It's been a few years because of the pandemic and a lack of interest by the public, but once again the Jefferson City Police Department is holding a seven-week Citizens' Police Academy.
Classes started Sept. 7 and Police Chief Eric Wilde said the academy is designed to enhance the department's active partnership with the community. The group meets at the police department training room on Monroe Street and 23 people signed up. Wilde said he considers that number "very good."
"Just hearing that people want to learn more about the department gives me a good feeling that people want to get involved," Wilde said. "They want to be part of the public partnership with the police department. That's a good feeling to know that your community still cares enough to get involved."
The academy has three goals:
• To allow citizens the opportunity to increase their knowledge of the duties, procedures and responsibilities that officers perform daily.
• To bridge the gap between the police and the community.
• To provide a new frame of reference that will allow residents a better understanding of why JCPD does what they do.
The academy classes will be held every Wednesday night through Oct. 19 and they are free.
Topics addressed in the academy include: patrol activities and demonstrations; SWAT/tactical operations; criminal investigation/crime scene processing; traffic enforcement and accident investigation; and use of force/defensive tactics matters. In addition to the scheduled classes, a "ride-along" with patrol officers will be made available to students.
Wednesday's focus was on traffic enforcement. JCPD Traffic Unit Supervisor Sgt. Doug Ruediger said they wanted to show that most crashes are not accidents.
"The majority of crashes are because someone did something wrong," Ruediger said. "The top five causes for crashes are the same here as they are across the state -- failure to yield, following too close, inattention, traveling too fast for conditions and improper lane use."
Ruediger said Missouri Boulevard remains the street where the most crashes occur and they try to do patrolling there as much as possible. Traffic circles have been put in place at many locations during the last several years and Ruediger believes those have helped decrease collisions.
"Traffic flows much better in the circles," Ruediger said. "If you do have a crash in a circle, it's at lower speed, it's not someone coming into an intersection at a higher speed like you'd see at a four-way stop."
JCPD, like all law enforcement operations, has been recruiting to fill a number of vacancies in recent years. Wilde believes the academy can be a recruiting tool.
"If we're not directly recruiting people from this class, we hope that they'll become ambassadors for the department and recommend other people based on what they find out while here at the academy," Wilde said.
It worked on Ruediger, who said he credits going through the academy in 1996 with him eventually becoming a police officer.
"I was working a second job at the time and a friend of mine was a JCPD officer and asked me if I ever thought about being a cop," Ruediger said. "I had done some ride-alongs with my brother-in law who was in law enforcement, but I had never really thought about joining the force.
"My friend told me about the academy, which was 10 weeks long at that time and told me after that, 'You'll either want to be a cop or not.' I went and by the second night I really thought I could do this. So I made sure I paid attention and met people and by the time I got out, I applied for a job."
All applicants have to be at least 18 years old to participate in the academy, pass a background check and are selected at the discretion of the JCPD.
Among those in this year's academy is Larsen Daehenick of Jefferson City, who said he's always had an interest in what the police do.
"As a kid I wanted to join, but I had long hair and didn't want to cut it," Daehenick said with a laugh. "I've always wanted to find out more about why they do what they do for, honestly, minimal pay."
The first class focused on the dispatching of calls by the 911 center and Daehenick said that opened his eyes to what those personnel have to go through every day.
"I talked with people I work with about what we learned in that class and how impressed I was with what they do," Daehenick said.
Also taking the class are Jon and Crystal Riggs of Westphalia. Jon works at a local bank, while Crystal is an assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
"We had interest in this because we both have interaction with officers in our jobs," Jon Riggs said. "There's a lot more to a police officers job than what people realize."
"This helps create a partnership in the community and being an educator, we know police are important to our community," Crystal Riggs said. "We have the school resource officer program in the schools and they are great assets to our district."