Frequently asked questions

What is a Citizen Police Academy?

A Citizen Police Academy is an educational and informative program that allows citizens the opportunity to learn about the issues that face law enforcement efforts in their community. The program helps local residents better understand police work in their community, and develops stronger ties between the community and police department.

Community-based policing is an important and vital aspect of crime control in any community. It’s all about the police actively working with the community to prevent crime, and create a safer environment. The Citizen Police Academy program is yet another mechanism for local and county law enforcement agencies to inform the public of what they do, improve communication, and obtain citizen input, assistance, and support throughout the community by sharing information.

What is the objective of a Citizen Police Academy program?

The objective of a Citizen Police Academy program is not to train individuals to be reserve police officers, but to produce informed citizens. The citizens and police officers meet each other face-to-face in a neutral, friendly setting, and each becomes a person to the other. In the past, citizens have simply seen a uniform, now they have an understanding about the person behind the badge.

The goals of a Citizen Police Academy program can include providing stronger citizen–police relationships, enhancing lines of communication, and the reduction of crime in the community.

What are some of the benefits of conducting a Citizen Police Academy?

The role of the police has always been of interest to the average citizen. The television media has capitalized upon this curiosity with shows such as “Cops,” “America’s Most Wanted,” and “CSI.” Each week, real police action is broadcast into the living rooms of millions of Americans. Numerous police agencies have also benefited from the curiosity that citizens have about the police. These agencies have formed Citizen Police Academy programs that create an expansion of their community-based policing efforts.

Here are a few of the benefits of a Citizen Police Academy program:

Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association

Generally a non-profit corporation, sometimes with 501(c)(3) status, alumni associations consist of graduates of local or county Citizen Police Academy programs. The graduates are invited to join the alumni association to continue the partnership that develops during Citizen Police Academy programs. Activities of the alumni association include, but are not limited to, the following:

Citizens On Patrol

Citizens On Patrol is a generic name used by many to describe a special group of law enforcement volunteers. As the name implies, Citizens On Patrol are citizens who patrol their communities acting as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement officers. The volunteers are screened, background checked, and then trained by their local law enforcement agency.

Citizens On Patrol can also be referred to as:

Citizen patrol groups have been in use within the United States for over twenty years. The number of individual citizen patrol volunteers within the United States is estimated to be over 75,000 with groups in every state of the nation. While no standard exists for what the volunteer groups can or cannot do, there are some common themes which are shared among most groups, including the wearing of identifiable uniforms by the volunteers.

By patrolling their community on a regular basis, usually in four to eight hour shifts, citizen patrol volunteers become more familiar with their community and are better able to recognize suspicious activity and notify the authorities. Due to their focused patrol activity, it is not uncommon for the volunteers to observe crimes in progress. The volunteers do not take enforcement action, they only observe and report. Citizen patrol volunteers are not authorized to carry weapons, and are encouraged to avoid physical contact.

Other common duties performed by citizen patrol groups include traffic control at accident scenes, special events, crime scenes, and fires, as well as focused patrols in high crime areas for deterrence. By utilizing citizen patrol groups for such basic yet needed tasks, law enforcement officers are able to spend more time on patrol and focus on their primary mission. Another benefit to communities and law enforcement agencies is cost savings. It is not uncommon for an average size citizen patrol group of fifty members to provide a budget savings of several hundred thousand dollars a year by performing these duties. The funds saved can then be used to put more officers or deputies on the streets, or to purchase needed equipment. In addition to budget savings, it is not uncommon for active citizen patrol groups to reduce crime by an average of twenty percent.

Properly implemented, citizen patrol groups have proven to be an excellent complement to law enforcement agencies. Using the same members of the community that they protect and serve to help reduce crime is the cornerstone of community-oriented policing and “Weed and Seed” programs. Continued use and expansion of citizen patrol groups throughout the nation is an important ingredient to help build a strong bond between citizens and law enforcement.

Community Emergency Response Team

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.

The CERT course is taught in the community by a trained team of first responders who have completed a CERT train-the-trainer course conducted by their state training office for emergency management, or FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. CERT training includes disaster preparedness, disaster fire suppression, basic disaster medical operations, and light search and rescue operations.

People who attend CERT training have a better understanding of the potential threats to their home, workplace and community and can take the right steps to lessen the effects of these hazards on themselves, their homes or workplace. If a disaster happens that overwhelms local response capability, CERT members can apply the training learned in the classroom and during exercises to give critical support to their family, loved ones, neighbors or associates in their immediate area until help arrives. When help does arrive, CERTs provide useful information to responders and support their efforts, as directed, at the disaster site. CERT members can also assist with non-emergency projects that improve the safety of the community. CERTs have been used to distribute and/or install smoke alarms, replace smoke alarm batteries in the home of elderly, distribute disaster education material, provide services at special events, such as parades, sporting events, concerts and more.

For additional information about CERT, visit Citizen Corps.

Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood watch groups began developing in the late 1960s as a response to the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York. People became outraged that three dozen witnesses did nothing to save Genovese or to apprehend her killer. Some locals formed groups to watch over their neighborhoods and to look out for any suspicious activity in their areas. Shortly thereafter, the National Sheriffs’ Association began a concerted effort in 1972 to revitalize the watch group effort nationwide.

The Neighborhood Watch Program is now a highly successful effort in cities and counties across America. It provides a unique infrastructure that brings together local officials, law enforcement and citizens to protect our communities. Around the country, neighbors have banded together to create Neighborhood Watch programs. They understand that the active participation of neighborhood residents is a critical element in community safety — not through vigilantism, but simply through a willingness to look out for suspicious activity in their neighborhood, and report that activity to law enforcement and to each other. In doing so, residents take a major step toward reclaiming high-crime neighborhoods, as well as making people throughout a community feel more secure and less fearful.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the need for strengthening and securing our communities has become even more critical, and Neighborhood Watch groups have taken on greater significance. In addition to serving a crime prevention role, Neighborhood Watch can also be used as the basis for bringing neighborhood residents together to focus on disaster preparedness as well as terrorism awareness; to focus on evacuation drills and exercises; and even to organize group training, such as the Community Emergency Response Team training.

Many neighborhoods already have established Neighborhood Watch programs that are vibrant and effective. For those that do not, Citizen Corps and the renewed emphasis on citizen preparedness may provide the incentive for them to participate in this important community-based effort on behalf of their friends and neighbors. And when you help your neighbors, you help the nation.

For additional information, visit Neighborhood Watch or Citizen Corps.

Volunteers in Police Service

In his 2002 state of the union address, President George W. Bush announced the creation of the USA Freedom Corps, an effort to foster a culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility, building on the generous spirit of the American people. The Citizen Corps programs are part of the USA Freedom Corps initiative and share the common goal of helping communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to crime, natural disasters, and other emergencies.

One of the Citizen Corps programs is the Volunteers in Police Service program. The International Association of Chiefs of Police manages and implements the program in partnership with and on behalf of the White House Office of the USA Freedom Corps and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Department of Justice. The program’s goal is to enhance the capacity of state and local law enforcement to utilize volunteers.

Contact your local agency to find out if they have a volunteer program. Ask for the volunteer coordinator or the public information officer when you call.

For additional information, visit Volunteers in Police Service.