Editor’s note: Citizen’s Police Academy is a weekly series by Julie Gerke, who is participating in the local 12-week class that educates adult students on the work and procedures of local law enforcement. This is the last in the series.
By Julie Gerke
Jason Moody, David Kotowski and Jake Steele all have direct or indirect connections with law enforcement, but none knew exactly what to expect as a member of the Jacksonville Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy (CPA).
They, along with 14 other community members, spent every Tuesday night for 12 weeks at academy classes, learning about police work and training, community connections and how and why police officers make the decisions they do.
Classes included time at the gun range and participating in a variety of scenarios for active shooters, high-risk encounters and emergency vehicle operations.
The classes culminated with a May 2 graduation at the Elks Club. Academy graduates are eligible to join the CPA Alumni and Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) groups, whose members volunteer many hours for the department and raise money for specialized equipment.
Moody, who works for the state of Illinois, learned about the academy from his wife, Trista, who took the classes in 2019. Some of the 2023 class members started the program in 2020, when classes were halted because of the pandemic.
The classes “answered some of my understanding on things, like procedures, and how the department operates and connects with the community,” said Moody, who lives in Jacksonville.
He thinks the class should be taken yearly by the public. “It helps the community understand the dangers these guys go through on routine stops,” he said. “They don’t know what they’re stepping into.”
Kotowski, a retired trauma nurse specialist from South Jacksonville, said much the same thing. Taking the class was “one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” he said. “It makes you appreciate everything the police do … To see all of the stuff they’re responsible for doing and in the climate now and lack of personnel in law enforcement and (having) to go to service calls that have nothing to do with police investigations … I would absolutely do this all over again.”
Steele, of Pleasant Plains, said the academy was “fun and exciting at the same time. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s a great program. It made me look at things from a different perspective.”
Jacksonville Police Department Lt. Mark Lonergan, who led this year’s program with Officer Philip Warren and Community Service Officer Loren Hamilton, said the classes give officers the chance to “intermingle with the public and a chance to leave a positive impression.”
CPA Alumni President Tom Cisne lauded the program, and thanked Chief Adam Mefford, Mayor Andy Ezard and the city council for its ongoing support. The classes are “a way for the community to see what goes on in the police department,” he said.
The 2023 Citizen’s Police Academy graduates are: Nancy Beauchamp, Alexis Coil, J Cook, Ron Cooley, Alvin Corbridge, Lucinda Corbridge, Lavena Dober-Lewellen, Michele Fernandez, Julie Gerke, Jack Hale, David Kotowski, Mary Lanning, Jason Moody, Jennifer Prewitt, Michael Reining, Melanie Smith and Jake Steele.
In addition to honoring the graduates, academy leaders also honored VIPS for their hours of service.
The VIPS having served 20-99 hours received a medal and certificate. They were: Prudy Ballard, Jane Hadden, Chuck Hall, Russ Karr, Kay Metzger, Adah Mitchell, Carl Moran, Dave Mumford, Greg Neff, Jim Oliver (deceased), Marty Oliver, Pam Scholfield, Ralph Tucker, Kathy Turner, Bill Wernsman and Jane Zachary.
The VIPS having served more than 99 hours received a medal, certificate and engraved award. They were: Cindy Beddingfield, Everett Beddingfield, Judy Cisne, Tom Cisne, Jodi Welch, Mona Tucker and Jim Welch.