For 16 years, the Waterloo Regional Police Service has opened its doors to the community with the citizens’ police academy.
The 12-week program runs twice a year at the WRPS headquarters at 200 Maple Grove Road in Cambridge, with the fall session set to begin September 11.
It’s a great chance for members of the community to learn the ins and outs of policing, said WRPS special events coordinator Catherine Wilkinson.
“It’s really about building a connection between the community and the police. I think sometimes people might just see the negative side of policing, where maybe somebody is getting stopped, or the crime aspect, but when they see all the other things that get done to help the community, it’s a real eye-opener.”
The course begins with a session on crime trends and a history lesson on policing in the region. The first few weeks tackle the bureaucratic side of the force, from human resources to public relations before addressing traffic enforcement.
Run by experienced police officers, the class covers all of the gritty police issues as well, like organized crime, homicide cases and drug enforcement.
Participants also get to tour a police station, courthouse and jail to see how the system works firsthand.
“They learn about the day of in the life of a police officer, where an officer describes exactly what they do from the moment they get on duty,” Wilkinson said. “At week eight, those with perfect attendance get their names in a draw and four people are chosen to go on a ride along and those people usually get up on the last night to describe their experience to the class.”
The interaction between officers and members of community facilitates a better understanding for both sides, she added.
“It’s a two-way street: the citizens learn more about the police service, which can certainly help to alleviate some myths. And it also allows the police service to learn about the community. From our point of view, we feel it definitely helps crime prevention, because strong communication and understanding with the community helps to break down barriers.”
The program continues to be a hit, drawing an average of 60-70 applicants for 45-50 spots each session.
“People come for many reasons,” said Wilkinson. “Some are looking for employment opportunities. Others are just residents that are interested in how policing is done in their community. And we also have people who have come here from different countries and sometimes they are from countries where policing is a lot different from the way it is done here, and so this program helps to break down those barriers as well.”
While a number of citizen’s academy participants have moved on to employment with the WRPS (Wilkinson estimated about eight in the last few years), the most common takeaway is clear.
“They realize that there are people behind the uniforms,” said Wilkinson. “They realize that they are just like you and I: They are human.”
The Waterloo Regional Police Service Citizen’s Police Academy begins September 11, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 200 Maple Grove Rd., Cambridge. Classes run each Thursday evening through November 27.