By Blake Schnitker
Few of us truly understand the duties and plights of the police officers that serve and protect our community every day and night. Of course most of us have either personally engaged with the men and women of law or heard and read stories of their courageous acts through news and media outlets, but rarely are we afforded the opportunity to experience their work first-hand. Yet over the past several years, the Jacksonville Police Department has provided such opportunities to the people of our community through the Citizen’s Police Academy, a program started by Jacksonville Police Officer Tino Vasquez.
Aside from helping local citizens gain a better understanding of police work, the Citizen’s Police Academy also works to strengthen the ties between community members and the Jacksonville Police Department in order to develop a better relationship when it comes to addressing crime. An organized program such as the Citizen’s Police Academy exhibits the JPD’s belief that providing effective police service – the principal objective of any police unit – requires cooperation and collaboration of both the community and the department itself. While a considerable number of citizens attend the 11-week course, one locally elected official, Morgan County Commissioner and Vice-Chairman, Ginny Fanning, has been among those currently attending the weekly night classes.
“I’ve been so impressed because the officers that come and speak are so engaged in the whole process,” said Morgan County Commissioner Ginny Fanning, who began attending the Citizen’s Police Academy back in mid-February. “They want to share their stories and that I think has been as interesting as anything, to hear what they’ve actually experienced.”
This 11-week program held every spring holds classes at Jacksonville’s Municipal Building, located at 200 W. Douglas Avenue, every Tuesday evening from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. beginning on February 16 and running until the final Tuesday in April. With each session covering different aspects of the law enforcement profession – from topics such as Firearms, Criminal Code, Vehicle Code, DUI Enforcement, Domestic Battery and the Use of Force – students are provided with hands-on training as well as simulated practical situations in order to obtain first-hand knowledge of law enforcement.
“They also have taught us, as civilians, what to do when you’re in a certain experience – things to watch for, how to be better aware – and now when I go somewhere that I’m unfamiliar with I am going to check where every exit is, I am going to be a little more aware of my surroundings, because quite honestly I wasn’t before. I always kind of thought, ‘well that’s not going to happen to me’ but the stories that we’ve heard and the experiences they’ve had, you understand that yes, in fact it could happen at anywhere at any time.”
After completing the nearly three-month course, students attended a graduation dinner with certificates handed out to those who have met all requirements – one of which is attending at least 9 of the 11 classes. With the graduation for this spring’s course having taken place on Tuesday, May 3, Fanning looks back on her experience in the Academy as a very positive one, recommending the program to any citizens who might be interested.
“The program itself, the curriculum, is outstanding,” Fanning said. “We’ve had some opportunities to experience what a police officer actually experiences, and it is truly eye-opening. You may think you have an idea of what they face, but until this little bit that I’ve experienced, I had no conception of the day-to-day … and they really do put themselves out there at risk every time they’re on shift, so it’s been a wonderful opportunity to kind of understand the whole process a little bit better.”
Participation in the Jacksonville Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy is free of charge, yet there is a short application process. Requirements for all applicants is that they must be at least 21 years of age, reside or work within Morgan County, possess a valid driver’s license, have no felony convictions within the past 10 years, and are willing to sign a release for a criminal and traffic records check.
Further questions regarding the Academy can be directed towards class coordinators Ptl. Tino Vasquez or Ptl. David Kruzan by calling (217) 479-4630, or by stopping by the Jacksonville Police Department at 200 W. Douglas Avenue. Online applications can be found in the Citizen’s Police Academy link, found under the Police Department tab at www.jacksonvilleil.com.