by Julie Gerke
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.
More than 500 people have graduated from the Jacksonville Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy since the mid 1990s, and many continue to play a role in supporting the department’s job of keeping the community safe.
The CPA (Citizen’s Police Academy) Alumni and VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) groups provide moral and physical support for the men and women of the department, raise money for equipment and provide another avenue of outreach to the community.
They, along with department chaplains Alan Bradish and Roger Davis, volunteer thousands of hours each year.
At the halfway mark of the current 12-week academy, class members heard about the groups’ often behind-the-scenes work at the police department, toured the fire department and explored a medical helicopter.
Along with other fundraisers, the nonprofit CPAA (Citizen’s Police Academy Alumni) hosts the annual “Policeman’s Ball.” Proceeds from that and other endeavors have been used to buy a drone, helped fund a police dog, and bought night-vision goggles and heavy-duty protective vests, among other items.
“The chief and the mayor are behind us 100 percent,” said CPAA President Jim Cisne. “They’ve seen us in action and know what we’re about.”
“It’s a really great group,” added JPD (Jacksonville Police Department) Lt. Mark Lonergan, an academy leader who is the group’s department liaison. “They are definitely beloved around here.”
Members of the VIPS group are CPA graduates with more training. They help at parades and other large events, directing traffic and answering questions, either on foot or working in pairs on electric carts. That assistance means patrol officers can focus their time on other areas of the city or on incidents that might occur during an event.
The groups’ 1,700 hours of donated time last year translated to a savings of more than $50,000 for the department, Lonergan said.
JPD Chaplains Bradish and Davis also are volunteers. Notedly, class member J Cook is chaplain for the South Jacksonville Police Department. Focused on officers, their families and the community at large, the chaplains also work with the homeless, those with addictions, the mentally ill and the elderly.
“We minister to anyone who needs ministry,” said Bradish. “We try to meet needs with resources.”
Davis said the pair works with other agencies in Jacksonville and across the state to help whoever needs help. “Those [instances] are very rewarding … the chance to see someone’s life change. … We come along to bring peace and calm.”
Department chaplains don’t have to be ordained pastors (although Bradish and Davis both are) and policy forbids proselytizing.
Their work now includes the Homeward Bound program, which helps people find a new home and resources closer to family or friends. The program works with agencies on the receiving end to ensure support is in place when those needing resources.
“Our role here has turned out to be very vital,” Bradish said.
More visible partners of the department are the Air Evac Lifeteam, a service providing medical helicopters that are based at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital and the Jacksonville Fire Department. The police department and main fire department are at opposite ends of Jacksonville’s City Hall and there is a fire department substation on West Lafayette Street.
The Air Evac team landed the helicopter in the fire department parking lot and answered questions about patient weight restrictions, landing zones, training and how weather can affect lift. Pilot Josh DeGrave emphasized that civilians should never approach a running helicopter because of the dangers of the tail rotor and the height of the main rotor blades.
At the fire department, firefighters Dan Herter and Sean Taylor explained various apparatus (trucks, engines, squad) and led a tour of the office areas and living quarters. Firefighters work 24 hours on and 48 hours off, so the second floor is designed like a house, with a den, large kitchen and shared sleeping area. Usual staffing is four firefighters per shift at the main station and three at the substation.