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Most people can only imagine what it would be like to drive fast down a city street in response to a 911 emergency call.

But participants in the Evanston Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy (CPA) program have the chance to experience such an event – and more – firsthand. In an effort to understand the philosophy and workings of the CPA, the RoundTable met with officer Loyce Spells, the current program manager.

Q: What is the CPA?

A: It is a 12-week program that immerses participants in the workings of the Evanston Police Department and the world of law enforcement.

Q: Why and when was the CPA program created?

A: Because community-oriented policing plays an important and growing role in reducing crime in any community, the EPD instituted the CPA to more effectively interface with the community at large and thereby obtain greater citizen input and support.

The CPA started in the United Kingdom in 1977. In 1985 the Orlando, Fla., police department became the first in the United States to adopt the concept, and 17 years ago the EPD launched its program, now one of the oldest in Illinois.

Q. When do classes meet and what do they cover?

A. Classes meet weekly, 7-9:30 p.m. on Thursdays. There are two academy sessions per year, spring and fall. Each class is limited to 40 students and covers nearly the entire spectrum of police work. Students learn about police and SWAT operations; crime scene, criminal, domestic violence and traffic accident investigations; and police survival skills. They experience an interactive mock trial and shoot/don’t shoot simulation; a four-hour ride-along with a patrol unit; and a three-hour observation of the 911 center.

Q. What happens at the end of the 12-week sessions?

A. Upon course completion the students are recognized by the chief of police, the mayor and a surprise keynote speaker at a formal graduation at Northwestern University. The graduates receive a diploma and an academy jacket.

Q. How many classes have been conducted, and what do participants take away?

A. Class 35 just ended, bringing the total number of CPA graduates to date to more than 850. The greatest take-away is the new perspective participants gain from viewing their community through a cop’s eyes after listening to 911 calls, working a mock crime scene and racing down a street, sirens blaring, on a ride-along.

Q. Who may enroll?

A. The CPA program is open to anyone who is at least 18 and lives, works or owns property in Evanston.

Q. Are there any programs like this for those under 18?

A. Yes. The EPD will inaugurate its first Youth Citizens Police Academy (YCPA) for 13- to 17-year-olds who live or work in the community. Classes in the four-week program will meet on Thursdays from 12-2:30 p.m. There will be one youth academy session per year, held in the summer, with class size limited to approximately 25 students. YCPA goals and subject matter will mirror those of the adult program.

Keep the questions coming.
Blue & You will be back next month with more answers. 
Until then, “let’s be careful out there.”