by Jay Bender
Of all the community relations efforts conducted by the Solon Police Department, perhaps the most comprehensive endeavor is our Citizen’s Academy.
In its current format, the Citizen’s Academy has been in operation since 2011. There are usually two classes per year, one in the fall and another in spring, and each class consists of up to 24 Solon residents. The class meets once per week for nine weeks and each classroom session is three hours.
Through the nine-week class, students are given an in-depth look at police work in general, and the Solon Police Department in particular. Participants are exposed to a variety of topics, taught by our in-house experts. For example, FTO Roy Cunningham, a certified Drug Recognition Expert, teaches a three-hour block on detecting, testing and apprehending impaired drivers, Ptl. Matt Troyer teams up with K-9 Stryker for a look at the capabilities of our police dog, and Chief Christopher Viland offers a comprehensive course on the legal aspects of our profession. Students also get the opportunity to participate in more hands-on activities, such as simulated traffic stops and the optional range day, where, under arm’s-length supervision, each participant gets the chance to fire a few rounds from our service pistols, patrol rifles and shotguns. Other optional activities include a trip to the medical examiner’s office. A two-hour patrol ride along rounds out the curriculum.
I have been fortunate to lecture on police use-of-force, a hot-button topic that always generates comments and questions, and often highlights misunderstandings about how, when and why police resort to physical force or compliance tools. And I instruct on range day, which truly challenges me as a teacher because of the wide range of shooting experience we’ve seen in class members, literally going from “never shot a gun before” to “lifelong shooter.”
When students leave the class, they leave with a better understanding of the Solon Police Department, and many leave with friendships that last long after the class has concluded.
So, what does the department get out of class?
For us, it’s the ripple effect. It’s putting dozens of informed citizens out among their friends, families and neighbors, where they can, hopefully, offer insight into what the police actual do and why they do it. I have referred to graduates as our water-cooler or coffee-shop ambassadors, spreading our message at a grassroots level, and that is more than enough return on the time invested.
We are midway through the spring session, but if you are interested in participating in the fall session, keep tuned in to our social media sites for enrollment in the fall class. Just a warning, though: It fills up fast!