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Citizen's Police Academy offers glimpse into police department
As recently as two months ago, David Kemp’s opinion about law enforcement was less than flattering.
The 14-year Redmond resident had had a few casual encounters with the police and said these gave him the impression that law enforcement officers were “overly cautious and standoffish.”
“From the reporting I have heard over the years about police brutality and misuse of power, the high numbers of people incarcerated in the U.S., I thought they were all a bunch of gun-happy, people-bashing bullies,” Kemp said.
But now after about a month and a half of attending the Redmond Police Department’s (RPD) Citizens’ Police Academy, he has a better idea of what officers do and why.
The academy offers 10 weekly classes and gives the public a deeper look into the police department. From department history and ethics, to records and evidence, to the department’s traffic, SWAT and K-9 units, the academy covers a broad range of information.
“I really had no idea how they were going to fill the time, but after the first three-hour scheduled session went over an hour and a half, I soon realized I didn’t understand half of what I thought I knew about what they did,” Kemp said about his initial expectations.
The RPD’s Citizens’ Police Academy began in the 1990s and ran for about a decade and a half before the department put it aside as they were not able to dedicate as much time to it as it deserved, said crime prevention officer Mike Dowd. But since its return last month, Dowd said things have been going well.
Citizens must apply to participate in the academy and Dowd said they currently have about 20 students including neighborhood watch leaders, a City Council member, prospective RPD employee and representative from the Lake Washington School District. Participants also range in age from early 20s to mid 70s.
Marie Emerson, who has lived in Redmond off and on for more than 20 years, participated in the academy the first time it was given about 13 years ago and decided to sign up a second time.
“I was interested in seeing what was new,” she said.
Emerson is originally from a small town in New York that didn’t have a police department but was under the jurisdiction of the county sheriff, who was located on the other side of the county. With her limited interaction with law enforcement, Emerson said her first experiences have been with the RPD and she has always been impressed.
“We are very blessed in Redmond to have such a wonderful department in my view,” she said.
Dowd said he is not sure how often they will run the citizens’ academy — it will depend on the demand. He said in the past, the RPD had run the academy about twice a year and if enough people ask about it, he will probably do the same this time. For more information, contact Dowd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The academy meets weekly from 6-9 p.m. on Wednesdays in the RPD training room and Dowd said the goal has been to get the public to understand where officers are coming from and increase people’s trust of the department.
“The goal is just to inform people about what we’re doing,” Dowd said. “I think people will have a better trust of you (when they know why you do what you’re doing).”
This is exactly what happened to Kemp, who heard about the academy from Dowd through his participation with his neighborhood block watch.
Kemp said since participating in the academy, he has seen people with a sense of humor doing an ever-changing and extremely tough and thankless job. He was also surprised about some of the topics the academy covered such as SWAT. He said he didn’t realize a community the size of Redmond warranted such a team.
“With every subject matter expert introduced came a complete realignment of my preconceived notion about how they ‘should’ be acting,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily like everything I heard, but I understood how these (processes) and procedures evolved into what they are and how they are designed to protect the officer, as well as the person subjected to their process — willing or not.”
Although this is her second time in the academy, Emerson said she has learned a few new things, as well. The academy recently covered accident investigations and Emerson was very surprised to see the high-tech equipment officers use to document an accident scene.
“I just had no concept of that type of technology,” she said.
Emerson recommends the academy for residents who are interested in learning more about the police department and the city’s inner workings, meeting new people and becoming more involved in the community.
Kemp said his time in the academy has actually prompted him to do the latter.
“I have gained a great respect and a sense of pride for our police and will probably volunteer to help out in the future because I think they are a quality organization I’d like to contribute to,” he said.