Citizen’s Academy

WPD officers explain their jobs and training to citizens

The inaugural Westfield Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy included students Betsy Fladung, Annie Poynter, Cindy Olson, Jennifer Miller, Mike Miller, Curt Whitesell, Joe Graff, Rob Garrett, Larry Clarino, Pam Clarino, Brad Oliver, Joe Dewing and Dave Mundy; and instructors Lt. Mike Seagrave, Sgt. Mike Siara and officers Tony Howard and Song Kang. (Photo by Robert Herrington)

“This is as real as it’s going to get,” Lt. Mike Seagrave warned members of the Westfield Police Department’s inaugural citizen’s academy.

Locked and loaded, wearing helmets and protective padding, a group of four residents entered a dark hallway trying to locate an “active shooter” who has taken one of their classmates as hostage. Minutes later shots ring out. Within seconds, you can hear the clicking of empty clips dry fire.

With smiles on their faces and adrenaline rushing through their bodies, Westfield citizens returned to the meeting place with blue soap bullet marks on their gear and clothes. Active shooter (like the Columbine shooting, D.C. sniper or movie theatre massacre earlier this summer) scenarios and tactics are taught at the police academy level. When active shooter situations arise, WPD Officer Song Kang told the academy that officers are trained to not wait for SWAT or backup but enter the dangerous situations and encourage the shooter to focus on officers instead of the public.

“We’re crazy. We signed up to do this. We’re lifesavers,” Kang told the group. “It’s an eye-opener for anyone wanting to be a police officer – to get the threat to engage us instead of innocent people.”

Instructors said the purpose of the citizen’s academy is to give the public a glimpse into the lives, training and day-to-day experiences cops face.

“It helps us explain what we are about. They truly understand the type of stress, pressure and split decisions we have to make,” said Kang. “What it is to be a police officer in general.”

Kang, who served as an academy instructor, enjoys the experience of working with the public and creating bonds with citizens.

“We are open. We love showing citizens what we do and how much work we put into our jobs,” he said.

The 10-week program designed to showcase all aspects of the police dept. was coordinated by Lt. Mike Seagrave.

“It’s been fantastic. It’s a very diverse group – age, gender,” he said of the inaugural group. “People now want to come to our next one. It’s better than what we thought.”

Police Chief Joel Rush brought the idea to Seagrave, who then attended national training before planning the academy. Seagrave said his goal is to offer the citizen’s academy twice a year.

“It’s a great opportunity. They get a better appreciation for what we do,” he said. “The officers know these folks care and we’re human.”

Seagrave said the academy also provides a chance to better educate residents, which will assist in crime prevention.

“There’s no other environment to ask questions. It’s very open and raw,” he said. “We want to build that relationship with the community. At the end of it, hopefully we’ll have 18 friends of the department . . .  and gained another eye on the street.”

Training programs have included traffic stops, police cars and emergency driving, firearm range shooting, crime scene investigation, K-9 demonstration, defense tactics, working with a deputy prosecutor, tour of the Hamilton County Jail, and active shooter.

“Pretty much every type of training we would do,” Seagrave said, adding the group also saw an actual tasering of one of their classmates who volunteered.

Dave Mundy, who works as executive director of learning systems for Westfield Washington Schools, said police officers play an integral part in the safety and security of the district’s students and staff.

“I have a huge amount of respect for what they do,” he said. “Every day they have a life-threatening situation. It’s truly been informative and fun.”

As a citizen’s academy participant, Mundy didn’t know what to expect but has enjoyed each week’s activity.

“It’s been a unique experience. Everyone’s having a good time,” he said, adding that his favorite demonstration was driving the police car. “How often can you go zero to 60 as fast as you can?”

Husband and wife, Mike and Jennifer Miller, participated in the academy together.

“The whole thing fascinates me,” said Mike. “My favorite part is getting to know these guys (instructors).”

“The active shooter was the most sobering,” Jennifer added.

Both said the education they received and firsthand experience to the lives of police officers has been very eye opening.

“They risk their lives trying to do their job every day,” said Jennifer. “This academy has brought to my attention that you don’t know all the details you see on the news.”

“They are very open with us. They know how they are perceived in the public. They signed up for it but it’s not easy,” added Mike. “They let us in. They’re constantly on the lookout, hyperparanoid because of the things they’ve seen in their jobs.”

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