Community Police Academy accepting applications. Transparency is a major goal of the program

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Community Police Academy accepting applications. Transparency is a major goal of the program
The local program is a collaboration between police officers and citizens.
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By Amy Will | awill@alextimes.com

A local program focusing on the collaboration between police officers and citizens is now accepting applications for its 49th Session.

The Alexandria Police Department’s Community Police Academy is an opportunity for residents to learn about the Police Department and work in tandem with officers to build a safer community.

“First and foremost, the main goal is to be transparent and have community members understand their police department better,” Public Information Officer Marcel Bassett explained in an interview last week.

According to a press release issued on July 12, “as a result of their participation, residents can make more informed judgments about the Alexandria Police Department and its daily operations. The Police Department is simultaneously able to acquire a greater understanding of the views and concerns of the community through an enhanced relationship with the public.”

The academy is offered free of charge to residents 21 years of age or older. Applicants must live or work in Alexandria and be able to fulfill a minimum of ten volunteer hours per year following graduation from the program. Once an application is reviewed, participants can also expect a light background check to be administered be- fore being accepted into the academy, which is first come, first served.

“There is a limited number of seats, they only take 25 members,” Bassett shared. “We tend to always be filled as a class. It’s a beautiful thing that people want to come, people want to understand us and vice versa.”

He described the academy’s curriculum as a combination of lectures and interactive activities; including ride-alongs with officers, lessons in patrol operations, crime prevention, crime scene investigations and sessions with members of APD’s Crisis Intervention Team. The variety of classes are curated to provide participants with opportunities other volunteers might not get a chance to experience and allow them to examine a situation through the eyes of an officer.

“We have a live exercise where we have a volunteer try to talk someone out of a mental health crisis. We have a class at the range where the officers demonstrate some of the training they go through. So, it’s an intimate look at the police department.”

Classes will be held every Wednesday from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the APD’s headquarters in the community room. They begin on September 13 and will conclude with a graduation ceremony on November 15.

Members of the academy can expect to volunteer at var- ious events such as community parades, road races and National Night Out on August 1.

“Every first Tuesday of August is National Night Out. This is a nationwide event started by the National Association for Town Watch,” Bassett explained. “It’s a night to remind criminals that we are together, we’re present and crime will not rule our lives.”

He explained the premise behind the annual event, now in its 39th year, and how it plays a key role in strengthening the relationship between officers, residents and the city of Alexandria.

“It’s a night enjoying festivities as a collective whole police community. City nonprofit organizations, city agencies – we’re working together, interacting with each other because as a collective we can prevent crime.”

Bassett described what both Community Police Academy volunteers and participants can expect to see around the city’s neighborhoods that night.

“APD will be out there with our motors. We’ll also have our CSI unit to show off some of the things that we utilize so the community understands what these items are, what these vehicles are and why we use them. Another way of being more transparent.”

Whether it is a big event like National Night Out or an opportunity on a smaller scale, Bassett says the academy of- ten produces volunteers motivated and eager to help their community beyond the required hours.

“Typically, once you are accepted and you attend the classes and you graduate, you are allowed to come back and revisit the class if you like. We do have a lot of people come back and visit. And, there are people who volunteer for the class who go to the class and then become volunteers more than the time we’re asking for in return,” Bassett explained.

Alexandria resident Allison VanOcker is one of those people. She has been a dedicated volunteer with APD for almost a decade. Her passion for service all started with the Community Police Academy.

“Back in 2015, someone sent out an email and I’m like, ‘I want to throw my name in the hat for that. Let’s go do that.’”

Since then, she has participated in almost all of the academies the city has to offer, but has fond memories of working with the police department.

“I started off with the police academy … it was fun. It was just very informative and right after the program around Christmas, I volunteered to sell the Christmas trees for the police department,” VanOcker shared.

She has enjoyed her time so much, she intends to participate in the academy again this fall.

“I’m on a mission now … I’m kind of curious, a lot has changed.”

Bassett cited transparency as a priority in the department, noting educating volunteers about various tools and technologies – such as the department’s body-worn cameras – helps to strengthen communication between officers and citizens.

Reminiscing about her first training classes, VanOcker agreed.

“There’s a lot of coordinated effort that has to go on behind the scenes. I remember some of those events were pre-planned for the next week. You can sign up for your ride along. … I can remember one night we all walked up to the top of the hill and they demoed the radar detector. It was very hands-on.”

Members of the academy can expect an open-door policy when it comes to feedback and will be supported by the department through the learning process and beyond.

“At the end of each class, there’s a form to fill out, give us feedback, whatever is on your mind, what you like, what you didn’t like. So, it’s a policing that isn’t just, ‘we think we’re right and we’re trying to present it to you,’ but, it’s also another way of getting community members to talk to us to tell us where we can improve. It’s an open dialogue moment,” Bassett said.

Encouraging those who might be hesitant, Bassett emphasized the importance of the program and its impact on the department and the city. He reiterated the critical role residents play in the department’s success.

“We’re here for community and just trying to build community. And, while police are effective, we’re not the only solution to solving crime. We need community.”

VanOcker said she now has a robust network of people she never would have met without programs like the Community Police Academy.

“You don’t know what is available until you allow yourself to get involved.”

For those interested in applying to the Community Police Academy, you can find the application on the city of Alexandria website at alexandria.gov/Academies or e-mail APD’s Volunteer Office at mary.bruno@alexandriava. gov. The deadline for registration is August 18.

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