Police Citizen’s Academy changes participant’s minds about law enforcement

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 5:05 PM CDT
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - More than two dozen community members will begin a unique journey in mid-September to see first-hand what it’s like to be a police officer.

The Brown County Sheriff’s Office is holding its annual citizen’s academy.

The agency is making changes to be safe during a pandemic, but doing everything possible to ensure the classes go on as planned at a time it feels the community needs an understanding of careers in law enforcement.

People who’ve been through the academy say it completely changed their views of law enforcement.

“What it taught me was when you have to make a split second decision. There’s a lot that goes into that,” says Lisa Haen, who went through the academy a few years ago.

Haen and Rick Dennis originally signed up to participate in the Brown County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy to understand exactly what officers do every day.

“Why a patrol car pulls up where they do and why they do it that way and how they approach vehicles in this day and age,” says Dennis, explaining some of the things he hoped to learn.

While the academy teaches participants about everything from accident reconstruction to investigating cyber crimes, both participants say going through a simulation exercise, where they are put in an officer’s shoes and forced to decide to shoot or not, made a lasting impact.

“You can fire off a lot of rounds in a matter of seconds, and you have a better understanding on how to react to that by going through that simulation,” recalls Dennis. “It’s really quick, and it’s very fast, and decisions have to be made in that split second.”

“It gave me that dialogue to say, ‘Hey, listen. This is what they have to experience behind the scenes,’ because you don’t see that from the surface before you go through this class,” says Haen.

As participants in the upcoming citizen’s academy, John Callaway and Vicki Grady want to form educated opinions about law enforcement at a time when police are under the microscope about use of excessive force.

“I don’t think people fully understand what it’s like to be a police officer,” says Grady. “I think they sit on their couch, in the comfort of their own home and analyze the situation with 20/20 vision after it’s happened, when they know what the outcome is, and they’re quick to judge what the police should or shouldn’t have done, and I think it’s an entirely different situation to be there in the middle of it.”

“I think it would be good to have that knowledge and to have first-hand experience, even though it’s scratching the surface,” says Callaway.

Learning more about life in law enforcement is also personal for Callaway and Dennis.

Both their sons are deputies.

“As a parent, you’re nervous when your kid goes to work in this line of work,” says Callaway.

“(My son) actually summed it up very well. You know, you’re one bad call away from losing your job or going to jail,” says Dennis.

There was so much interest for this year’s citizen’s academy that the sheriff’s office had to turn people away, but it plans to offer another session next year.

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