The Ashland Police Department graduated more than a dozen special recruits on Monday night from its Citizens Police Academy.
The seven-week course gave participants a behind-the-scenes, hands-on look at how the department responds, investigates, solves crimes and works with the legal system to prosecute them. Community members that successfully completed the course earned no policing powers but walked away with a greater understanding and appreciation of Ashland’s finest and how they “protect and serve” the city’s residents each day.
“It was a fantastic experience,” said graduate Kathy Howard. “Everybody needs to try it.”
Fellow graduate Nevada Ange echoed that sentiment. “I learned so much,” she said. “I think everybody needs to do it, just to make the community better.”
The Citizens Academy was offered for several years in the late 90s before going on hiatus in 1998. It was significantly retooled with an emphasis on interaction and highlighting the new technology, training and laws the agency uses.
APD Chief Rob Ratliff said the academy was brought back to showcase how officers do their jobs with the ultimate goal of fostering understanding and building relationships with community leaders.
Participants learned all of this by doing, working a fictional case from beginning to end in order to experience the entire process. Along the way they interacted with all the various departments within the agency as well as the judges and prosecutors that also work with officers.
“We felt it was important for people to look at it from a different perspective — what a police officer does daily,” said Ratliff. “I don’t think people realize what we do, what we have to do to prepare, the obstacles we have to overcome. They need to know the things we do, how we do it, and why we do it the way we do.”
That’s exactly what Ange found out.
“It is such a long process,” she said. “I don’t think that I thought that. I don’t think I had any idea of what it really entails, from getting that phone call, to that 30-second blurb of a message, and there they go into the line of fire, so to speak, to protect me, not knowing what they are getting ready to get into. Their life is on the line every single time. They are fearless.”
Howard, who attended the academy in the ‘90s, said this new curriculum was entirely different and eye-opening. “It was very interesting and very informative. You see aspects of their job that you don’t normally see,” she said.
For example, participants learned how and why police interview the way they do, how they gather and process evidence as well as the training and techniques they use to make an arrest.
Participants also gained a better understanding of the personal side of policing from Ashland’s own officers.
“It’s not a job to them. It is their passion,” said Howard. “You find a new respect for them and their position.”
“It is crazy what they do every day, 24/7, not just while they are in the uniform. It takes a special one-of-a-kind person to be a police officer,” said Ange. “It definitely changed my opinion. It's less intimidating now that I have met them. They are not just this figure of a police officer, they are real guys genuinely trying to protect me and my family. I think I could absolutely call them at anytime and be comfortable.”
Howard said the experience also taught her ways to better help the police department do its job. As the manager of the 150-unit Hillcrest Apartments, she often interacts with the APD on various issues. “I can get information prior to them getting here that would help them better solve the issue or know where to go with it,” she said, giving an example.
That’s just what police were hoping the outcome would be.
Maj. Todd Kelley said the academy has already proven helpful as a focus group of sorts in that it has generated ideas and recommendations on ways the APD can improve how it does business.
“It’s been good for us,” agreed Sgt. Ryan Conley. “We have really enjoyed the positive interaction. It gives officers an opportunity to explain what is going through their minds and get feedback.”
Ratliff said the APD will continue the program, most likely next fall. “Based on feedback we’ve gotten it’s gone great,” he said.
“I can only imagine where it’s going to go from here,” added Kelley.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.