~~~The Citizen Police Academy of Austin~~~
A Citizen Police Academy (CPA) is a series of classes that local police departments offer to their community. Depending on your city, a CPA consists of between six and fourteen weekly meetings. They are designed to give citizens a basic working knowledge of all facets of police work and are also a way to build community connections and reciprocity between law enforcement and locals. If you’re in Austin, you are definitely in luck–our CPA is truly amazing and definitely a thought-provoking and even life-changing experience. Wherever you are, though, it is worth your time and energy to apply to the program.
As I write, the 100th and 101st Citizen Police Academy of Austin classes are just about over. With only two meetings left before our graduation, I’m feeling a little nostalgic already and definitely my thinking cap is ON as far as what this all has meant to me thus far. Since the application for next Spring’s CPA classes is now open, I thought I’d share the first of what will be more than one blog post on the topic. I hope that you will read this essay and be inspired to apply to the program nearest you. Ours is one of the best in the country but there are CPA programs almost everywhere. If you choose to participate in one…well, keep reading for six reasons why the CPA program is worth your time.
(A TL/DR is available at the end of each section for the busy readers who might not wish to read the longer version)
~~~1). Learning about how things work~~~
In my first career as an academic, I focused on national trauma and how it filtered through literature and art in my scholarly research. In the classroom, I taught not only about this subject but also on topics related to social justice, especially as it applies to United States Latino/a populations. One reason I wanted to take part in Austin’s CPA is because I do have concerns about law enforcement in general and about the treatment of people of color in particular. This theme is worthy of a whole different blog post, one that will be forthcoming, but for now I will say that anyone who has questions about law enforcement needs to participate in a CPA. You may not come out of it agreeing with absolutely everything (I have not) but you will finish the course with a substantive understanding of how things work. If you still feel strongly about a need for change in law enforcement, local or otherwise, after the course is complete, that’s ok. The knowledge you will have gained from your CPA experience can help you to engage effectively with your local PD so that you can, in a meaningful way, help and become the change that you seek.
I do feel lucky to be in Austin. There are so many ways to connect with the Austin Police Department here. There are programs to enhance accountability (see here). If you’d like to have coffee with your neighborhood officers or go on a run or voice your concerns in a public forum, do keep up with their Facebook page. (Take a look at their Events page here). The APD knocks itself out to be accountable and accessible here and our CPA is truly a jewel in the crown of continued and evolving excellent service. In fact, the motto for our APD is “One Austin, Safer Together.” Wherever you are, remember: your local CPA is a great way to build lasting connections with this vital source of community safety.
TL/DR: A Police Department is an extremely complex entity. Want to know how it all works so that you can gain a much better understanding of both big picture and small detail? Then do apply to the CPA! The CPA is for everyone and everyone can get something wonderful from it no matter where you live.
~~~2). Meeting new people~~~
My class is full of interesting and nice people. A couple are academics, while others are in business. Some people are retired; still others are considering a career in law enforcement or have family in the profession. One is training to be an EMT. Another is a journalist. Some are in security-related fields. There are housewives and computer techs. We are an interesting range of people. I am the only acupuncturist and former Spanish professor of the bunch but I’m not the only one who is clearly not a conservative or an unquestioningly pro-police 110% of the time individual. It’s ok to be different in Austin’s CPA and you don’t need to be conservative. You just need to have an open mind and an interest. (We do avoid discussing politics, however, which is probably for the better).
One reason I chose to apply for this course is because I am accustomed to being an academic (alone with my books or standing at the front of a classroom) and I’m now a licensed acupuncturist (alone with my books or in my clinic treating patients). It is hard to make new friends as an adult (for a thoughtful article on the topic, click here) and it goes against my grain to put my book down and meet new people. Senior Officer Scanlon told us on our first day that we are going to be a community and that we would become friends with each other. And it’s true. We have. Most of us are more accurately friendly acquaintances, true, but I have made a genuine friend at CPA. I’ve also had the chance to spend substantive time with people I’d never have met or engaged with had I not signed up for CPA. In fact, I am going to be part of the Austin CPA Alumni Association just because I want to keep in touch with the many nice folks I’ve met there.
TL/DR: If you want to expand your horizons and get to know a variety of genuinely nice people, both civilian and from the PD, your local CPA is a great place for you to do just that.
~~~3). Being able to pet the horses~~~
Most of our classes have been at the Police Headquarters downtown and we park in the parking structure across the street. Once, I stayed late to speak briefly with the presenters and so I came out just in time to stand at the crosswalk with about eight or so officers. Waiting for the light to turn green, I looked to my left and I looked to my right and, right then and there, I decided that this really was not the time to jaywalk even though no cars were approaching. One of the officers tactfully quipped that clearly I am special if I have a whole crossing guard to get me across the street, and this made me laugh and put me at ease. It turns out that these were the Mounted Patrol officers who were about to get their horses and go to work. My classmates and I will get to meet these officers and their equine colleagues officially on our last day of class. I was especially happy that evening, though, because one of the officers asked me about CPA and he also let me pet his horse.
TL/DR: Horses! Horses! Horses!
~~~4). Asking and getting answers to important questions~~~
Just last class, I said to our class president that if there were going to be awards for different outstanding participants then I expected to win the “Most Cold” prize. I’m always the first one to put on my huge fluffy sweater because the air conditioner where we meet is, in my estimation, ungodly. He said, “Yes, and also you win for ‘Most Questions.’” It’s true, I ask a lot of questions during class session, from ones relating to procedure to details and nuances about anything and everything to questions regarding ways that officers take care of their own mental health. (Put me on record for saying that all law enforcement should try acupuncture for not just psycho-emotional wellness support but also for relief of chronic pain. These are hardworking folks and the job does take a toll).
I have also had a personal one for during break. A homicide detective came to speak to us and after he finished, I could not stop myself from asking a question that came to me seemingly out of nowhere. I approached the detective and said, “I need to ask a strange question,” and he said, “Please, go ahead…” I replied, “Assuming I can get it out and not cry.” I took a deep breath and told him that a friend of mine, a dearly-loved friend, had been murdered many years previously. I asked, then, “Do you remember the living? Does the police officer remember us too?” The detective gave me a searching look, and I continued, explaining that I wondered if, after the case is solved, do police officers ever remember the living who survived this tragedy and who mourn. I said, “It’s been twelve years and I still cry. Not like I used to, but I still cry over this.” The detective looked at me with such compassion in his eyes and said, “Yes, of course we do,” and he told me, in essence, that a homicide detective never forgets a case and all concerned with it, and that they will carry a piece of that memory forever.
I don’t normally cry in public anyway, but how I managed not to dissolve into tears in response to his kindness, I do not know. This exchange healed an edge of the emotional scar I’ll carry for the rest of my life in memory of my beloved friend. For that I am so grateful.
CPA is not really the place for trauma resolution and our classes are focused on process and not feelings about them. But the presenters are always willing to speak to us about more individualized queries during break or after class. They want us to learn and they are generous with what they know.
TL/DR: If you have a question, there will be an answer for it at some point or another during your CPA course.
~~~5). Being fussed over by people who appreciate your interest~~~
The excellent and wonderful Senior Officer Scanlon is in charge of our CPA and she has put forth great effort to make this an enriching, interesting, and valuable experience for all of us. She sincerely cares for us and it shows. There are volunteers who greet us and do all the detail work necessary to keep things rolling. Each presenter comes from a different branch or section of APD and every single one has clearly taken time and energy to give us thought-provoking and worthwhile talks. A local catering company brings us dinner each week. There is also someone who hauls out the big bag at second break and happily announces, “There’s chocolate!” so of course then we all need to have yet another treat for the evening. They feed us very well at our CPA!
And they’re so appreciative. Each week, the officers thank us for our time and attention. Officer Scanlon thanks us too, even as we near the end of our program. They are so genuine and so kind and so appreciative of anyone who wants to listen and learn. Law enforcement officers work incredibly hard and they don’t necessarily get the positive attention or appreciation that they deserve. Even so, they are eager to share and are certainly warm and welcoming to anyone who wants to meet them halfway.
(Yes, there are bad apples in law enforcement but as an academic of two decades I can say for sure that academia has some vicious serpents who do considerable damage to others amongst those ranks too. As an acupuncturist, I can also assure you, dear reader, that my new profession–same as my old one–has not just marvelous people in it but also includes some real duds. To put it mildly. But the good outweighs the bad and when the good ones work together, I think, it’s better for all of us. Don’t you agree?)
TL/DR: Austin has genuinely good people who take their vocation of public service via law enforcement to heart. You can probably say the same of your own city or town. If you’re not sure of that (or if you are), then CPA is for you.
~~~6). Developing a sense of ownership and connection with your community~~~
I have a real sense of responsibility. As a professor, it was my sacred duty to teach critical thought and ways to navigate literature, art, language, and culture. As a healthcare practitioner, I have that same duty to support the health of my patients, my profession, and my community. This is who I am and it’s so deeply ingrained in me that I can’t imagine not being this way. I am coming away from my experience at CPA with the notion that I will use what I’ve learned there in some good way. I do know that I want to volunteer with the CPA Alumni Association, not just because I want to keep in contact with the lovely people I met through the program, but also because I want to play it forward. So much has been done for me that allows me to sit here now and pen my thoughts. Writing this blog post is a first step in sharing so that someone else might find some pearls of wisdom herein and make use of them in their own way.
Most people in law enforcement get into the profession because it is a vocation. They really want to help. They really want to make things safer and better for everyone. And that may be one reason why I feel so connected as a result of being in the 101st CPA class. I don’t know. All I know for sure is that I’m coming to the end of this course with great appreciation and respect for law enforcement and I’m also thinking about how I can use what I’ve learned so that I, too, can continue to do my part to make our world a better place.
TL/DR: Each person will have a different experience, but it would be hard to complete a CPA and not feel a greater sense of connection and care with the people of your milieu, law enforcement officers included. There are many ways to be a good citizen and somewhere within the CPA program will be something to inspire you to do and be that much better a member of your community.
I cannot thank Senior Officer Scanlon and the Austin Police Department enough for this wonderful experience. I am so glad that I saw the notice for it on twitter and I am so very glad that I chose to apply.
The application period for next Spring’s Citizen Police Academy of Austin is open now. Do not waste another moment–apply! It’s an amazing experience and you will be so glad that you took part in it.
~~~Too long, didn’t read?~~~
Here’s the link.
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