriety test to simulate being intoxicated,” Cpl. Tony West says.
After discussing firearms, participants do practical exercises in the BPD’s tech house inside the training facility where they have a simulator. This enables participants to practice some scenarios while under a bit of stress. West finds that the simulator is often the participant’s favorite part of class.
“Everyone seems to really enjoy that simulator because it’s training in using forced decision-making via escalation tactics but at the same time, they are not in harm’s way,” West says. “It’s like a big video game, if you will.”
The academy, which is free of charge, tends to draw all demographics—from those in their early 20s all the way to retirees.
The BPD uses the Citizen’s Academy as an education tool for the community, but if it becomes a recruiting tool, they aren’t complaining. According to Watts, it’s a tight candidate pool right now as they have seen attrition within the department due to retirements. But their police department is no different than any other across the country as every other agency is struggling to employ enough officers.
“We’re recruiting year-round, but we’re all kind of fishing from the same pond,” Watts says. “Only so many people are interested in working in law enforcement.”
West maintains that the biggest accomplishment of the academy is getting the community members to view the officers as human beings.
“Sometimes people don’t initially see us that way. You can tell by the way they ask loaded questions on the first couple of nights,” he says. “As they get to know us and get a better understanding of our jobs, that wall comes down a little bit and they see that we are dads, coaches, grandfathers. Our officers don’t eat, sleep and drink law enforcement. They have families they go home to every night.”
Watts admits that some days working in law enforcement is not the most rewarding or favorable job. Other days, however, it’s the best job in the world.
You must be at least 18 years old and reside in Hendricks County to apply for the academy. To learn more about the BPD’s Citizen’s Academy, visit brownsburg.org/226/Citizens-Academy.