Police academy shows realities of the job

This fall, citizens will have an opportunity to get an inside look at what police officers do daily.

This fall, citizens will have an opportunity to get an inside look on what police officers do on a daily basis.

The Oak Harbor Police Department is putting on the Citizen Academy 6-9 p.m. every Thursday evening from the beginning of September to Nov. 10, as well as two Saturdays. The series of classes are designed to teach community members about everything that goes into law enforcement.

Detective Sgt. Jennifer Gravel, supervisor of the investigative division, said she is passionate about educating people on the ins and outs of policing. She originally wanted to bring the Citizen Academy back in 2017. She said that department used to do it in the early 90s.

It was delayed in 2019 to the spring of 2020 due to staffing issues, and then was put on hold due to COVID-19. This year, the Citizen Academy is finally returning.

“We need to do something that really helps show the citizens what we do,” Gravel said. “It gives them a chance to ask questions, gives them a chance to kind of learn the process and learn all the different things that we do.”

The academy will start off with a tour of the police department. The classes will cover a wide range of topics and go over all of the police department’s divisions, taught by the employees who run them.

“It’s not just death by PowerPoint,” Gravel said.

There will be a number of hands-on experiences, including an opportunity to use virtual reality. Students will watch a scenario unfold via virtual reality that will demonstrate deescalation tactics.

“They will be put in a shoot-don’t-shoot situation where they can try to use their words to gain compliance with a suspect,” Gravel explained.

This experience is meant to be very realistic and to demonstrate how quickly police officers have to make decisions while on the job.

Gravel hopes acting out scenarios like these will help people understand why officers may come across as standoffish or stay at a distance. She wants people to understand that officers always have to be listening to a police radio, even while talking to someone else.

Part of the goal of the Citizen Academy is to dispel misconceptions people who watch crime shows on TV may have about law enforcement.

“It’s not like that at all,” Gravel said about the typical police shows.

For example, there will be a section on how to collect fingerprints. Students will learn what kind of surface prints can be taken from. Smooth, dry surfaces work best, but even then it’s a delicate process. If too much powder is used, that can destroy any fingerprints left behind.

“It’s going to be very messy but fun, I think,” Gravel said.

All aspects of law enforcement, from how a dispatcher receives calls to what a prosecutor does, will be covered.

There will be a section on the rules and policies of use of force, which might include a demonstration or two if time allows.

“We’ll talk about the varying levels of force and when we can and can’t use force and probably even touch on the liability of using force,” Gravel said.

The department’s school resource officer will talk about his responsibilities and how policing procedures are different in a school setting.

Students will learn what to expect if they call 911, and the procedure the police go through when responding to emergency calls.

On one of the Saturdays, students will act out three different realistic scenarios that are common for police officers: a traffic stop, a trespassing complaint and responding to someone who has been a victim of a crime. The hope is that this will help students understand the thought process officers have to go through when responding to different situations.

Applications to attend Citizens Academy are available right now, and there are a limited number of slots. People can come to the police station in person to fill out and sign an application. There is no cost to attend.

“I’m really excited,” Gravel said. “I can’t wait for all the applications to come trickling in.”

Gravel is also trying to start up the education program for children again, the Police Explorer Program, which was put on hold during the pandemic. It is for kids ages 14 and up who may be interested in careers in law enforcement. It includes monthly meetings, patrol ride-alongs, and other learning and community service opportunities.

Parents who are interested in learning more should contact Sgt. Gravel at jgravel@oakharbor.org.