Thursday, November 20, 2014

Citizen Police Academy and Volunteer Opportunities

I took my first Citizens Police Academy in the Spring of 2004. Now 14 years later and many volunteer hours under my belt with police departments and a President's Volunteer Service Award, I'm still going strong. 
The Start of my Police Volunteering Career

Back in my college days Criminal Justice was a fascinating career to me. I had tinkered with turning my Medical Technology degree (with hospital training) into a forensics career with the FBI. I never followed through on that but citizen police academies, now in my senior years, fills that intrigue I've had all this time.
Working an event with the Arvada Police Academy Alumni Association

In the four academies I've been through I've toured the Jeffco corner's office, driven police cars, learned how to search buildings, hands-on training in firearm use, hobnobbed with the Swat teams, learned fingerprinting, met K-9s, visited dispatch, learned radio use, basic law, patrol procedures, media relations, crime prevention, information on gangs, tours of jails and holding cells. Each academy I participated in, I learned more. 
Behind the wheel on the way to the car wash.

I have had such wonder experiences being on the right side of the law. I have found the police officers that have offered training, ride-alongs, and those I've been on calls with to be an amazing group of dedicated professionals. 
Volunteering at the Wheat Ridge Carnation Festival

Currently I'm taking the Wheat Ridge Police Department's Volunteer Academy. I graduated from their Citizen Police Academy in 2006. I have worked the Wheat Ridge Carnation Festival (above), drove their police cars to the car wash (photo above) and maintenance, I was in the Health Elevations Magazine (A Journal of The Colorado Health Foundation) in an article about Wheat Ridge Police Department's Walk and Watch program along with participating in additional training opportunities. I hope I don't get myself in trouble when I say that the Wheat Ridge Police Department is my favorite. Maybe one day I'll do a post on them alone.
Walking Prospect Park, Wheat Ridge, CO, in the Walk and Watch Program

Another of my most beloved experiences with a police department was being a Victim Advocate. I had learned about this volunteer experience when I had taken my first Citizens Police Academy in Arvada. I had my 40 hours of training and my very first call out was with the Arvada  Police Department. It was a suicide call and I knew I had found my calling with that first experience.  After a year with very few call outs my frustration led me to the Lakewood Police Department Victim Assistance group. Lakewood is the third largest city in Colorado so it has plenty of need for trained volunteers. I had taken their Citizens Police Academy in 2005. I was also on the Lakewood Police Volunteer Surveillance Team. I did a stake out one night and the thief never showed up but every time the door opened (I was in another room watching a monitor) my heart raced wondering if this was the person we were after. 
On call at the Lakewood Police Department

While volunteering as a Victim Advocate with the Lakewood Police Department I had a pager and a radio and responded when dispatch called. Sometimes the calls came in the middle of the night but needs will arise at any time day or night. On Saturday nights a partner and I would drive around the city of Lakewood in a police van with many antennae on top! We referred to it as being "mobile". We listened to the dispatch radio and if a call was likely to need our assistance we could readily be on scene. Calls could range from domestic violence, rapes, suicide, unattended deaths, car accidents, injured children, shootings to name just a few situations. Court was another part of being a victim advocate. I've sat through many hearings with the victim at my side listening to the perpetrator, whether in person or on jail TV coming before the judge. Yearly I attended the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA) conferences. Wonderful presentations furthered our education.  Often people have told me they don't know how I could do such things involved in being a Victim Advocate as they wouldn't be able to handle the traumas I saw. It was a calling I had and therefore I could do it. 
Heading out in the mobile van with radio, pager and book of references

Another Citizen Academy I took was with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office is awesome and I really enjoyed their classes. The Sheriff and Deputies cover a large area, some of it in mountainous regions which is tricky if you are looking for an address. I'm a city girl so that is why in my volunteering, especially when on night calls, I prefer city addresses and I learned to trust my GPS when the streets were oh so dark. 
My Sheriff's badge from the Jeffco Academy

Meeting people in the worse moments of their lives takes a great deal of empathy and understanding of the situations involved. I was most fortunate to receive additional education through a series of classes offered at Regis University by the Denver Police Department. The series was intense and focused on family, school, gang violence and sexual homicide. It was quite an eye opener for me. The professionals in these fields are brilliant people knowing how to work with and counsel these cases.

Being in an academy, we are encouraged to do ride-alongs with officers on duty. One of the most exciting rides I was on involved lights and sirens and a skidding turn around. I thought I was in for some excitement when the officer suddenly pulled up to the curb and told me to "get out." As I quickly jumped out and the car sped off, I stood on a corner at midnight thinking "I left my sweater and bag in the car and besides I'm missing all the fun." There was a report of shots being fired and the good policeman was watching out for me. He came and scooped me up about 15 minutes later and explained he'd rather that if shots were being fired it would be only at him and not me. Another time the car I was riding in got stuck on ice and the officer had me drive while he pushed. It was a cold Colorado night ride-along that turned out to be quite fun. More often than not, the officers request we stay in the car if they have to investigate something. However one time I was invited to accompany the officer as we sprinted through the grassy yard of an apartment complex looking for a report of noise.  

Sometimes the Police Cars are referred to as the Black and White Taxi, especially if one has to be sent to pick a volunteer up if they locked their keys in a car (wasn't me!)

Since volunteers are an important part of the police department team we wear identifying outfits. Usually it's a shirt and lanyard with a photo identification. As a Victim Advocate we also had coats that kept us warm on our wintry nights. The volunteers at Wheat Ridge have a full uniform to identify them. 
Wheat Ridge Police Volunteer patch worn on uniform

Lakewood Police Victim Assistance Volunteer shirt and lanyard

Lakewood Police Victim Assistant Volunteer winter coat with embroidered badge

When going out on call with the police departments sitting through roll call at the start of the shift is very interesting. It's at this time that the police officers are briefed about the evening ahead and what is currently happening, who to watch for, past reports from previous shifts. and what area each officer will be patrolling. By being present at roll call as a victim advocate the officers also knew who would be available for them to call on. It is a wonderful working relationship. 

Most citizens are oblivious to what really happens in the life of law enforcement. There is a history of each jurisdiction and many community relations programs to teach their citizens. One of the most impressive programs I've ever experienced is Aware and Alive. It brings home what distracted driving can cause and how important seat belt use is. If you're in the Colorado area I strongly recommend this for any driver. especially the young drivers. 

If any part of this post caught your attention. check out the citizen police academies in your area. It's a most informative and interesting way to spend one night a week for 10-12 weeks. I know you'll enjoy it. 

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