The Evansville Police Department prioritizes community engagement, meeting residents through initiatives like Coffee with a Cop and regular neighborhood walkabouts.
Citizens Academy goes a step further, placing the public and officers in a candid environment to promote better understanding of police responsibilities. So, for 12 weeks, Evansville Living took a seat with up to 50 community members each Tuesday night and dove into a slice of law enforcement.
Each session covers two or three specialized units in the department, such as those devoted to sex crimes, narcotics, domestic violence, and crime scene investigation. Conversations often get candid. The VIPER violent crime unit and S.W.A.T. team members detail the intense training and high-stakes nature of their work. Officers open a dialogue with audience members about “shoot don’t shoot” scenarios. Homeless and mental health outreach officers discuss the weight of helping people who are struggling.
Field trips include Roberts Park for a look at the department’s motorcycle and drone units; the Fraternal Order of Police camp off North Happe Road for a K9 demonstration; and optional tours of the Vanderburgh County dispatch center and jail. Participants may also ride along with a motor patrol officer.
Policing strategies have changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and even those familiar with law enforcement will learn something new. Also significant is that presenters encourage questions and answer them frankly.
The session involving a firearm simulator is particularly sobering: Citizens Academy participants step to the line and, through a mock scenario, reveal how they would react in a volatile situation with a gun in their own hand. When considering an officer’s response to a future incident, that person’s perspective may broaden from their Citizens Academy experience — and that’s the goal.
NEED TO KNOW
Twelve-week Citizens Academy sessions start each August and February at C.K. Newsome Community Center, 100 E. Walnut St. Attendance is free but requires a commitment to attend three-hour classes each week. Registration is required. Because the presentations sometimes discuss violent or disturbing cases, attendees under age 18 must be accompanied by an adult.