This year's 21st Citizens Police Academy hosted by the Lombard Police Department began on the first of this month with its biggest class of students to date — aspiring police officers, concerned residents, a village trustee and your very own Lombard Spectator reporter, me.
Every Tuesday night for the next 10 weeks, students will learn the ins and outs of the police department. Things that never made sense will finally gain some clarity. Topics covered will include field training, becoming a police officer, interrogations, defensive practices, K-9 unit protocol and much more.
And it won't just be classroom teaching.
Field trips? Yes, please… to the gun range, police department, DuPage County Jail and even ride-alongs with officers on four-hour shifts. Students will learn how to use handcuffs, defensive techniques and how to shoot a weapon.
"We find that at the end of this class, most students are saying, 'I wish it wouldn't end,'" said Lombard Police Det. Eric Gouty, who also serves as the class coordinator.
Gouty said the class has been anything but mundane during the last 20 years, with students actively engaged each week and dreading graduation.
Lombard Police Chief Ray Byrne told the students about how the class is also very therapeutic for officers. Upon dealing with the worst of the community's residents and visitors, the department gets relief in meeting with the academy.
"It's nice to know and be reminded of the upstanding citizens of Lombard by coming to this class," Byrne said.
On its very first meeting March 1, the class was full of laughter with cop jokes in the air, despite being in a room full of armed officers.
But it's not to be taken lightly — attendance is required and a written exam at the end of the term must be passed in order to officially graduate.
Students from a wide mix have joined, including local Lombard business owners looking to increase safety, aspiring officers trying to get onto the force, relatives of officers trying to get a better understanding and even village Trustee Greg Gron, looking to increase his knowledge of public safety.
"I'm very appreciate of law enforcement," said one student, lifelong Lombard resident Robert Mertz.
Mertz said jokingly he once was one of the “punks” roaming the town many years ago.
"I'd like to be more informed now and know what the right thing to do is," he said.
Another student, who has always had a fascination with police work, is Lombard resident Meg Salzman.
Salzman has been in town for 20 years and joined the class to also broaden her knowledge to use at her place of employment.
"I'd like to learn ways to keep our kids safer," said Salzman, who works on the administrative staff at a Lombard school. "It'd be nice to serve as somewhat of a police liaison."
The culmination of the program is on May 11 and includes a celebration at Casey's Restaurant.
Over and out.