West suburban police, residents forge bond at citizen academies

By Erika Wurst for Chronicle Media

Participants in the city of Aurora’s citizen law enforcement academy learn to take part in target shooting. The city has had great success with its academies held twice a year.(Photo courtesy of Aurora Police Department)

If you ever wanted to investigate a murder, conduct a traffic stop, get up close with the K-9s or learn about undercover drug stings, several local police and sheriff’s departments are offering residents the opportunity to do just that.

Local citizen law enforcement academies let residents go behind the scenes of their law enforcement organizations and get a first-hand look at the trials, tribulations and excitement of the job.

In Aurora, more than 70 people sign up for each of the department’s bi-annual classes. Held in the spring and in the fall, the classes fill up quickly and hopeful participants are often placed on waiting lists.

Those interested in joining the 10-week class must either live, work, or own property in the city and pass a background test. That’s basically the only requirement.

Participants currently range in age from 21 to 92, and include people of many backgrounds. Some people love police work and want to get involved, others are don’t have the fondest impressions of law enforcement when they sign up, said Officer Michael Townsend, who runs Aurora’s CPA and CPA Alumni organizations.

“As often as police are in the media these day (for negative things), it raises a lot of questions about what we do and how we do it. We want people to understand the decisions we make,” he said. “Hopefully, at the end of the class, we’ve changed people’s minds. It’s difficult when we have to react in a split second to some situations, and we put them in those situations so they can see how difficult it is.”

Throughout the course, which includes hands-on practicums as well as classroom presentations, strong bonds are formed. As a result, many participants join the group’s Alumni Association after graduation.

Currently sitting at about 200 members, the CPAAA meets monthly and helps volunteer with police at local events, and receives continuing education.

“We have no problem filling seats,” Townsend said.

The Kane County Sheriff’s Department Citizen Police Academy is also “booming through the roof” these days, according to the department’s Outreach Director Eddie Jackson.

Members of the Oswego Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association. Often those who participate in the citizen police academies go on to join alumni groups to stay involved. (Photo courtesy of Oswego Police Dept.)

The group meets for three hours, once a week for 10 weeks during the course of the program. Classes are offered in the spring and fall.

Participants range from college-age to retired folks who get schooled on everything from the coroner’s duties, to tours of the jail and the following of a real-life murder case.

They learn about polygraph testing and SWAT tactics. They get as up close as citizens are allowed.

“They really appear to enjoy themselves,” Jackson said of the group, which averages about 50 people per class.

While Kane and Aurora CPA classes are consistently full, Kendall County departments are less active.

The Kendall County Sheriff’s Department offers no program, and the Yorkville Police Department’s program is on a hiatus due to lack of participation.

Yorkville Deputy Chief Terry Klingel said it wasn’t always this way.

“In the mid-90s, our Citizen Police Academy was really strong. We had people on waitlists,” he recalled. “As time progressed, less and less people were interested.”

The department’s Academy Alumni Association, however, remains in full-swing. Graduates of the CPA grow close with the department’s officers during their tenure, and really build a report with those who serve and protect them.

Oswego’s Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association President Scott Schiltz working the PraireFest Parade. Oswego and other departments rely on these CPAAA groups to help at such community events. (Photo courtesy of Oswego Police Dept.)

“We get a chance to meet residents on a social basis,” Klingel said. “I’ve known people in the CPA for 25 years and been to their weddings and birthday parties. You become a family.”

He said that he hopes to garner more interest in the Citizens Police Academy and see classes start up again.

In Oswego, Patrol Officer and CPA Coordinator Officer Stephen Bailey said their program is growing leaps and bounds over where it was six years ago when he took over as the group’s leader.

Their CPA Alumni Association has about 40 members, and the department’s current CPA class has eight new participants.

“Class sizes are hit or miss,” Bailey said. “Sometimes there are tons of people, and some time there are none.”

Last year, the department didn’t host a class, but this year, the group is meeting weekly.

The 13-week program is held once a year, with many members going on to join the Alumni Association and help out around the community. They help direct traffic and are the eyes and ears of the department at local festivals and events.

“It’s like having an extra 30 members of the police department,” Bailey said gratefully. “I always try to give back to the alumni group and show them they are appreciated.”

Kane County’s Jackson said not only are the CPA classes educational, but they are a way to forge relationships between the police and the people they serve.

“We want to show the community that police are human, too, and that we care about them. We want to give them an opportunity to get up close and personal,” he said.




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