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Northampton Citizens Police Academy heads into fifth year

— The Northampton Police Department will conduct its Citizen Police Academy again this January, with the aim of enhancing citizen understanding of the role and function of the police department. The eight-week course, which meets one night a week for three hours, includes lectures, class discussions and demonstrations. Class members are also offered opportunities to experience firsthand some of the duties officers perform. Topics will include patrol procedures, traffic stops, domestic violence and criminal investigations, among others.

The course will take place Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., beginning Jan. 15 and ending March 5. Classes will be held in the Community Room at the Northampton Police Department, 29 Center St.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old and must pass a background check. Preference will be given to Northampton residents. Three seats will be held for high school students who are under 18, but who exhibit exceptional maturity and interest in the field of law enforcement.

Applications are available in the lobby of the police station or on the Northampton Police Department website at http://www.northamptonpd.com (click on “Community Services”). For information, call Lt. Jody Kasper or Lt. John Cartledge.

Lt. Jody Kasper recently talked with the Gazette about the program.

Q: What does the Citizen Police Academy seek to offer its participants ?

A: It is a great opportunity for people to learn more about the Northampton Police Department and about policing in general. They’ll get to meet a lot of members of the current police department, detectives, patrol officers, supervisors. They’ll also get an opportunity to see our new police facilities, as well as the dispatch center and they’ll get some hands-on experience with some of our equipment. This will be the fifth year that we’re running the program and we’ve had about 80 to 85 graduates from the program within the last few years that we’ve been running it. We’ve had great positive feedback from the people who’ve taken it — they’ve really enjoyed the program.

Q: What has it accomplished so far?

A: There are probably a lot of myths about police work and the way that we really do our job. A lot of that is based on television and media — people see things on TV and they read things in the paper and they watch movies and they have beliefs about how fast we can process physical evidence and … what the job is like. This program, I think, the goal of it is to enlighten people about what the job is really like. It’s a lot more paperwork I think than people assume and you need to have a much wider variety of skills than I think most people really believe before they go into the program. I think people who finish the program have a better idea of, and appreciation of, the type of skills that police officers today have to have.

Q: What type of participants does this program typically attract?

A: The Citizen Police Academy has attracted a lot of different types of people. I know one of the concerns that a lot of people have is that they’re going to have to be physically fit or be able to run and do push-ups, because they think it’s that kind of program when they hear the words “Police Academy.” But it’s not that kind of program at all. It’s designed for all different sorts of people, and really anyone who is interested in learning about policing. We’ve attracted, historically, authors and reporters; we’ve attracted young people who are interested in the field of policing and want to learn about it as a career opportunity; we have attracted people who are really heavily involved in their communities — people who get involved in a lot of city decision-making and boards and in the school systems and they simply want to know more about how the police department works. And we’ve also attracted some folks who are retired and just have an interest in learning about the police department

Q: Is this program popular and if so, why do you think so?

A: It’s very popular with people who go through it. We’ve never really gotten any negative feedback.

People may finish the program and have some constructive feedback about how we can make changes. Overall, people who finish it really love the program and honestly, we love getting the opportunity to meet the people in our community as well. It’s good all the way around, you know, we get to meet people and they come here and meet us. We tend to be a very popular program for both the officers to participate in and the students to sign up for.

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