Citizens have a hands-on opportunity to view the duties and procedures of police officers starting at the end of the month. The Herndon Police Department reopens the Herndon citizen's police academy for its 12th annual session.
"It really gives [citizens] a better perspective of what we do and gives them a better understanding of what is going on when they make a call," said Herndon Police officer and class instructor Dexter Morgan. "It lets [citizens] see how the police department works on the inside from a first-hand view, not just from what you see on television and the movies."
The Citizen's Police Academy is a program of two- to three-hour classes offered once a week over the course of 12-weeks running from Aug. 30 to Nov. 15. While there are no citizenship requirements to take the course, Town of Herndon residents generally receive priority over out-of-town applicants, Morgan said.
Classes are typically offered on Wednesday evenings, however a special class is scheduled for one Saturday, Morgan added. While class size is typically between 18 and 20 students, Morgan said that the added space of the new police facility opened since last year's classes adjourned has given them the option to increase class size if needed.
At the time of publication, there were still several spots open for the course.
The course is offered free of charge for all those accepted. All applicants must undergo a criminal background check.
HIGHLIGHTED BY A TRIP to the firing range to practice shooting a gun with live ammunition, a tutorial on identifying different gangs and gang behavior and a police ride-along, the Herndon Citizen's Police Academy offers citizens a training opportunity typically only undertaken by police cadets, Morgan said.
"I would say the most popular activity — would be the day we go to the [shooting] range," Morgan said.
Even more importantly, it gives people an increased understanding and respect of the job of a police officer, he said.
"I've had people say that before they took the class, they thought that the police were stuck up and had attitudes towards residents," Morgan said. "After taking the class, those same people have come up to me and said that they've realized that [police officers] are people too and just like everyone else, they have jobs to do."
An increased understanding of the procedures of police often leads some class graduates to become more involved with volunteer opportunities and community leadership, Morgan added. Most commonly, these students go on to work as volunteers for the local citizen's support team, an organization that volunteers with the Herndon Police Department in traffic and parking enforcement and neighborhood watch duties.
"I would say that in almost every class I have been involved with, we have students continue on to be members of the Citizen's Support Team," Morgan said. "It's an excellent community relations tool — and good to build those relationships with residents."
HERNDON RESIDENT Brenda Denkeli joined the Citizen's Police Academy last year to be able to learn ways to better serve as a leader for residents through understanding how community law enforcement operates. Denkeli was elected the class president.
"One of the reasons why I decided to take the class is to get an understanding of how the police department works on the inside and how they do their job," said Denkeli, who is the president of the Parkway Plaza Homeowners' Association. "As a community leader, I found it important for our residents to have that knowledge."
The most personally useful part of the academy was learning about gangs and narcotics enforcement, Denkeli said.
Learning about gangs and ways to identify them "was very helpful to know, so I could know what to look for in my own community," she said. "It's very important to know these signs so you can have an idea of what might be going on in your community."
One of her favorite activities throughout the academy was the firing range, Denkeli said.
"I had never ever shot a gun before that," she said. "It had such a kick back to it and it made such a loud noise, I couldn't believe it — but that was a real fun day."
While the Citizen's Police Academy tries to give everyone a well-rounded look at the work of local police officers, different people will benefit in different ways from taking the program, Morgan said.
"It's something that's mostly on an individual perspective of what you'll get out of it," Morgan said. "There's a lot of different things that you will learn and you can apply it to different parts of your life."