Resident Says ‘Citizens Academy’ Positive for City Safety
By Hilary Powell — Camille Chester is ready to face crime. The weapons she packs: a notebook and a pen.
Chester is attending her second round of the Citizens Police Academy.
“I enjoyed myself last year,” Chester says. “I learned a lot. I shared it with everyone in my precinct.”
Gary police commander Kerry Rice says the class is free because Gary officials want to provide transparency. The course is a way to educate the public on obscure police procedures.
“We actually get a lot of calls from citizens giving us different tips on the crimes going on,” Commander Rice says, “and they feel like we’re ignoring them or just dragging our boots. They just have to understand the workings of the criminal justice system. The criminal justice wheels turn very slowly in this country.”
Rice says the relationship between graduates from the first class is proof community policing builds trust.
In 2010, the United States Department of Justice found 15 percent of police department nationwide had a Citizens Police Academy.
Research shows, if the purpose of community policing is to break down barriers between the public and the police, the academy is doing just that.”
“The way I measure it is when we have a crime that takes place and our citizens contact me or one of the detectives and actually give them information,” Rice says.
“The chief and I are good friends. We have spoken off and on. I have come up to the campus just to see her and say hello.”
Rice says the face-to-face interaction means the public can see the person behind the badge.
“They get to know the police and realize the police are just like they are,” he says. “We worry about all our bills and we worry about our neighborhood and we’re not disconnected. We’re in the community just like they are.”
Fifty students graduated from the pilot program. Rice says the class is already changing perceptions of safety in the Steel City.
“This past year the Gary Police Department and IUPD have put on numerous city events to enlighten the community about the positive not just the negative.”
“This is very exciting. To take this class, I want to know more about our police officers that are here in Gary and their procedures,” Chester says.
She says she will keep learning, and she hopes officers will keep listening.