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An insider’s look at police work

IUPD-NW’s Citizens Police Academy gives residents a taste of walking in law enforcement shoes; applications now open for March session

Friday Jan 12, 2018

At the police academy, officers in training role-play scenarios so they can learn to react swiftly, confidently, and safely, in the countless situations they might face in the field.

At Indiana University Northwest, everyday citizens get a similar opportunity during the Citizens Police Academy, taught by IU Police Department – Northwest’s campus officers and their Gary Police Department partners, each spring. As participants learn first-hand, the possible scenarios, and the split-second decisions an officer has to make, are endless.

During last year’s 10-week session, for instance, in the lesson on “Use of Force,” Cpl. Reggie Woods stood beside Gary resident Marvin Lyles, and coached him on how to use a “weapon” he would later use later in a simulated exercise. Woods, of the Gary Police Department and a Gary SWAT Team commander, was the day’s guest speaker.

Woods explained that Lyles would be watching a scenario play out on the video screen before him and as the responding officer, he’d have to assess the situation, and react, fast.

It took mere seconds for Lyles, and the rest of the class, to realize just how much an officer has to consider before acting. In Lyles’ simulated scenario—a room full of people in a hotel room where a brawl ensued—he ended up getting himself shot.

Breaking it down with Woods, Lyles admitted that he was keeping his eye on the central figure in the room causing a disturbance, so he didn’t notice another man in the room raising a gun. Woods then rattled off all the things he was watching in the scenario that had escaped the inexperienced Lyles: “Scan the other people in the room. Think about where the rounds you fire will go, maintain eye contact with your partner, position yourself where you have control of the room.”

Visibly impacted by what they’d just witnessed, the session’s participants quickly acknowledged that’s quite a lot to do and think about in an instant. 

It’s this kind of “a-ha moment” that the officers conducting the session had hoped for. But that’s only one goal of the Citizens Police Academy. Participants learn about police work, but officers also learn more about the issues facing the communities they protect. Both parties gain a mutual respect for each other and the struggles they face.

“The relationship between the police and the community is vital to our success,” said IUPD-NW Chief Wayne James. “The community depends on the police to protect and serve. In return, we rely on the community to be our eyes and ears and assist us with our mission. The Citizens Police Academy is one opportunity where that kind of relationship can develop.”

Other sessions cover such topics as criminal investigations, crime scene processing, community policing and crime prevention, legal concepts, uniformed patrol procedures, and K-9 units.

Mary Mulligan, of Gary, said the Citizens Police Academy helps residents understand what officers go through. She also stressed the importance of officers being visible and friendly in their communities.

“If people see officers in the community engaging with them in a more proactive way, then people have the opportunity to see them more positively,” Mulligan said.

Lyles said that participating in the Citizens Police Academy has helped him to become more involved in his community and made him more sensitive to the demands of working in law enforcement.

“I’m trying to be an active citizen,” Lyles said. “I signed up for the program to become more immersed in police activities. I wanted to get more information about how to assist police and see what they go through in their training.”

Lyles added, “More citizens should be engaged. This helps to build community.”

Citizens Police Academy

IU Northwest photo by Erika Rose

Marvin Lyles, of Gary, takes on the role of police officer in a simulated exercise brought to IU Northwest’s Citizen Police Academy by Cpl. Reggie Woods of the Gary Police Department.

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