Police extend classes to local citizens

The Champaign County Police Department will once again offer any citizen 17 or older the opportunity to join the Champaign County Citizen Police Academy beginning March 4.

The academy, headed by Champaign’s Police Training Institute, is offered on a yearly basis. Those who are interested are nominated and sponsored by their local police department. Since its inception, more than 615 locals have graduated from the academy, and police departments from the University, Parkland College, Urbana and Mahomet have joined the initiative to educate civilians about police work. This year, classes will run every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Police Training Institute, 1004 S. Fourth St.

Mike Schlosser, coordinating instructor for the Police Training Institute, said the academy will run for 10 sessions, with students graduating May 6. Students will learn about the criminal justice system, take tours of important legal buildings and offices in Champaign, as well as observe demonstrations on several police tactics, Schlosser said.

“The academy is very interactive,” he said. “For example, I teach about the use of force tactics, and students do a lot of scenario-based training where they handle calls and participate in realistic police work.”

Schlosser, who has been involved with the program as an instructor for six years, also coordinates incorporates police officers from other police departments and fields.

Lt. Dave Nelson from the University Police Department serves as a fill-in coordinator for the academy.

“I’ve done firearms and terrorism related topics,” he said. “Generally we provide officers who do the demonstrations in the classroom.”

All the police officers who teach courses for the academy serve on a voluntary basis, Schlosser said, some dedicating up to several weeks of their time each year to plan and prepare lessons.

Urbana Assistant Police Chief Patrick Connolly has taught for the academy for 10 years, with lesson plans ranging from SWAT team demos to street drug familiarization.

“My team brings in drug paraphernalia as a part of our demonstrations,” Connolly said. “For example we bring in real samples of marijuana and burn it so that the students can become familiar with its odor and detect it on people.”

Connolly has also participated in the “ride-along” aspect of the academy, where at the end of the 10-week session, students have the option of riding along with patrol officers on duty. Students can spend several hours on a shift, observing first-hand the type of work they do.

Though Schlosser said the academy does not give students the authority to act as officers, make arrests or engage in other policing behaviors, the academy does provide participants with a deeper understanding of how their local criminal justice system works. It also provides them with important information about the resources available to them, such as the public defender and district attorney’s offices.

“Most of the feedback we receive from graduates is positive,” Connolly said. “Most of them are surprised at how much work and training goes into a being a police officer, and they’re even more surprised by how many resources are available to them.”

Many of the students even come back to help facilitate the academy, Nelson said.

This year’s academy includes lessons on crime scene investigation, a topic many past graduates expressed interest in.

“It’s also a great time for the students to voice their concerns about community safety,” Schlosser said. “We want to hear the issues and we want them to understand how police work can address them.”