September 2, 2014
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Citizens academy to dispel myths, offer insights to Warwick Police

For the second time this year, the Warwick Police Department (WPD) is welcoming residents to take part in its free, eight-week Citizens Police Academy.

The academy runs from Sept. 12 to Nov. 6 and will primarily be held at the Warwick Police Department Headquarters at 99 Veterans Memorial Drive, with a few off-site visits, every Wednesday from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

The objective is to offer the people a glimpse into the hands-on training police officers follow on a daily basis, while building a stronger bond between the department, its residents and the business community.

“We talk about a little bit of everything,” Lt. Michael Gilbert said during an interview last week. “When people leave, they have a better understanding of what we can do with the tools we have because it’s not like CSI. Some of the stuff you see on those TV shows is very accurate; it’s just not completely accurate. One of our goals is to educate people and get rid of some of those myths.”

For example, said Gilbert, “You can’t take a blood sample, put it in a magic computer and get an answer in five minutes like they do on TV. It just doesn’t happen. The results aren’t instant.”

Officer Steven Nelson, a community police officer for the WPD, is the coordinator. He lines up the instructors, which are all skilled members of the WPD, and puts together the curriculum.

Among the topics that will be covered, are forensic evidence such as blood spatter analysis and fingerprinting, regular uniform patrol, detective work, community policing, an instruction on the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, plus other divisions and special units like the S.W.A.T. team, emergency vehicle operation and a lesson on firearms handling and safety at a shooting range.

The class ends with participants joining officers on a ride-along.

“They can actually get in a police car, go out there with officers and respond to different calls,” Gilbert said. “They don’t get to interact or get out of the car, but they can see what a car stop or disturbance looks like to get a real life feel of what they’ve been learning about.”

The academy is geared more toward citizens, as opposed to individuals looking to getting into a law enforcement career. Essentially, it’s mostly about educating residents, said Gilbert.

“Some of the feedback we get is, ‘I really had no idea that you didn’t have this or that you do have that,’” he said.

At the last class, which took place in the spring, Gilbert said participants were shocked to learn that the department recently acquired two K-9s. They didn’t realize the WPD didn’t have them for a few years.

“They thought we had them all along,” said Gilbert. “Well, our K-9 officer retired two or three [years] ago and we didn’t have a dog in the city working for us. People were sitting in the class going, ‘You mean to tell me we haven’t had a K-9 in the city of Warwick?’ The answer was, yes. We haven’t had funding and those dogs are about $10,000 apiece for the training and everything else that goes into them. When things got bad, they had to be cut.”

Additionally, he said the biggest benefit the academy offers the community is a better appreciation of what the WPD does. Moreover, it helps the department, as citizens learn how to be a good witness if they see a crime or accident. Overall, it builds a better partnership.

“People are more likely to call us and report crimes when they’ve had an opportunity to take this class,” said Gilbert. “They have a better understanding of what we do and they can share their information with officers. We can also get some feedback from these classes about [what] concerns or complaints they may have.”

No matter what, said Gilbert, people who take the class always enjoy it. He said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“They tell their friends and family, ‘You’ve got to sign up for it. It was great. I had no idea it would be so much fun,’” said Gilbert. “Whether it’s a kid who’s 20 or someone who is 70, they can both do it – male or female, physically fit or not physically fit. There are really no limitations.”

The academy is free of charge to Warwick residents and/or employees who are at least 18 years old, with no criminal histories. The deadline for applications is today. Class size is limited to 30 participants.

For more information about the academy, contact Officer Nelson at 468-4373 or steven.nelson@warwickri.com.


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