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January 10, 2014

JPD offers academy for citizens to learn more about police department

JACKSONVILLE — Applications will be accepted through Jan. 17 for the Jacksonville Citizen's Police Academy, a free 14-week training program led by various police department personnel.

Offered locally since 1994, the academy allows citizens a peek into the inner workings of law enforcement, which in turn helps them to explain to residents the work officers do, said Det. Tonya Harris, the JPD crime prevention officer who coordinates the program.

“There are a couple of reasons why someone signs up – a lot of people think they know what we do and how we do it, but they really don't. With the Citizens Police Academy, they get to go one step further and see why we have to do something,” which helps clears up miscommunication among the public, she said.

“If somebody tells (an alumnus) 'Well, he hit me, you need to go arrest him,' they can say, 'if we didn't see it, we can't arrest someone – the police have to investigate first.' There are so many people who don't really know how the law works, but think it's like what they see on TV, (that) if it happened on 'CSI,' we should be able to do it. But it doesn't work that way,” she said.

“They're taking it a step further by going through these classes, and they become the eyes and the ears (of the department) and they know why they're the eyes and the ears,” she added.

Alumni remain involved by helping at events like the annual Tomato Fest and the Back to School Fair each summer; they also raise funds with twice-a-year hotdog cookouts.

“Their main goal is to assist the police department, and they help with numerous things – I couldn't do my crime prevention program without them,” Harris said. “I can't say enough nice things about them, because I could talk all day about the good they do.”

The academy is open to Jacksonville residents ages 21 and older who have passed Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI background checks.

Sessions are held from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at the JPD Training room, 210 W. Larissa St., and focus on areas such as police communications, patrol and criminal investigation, among others.

Past classes have had the opportunity to visit a murder scene in a crackhouse constructed out of paper and PVC – “we had blood splattered everywhere, and grafitti, too, and they got to ask questions” about processing the scene, Harris said.

Last year, however, featured what may be an untoppable feat: The planned kidnapping of a bus filled with participants on the way to Lake Jacksonville.

“Oh my gosh, the last class had such a blast,” she recalled. “We'd never done a SWAT (situation) before, and so we kidnapped them. We told them we were going to the lake and two of our detectives had black masks on and they jumped out at them and kidnapped them.”

The exercise was meant to “give them a lot more of a real life experience, of what happens and all,” she said.

Classes range from 10 to 22 participants, and begin once they clear background checks. “We're at the FBI's mercy until they've sent the dispatch supervisor all-clear,” Harris said, describing how start dates are often announced several weeks after registration closes. “In a perfect world, it might take only a few weeks, but last time we did one, it took a month and a half to get (clearances) back.”

This year, the department hopes to offer a second session in August.

Applications for the Citizens' Police Academy are available at the Jacksonville Police Department, or visit the city's website, www.jacksonville-texas.com, and follow the police department links for more information.

Or contact JPD crime prevention officer Det. Tonya Harris at 903-586-2546.

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