ELMHURST – Both citizens and Elmhurst Police Department personnel have benefited through their experiences with the Citizen's Police Academy, which the department has run for more than a decade.
Sgt. Brett Kaczorowski, who has been involved in the program for several years, ran this fall's session as his first time coordinating a session of the program.
The 12-week program features weekly meetings that instruct academy participants about what's involved in law enforcement, both on a micro and macro level.
For example, police personnel review crimes that occurred in the community within the week leading up to each meeting and discuss what the motivations might have been, how to avoid being a victim of a similar crime and how to be a more helpful witness who is informing police about the crime, Kaczorowski said. Other activities in the program include a trivia night quizzing participants about what they have learned, ride-alongs and lessons about various components of police work such as arrest tactics, traffic stops and detective work, he said.
"It's not just sitting around a classroom listening to people lecture," Kaczorowski said. "There's a big chunk of it that is really hands on that actually gets you to experience certain things from the perspective of a police officer."
Sandy Turnbull, a member of the Citizen's Police Academy alumni association, is participating in the academy for the second time this fall. She first participated in 2002 because she wanted to find out how police operations were done in Elmhurst and do what she could as a citizen to help the community in case of emergencies following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
She said she has learned how to be a more informative witness in case she sees a crime occur, noting witnesses of a suspicious incident should take a few moments to acquire specific details to give police useful information, such as a car's make, model and license plate number and the direction the car might be heading.
"I think I've enjoyed it very much. I just think it's very interesting to me," Turnbull said. "And plus, the police officers – guess what? – they're real people too. They don't come on like Sgt. Joe Friday and talk to you like, 'Hey, I'm cool, and you're not,' or whatever. They know who you are. You're citizens that live in the town that they work for. They kind of work for you. So, they're nice guys. They're nice women."
Kaczorowski said the program promotes connections between residents and the department.
"[The participating residents] get to know you well and you get to know them well, but it also really helps so that it gives the residents a really good insight into what police work really is," Kaczorowski said.
The current session of the academy includes 14 students, he said.
Kaczorowski said the program helps the police communicate with residents about any crime trends or other problems occurring in the community, and the two groups are better able to solve community problems together.
The graduates of the program can join its alumni association and volunteer to help the department with its presence at special events hosted by Elmhurst or training events where they might role play victims.
"The connection's the most important thing – between the citizens of our city and our Police Department," said Detective Cmdr. Len Kolpak, who runs the spring session of the academy.
Kolpak said he has noticed participants are surprised by how much work it takes to become a police officer and how many roles are involved in the department beyond those of patrol officers.
Participants learn about the department's canine program, detectives, crime analysis and gun range officers, Kolpak said.
Kaczorowski said he has been impressed by the commitment of many of the residents who participate in the program and help the community.
"It's been very, very impressive for me to work with a lot of these residents that not only want to learn about the police academy. They're doing it on their own time, not getting paid," he said.
The program is funded through the department's budget, Kaczorowski said.
"I think it's a worthwhile use of the Police Department because it's been proven to be so beneficial over the years," he said.