Ever wonder how a police officer decides to use a Taser? Or what they’re thinking when they approach your window during a traffic stop?
If you apply to join Milton Police Department’s inaugural citizen police academy, you may just find out.
The 10-week program starts September 12, running every Wednesday night except Halloween from 6 to 8 or 9 p.m. The goal, organizer Cpl. Jason Porter said, is to give Miltonians a better view into how their police department operates.
He envisions a scene at a backyard barbecue where a parent volunteers a story about their son getting pulled over and questions why the officer acted in a certain way. If their neighbor attended the academy, they might be able to jump in and explain, Porter said.
“That’s what we’re trying to do: have better relationships with the community and get people to understand our jobs a little bit better,” he said. “They may not have to like it, but if they can understand at least where we come from … I think that’s what we’re looking for.”
The academy is free and open to Milton residents age 17 and older who can pass a simple background check. As of press time Tuesday, only four of the allotted 20 spots are taken.
Milton police modeled the academy after the well-established program at the Hingham, Mass. police department, which has held 60 classes since 1996.
Hingham Detective Sgt. Ryan O’Shea has run the CPA for five years. He said the main goal is taking down “some of the mystique” between the public and police and showing citizens that officers are people, too.
If the barrier is broken, people may be more likely to call the police in times of need. Too often, O’Shea said, people call his station and preface their complaint with, “Gee, I’m sorry to bother you.”
“No, we want to be bothered – that’s our job,” O’Shea said. “That’s what the CPA is here for: [To show people] you’re not bothering us.”
Like in Hingham, Milton’s academy includes a tour of the police department, overview of motor vehicle law, lessons on active shooter response and more. Porter said the idea is to have a creative and interactive dynamic that welcomes questions and provides role-play scenarios.
These might include a traffic stop, a domestic violence call where
citizen-officers decide whether to jail a suspect, a vehicle crash where participants reconstruct the scene and others.
“You’ll get to do neat things,” Porter said. “It’s not just going to be sitting and having death by PowerPoint.”
O’Shea, the Hingham sergeant, said the first class is usually quiet, but by the end, everyone feels comfortable speaking up. Participants even began sharing their own domestic violence stories after one lesson, O’Shea said.
“Sometimes you go to the call … but [in that case], you saw the human behind the call,” he said, noting the citizen academy lets people see behind the badge, too.
“We’re citizens just like them,” he said. “We’re people, we’re compassionate and we’re not out trying to write 100 tickets or arrest everybody. We’re out trying to solve problems and help the community.”
Hingham keeps the conversation going with its Citizens Police Alumni Association. The group has a board of directors that meet monthly to hear a guest speaker and the chief give updates on department happenings.
But Milton has to start somewhere. MPD’s lesson plans include drunken and drugged driving processing, community and anti-bias policing, use of force protocol, first aid and death investigations. All the instructors will be Milton officers, many on their personal time.
Each officer will create their own curriculum based on his or her areas of expertise: Sgt. Paul Locke teaches motor vehicle law at the Vermont Police Academy, so he’ll carry that over to the Milton course, Porter said.
He sees the CPA as a natural extension to Milton PD’s community policing efforts and said it could help with future recruitment, too. Indeed, Hingham’s O’Shea enrolled in his town’s citizen academy in 1999, before he became an officer.
He was pleased to hear Milton is trying this out and only had one suggestion.
“Go into it with an open mind,” he said. “You’re letting the citizens into your house. Let them in, invite them in, have an open mind, and be ready to share their ideas and hear their ideas.”
Porter is most excited for just that: To answer people’s questions and educate them about their police department.
“Barring some major incident, you’re going to have police officers’ attention for two to three hours,” Porter said. “I don’t think in the past, the public’s ever had the opportunity to do that.”
If you’re interested in joining the Milton Police Citizen Police Academy, click on www.miltonvt.gov/148/police to fill out an application or stop by the station on Bombardier Road.
The registration deadline is September 5.