Police departments offer citizen academies, close-up look at cops

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published March 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 8, 2013 at 12:20 p.m.
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It’s a dark night when the police stop a car along a city street. With blue lights flashing, the officer approaches the stopped vehicle, not knowing what the occupants of the car will do.

By attending their community’s citizens police academies, residents in Hot Springs and Benton can get a firsthand understanding of how police officers respond to situations such as traffic stops and other situations.

“We try to explain to the class what officers do in the city and what kind of calls the officers are responding to in the city,” said Lt. Kevin Russell, the coordinator of the citizens police academy for the Benton Police Department. “In some cases, the police officers who are playing the role of the vehicle’s occupants are armed with squirt guns.”

The goal is for the academy trainee not to get wet, but to complete the traffic stop successfully, Russell said.

Cpl. McCrary Means of the Hot Springs Police Department said the Hot Springs Citizens Police Academy also uses the traffic-stop scenario for the class.

“It is a chance for us to let them be the cop,” Means said. “Sometimes the person playing the driver is cooperative, and sometimes they are not. It teaches [the residents] what they should say and what they shouldn’t say.”

Hot springs residents can sign up now for the next citizens police academy, which will begin April 11.

“Class members will meet in the Police Department for eight weeks on Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.,” Means said.

The class is free of charge, but before becoming a member of the class, each applicant is subject to a thorough background check.

Means said Hot Springs Police Chief David Flory not only wants to help make residents more familiar with the department; he is looking for citizens willing to volunteer to aid police.

“Some of the people who take the class and then volunteer might come into the office and help with paperwork,” Means said. “Others might work a few hours downtown helping tourists by answering questions during an event. People will have to attend the academy before they could volunteer for these jobs.”

Russell said the Benton Police Department also hopes that after completing the training, participants

in the academy will volunteer to aid police officers in noncritical duties.

“We hope it will make people who would be careful and detailed witnesses if they encounter a crime and be more willing to step up and talk with police,” he said. “We also hope our alumni will be supporters of the department out in the community.”

A date has not been set for the spring class in Benton, but Russell said it will likely be in late April or early May.

“Interested residents should check out our website (www.benton

police.org) or our Facebook page for the exact dates and how to apply,” he said.

Both Benton and Hot Springs will also offer citizens police academies in the late summer or fall. No dates have been selected.

“Participants will have the opportunity to meet with SWAT team members and detectives; to learn about patrol functions, department structure and search and seizure; and to ride along with an officer,” Means said. “They will meet with the drug task force and see real drugs that have been taken in an arrest. Most people have never seen heroin.”

Benton police offer much the same kind of information. Russell said participants will also meet and observe the K-9 officers and their police dogs as they conduct search-and-arrest training. Class members will ride along with patrol officers one evening, meet with SWAT and narcotic officers and even try out police weapons at the firing range.

For more information, call the Hot Springs Police Department at (501) 321-6789, ext. 6740 or 6734. Benton residents may call (501) 776-5948.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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