Royal Oak residents are increasingly interested in learning how the city police department operates since the chief brought back a Citizens Police Academy program last year.
“It’s been extremely popular,” said Chief Corrigan O’Donohue. “We’re getting great feedback. When someone is in uniform you tend not to see their human side, but this program helps change that.”
Police are now accepting applications for the Citizens Police Academy classes that start Oct. 4. There are 25 spots open, but interest from residents quickly outstrips the number of people police can accommodate.
“There were at least 60 people that wanted to attend last year,” said Judy Davids, the city’s community engagement specialist.
Only residents are allowed into the seven-week course, which meets for about three hours at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Attendees have to be 18 or older.
Royal Oak Police Lt. Dave Van Ness and Lt. Al Carter lead the academy.
Residents get an up-close, hands-on experience, taking part in everything from riding along with an officer for a shift to learning about an actual criminal case in the detective bureau and using a simulator handgun in projected police scenarios to decide when to shoot.
Classes also focus on investigative techniques, SWAT team work and defense techniques. There is also a visit to one of the busiest locations in the city — the police dispatch center — where the department gets about 95 percent of the information it acts on. Officers and dogs in the K-9 unit are among graduates favorites as well.
Besides stripping away misconceptions residents may have from crime dramas on TV, the program has engendered greater civic involvement from a number of past graduates, O’Donohue said.
Several people from last year’s academy have gone on to serve on city volunteer boards and another graduate became an auxiliary police officer.
The chief said officers and residents alike benefit from spending time together.
“On the ride-alongs with officers the residents are sitting a patrol car with them for the entire shift,” O’Donohue said. “It’s good for the officer to hear from residents and for residents to see what officers go through in a day.”
Many Citizen Police Academy graduates find themselves less reluctant to reach to police afterward when they have concerns, he added.
All the graduates are surveyed after classes end, Davids said.
“The feedback is overwhelming positive,” she said. “They care a lot more about the city after attending the academy.”
Residents who have attended past academies represent a diverse range of people in Royal Oak, with men and women from young adulthood to retirees, Davids said.
One of the most important qualifications is that applicants should be willing to commit to attending all the three-hour classes for the seven-week program.
“You’ve got to know you really want to do it,” Davids said.
All potential applicants are screened before they are accepted. They will be notified no later than Sept. 30 if they are admitted.
Residents can fill out an application online at romi.gov/citizens and questions about the academy can be emailed to Lt. Al Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.