Castle Rock citizen’s police academy gets hands-on

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The Castle Rock Citizen’s Police Academy gives new meaning to the phrase “classroom participation.” Students of this year’s academy class are getting a new kind of experience in the course designed to give residents a closer look at the police department.

Instead of a traditional classroom experience, residents who signed on for the 2011 course will have the chance to fire a gun, visit the crime lab and get a first-hand education about the inner workings of the police department. Now in its fifth year, the citizen’s police academy welcomed a record classroom size, with a program aimed to bridge the gap between the police department and town residents, said Will Harris, Castle Rock police officer.

Harris has managed the academy since its inception and this year enlisted the help of commanding officers who opted to create a more interactive experience for class participants. The 10-week course is offered each year, free of charge to Castle Rock residents. To date, about 30 people have taken part in the course. This year, the classroom welcomed 21 students.

“We changed it this year to be a little more interactive,” Harris said. “This will be the first year we have live fire on the firing range. They get to talk to experts in their field, talk to instructors, ask questions and hear what they’re thinking. I believe this gives us very positive interaction with people.”

The changes in 2011 came at the suggestion of Lt. Jason Lyons, who joined the department in October 2010 after serving at a police department in Florida. Lyons recommended a more interactive course to expose participants to the use of firearms, decision-making in deadly force situations, and traffic and vehicle stops. The program is a good way for Castle Rock police to gauge public perception of the police force, Lyons said.

“I’ve learned how supportive the citizens of Castle Rock are of their police department and how closely we meet their expectations,” Lyons said. “It’s a measure that we’re doing things right.”

Classroom participants range from new residents interested in learning more about their local police force to longtime residents interested in a new look at the police department. The class schedule includes instruction on investigations, emergency vehicle operations, community policing and accident investigations.

Bryan and Angela Formby opted to take the class together after their move last year to Castle Rock. Bryan Formby has volunteered on two town boards and is interested in becoming more involved in the community. The couple thought it would be fun to take the class together, Bryan Formby said.

“I have more respect for the police force given the stress they’re constantly under,” he said.

One of the more frequent reactions from participants is surprise at the level of the technical demands of the job, Lyons said. From computer operations to dispatch response to the required steps to take during a traffic stop, the technical aspect is a constant learning curve, he said.

On June 13, students were preparing for an evening on the department’s driving course. Designed to give new and veteran officers emergency-vehicle-operations training, the course gives participants a taste of high-speed pursuits, defensive-driving maneuvers and the “shuffle steer,” a driving technique lauded by the Castle Rock training team as the best way to control an emergency vehicle.

The first rule of the driving range? No horseplay. Second — wear your seatbelts. Given the number of times a patrol officer is in and out of a police vehicle, the seatbelt is often the most challenging piece of training on the force, said Dave Knight, Castle Rock Police officer and driving instructor.

“Driving is the one thing a police officer does every day,” Knight said. “Historically it’s the number one killer of police officers. We’re basically driving a 2,000-pound bullet. We try to take it pretty seriously.”

Class participants drove the course with classroom instructors, but because of liability provisions, were not allowed behind the wheel of the patrol cars. The passenger seat proved sufficient for most participants.

“That was awesome!” said Jackie Schwasinger, also known as Mrs. Castle Rock.

Schwasinger and her classmates were about halfway through the course, with future plans that include a visit to the firing range, an evening with the town’s K-9 patrol teams and a ride-along on a four- or eight-hour shift.

The Castle Rock Citizen’s Police Academy is offered annually at no cost to residents and with no test requirements. To find out more about upcoming courses, visit the town’s website at www.crgov.com/police.