A great way for any citizen, but especially a mystery writer, to gain insider and hands-on experience with a police department is to take advantage of a local citizen’s police academy.
I’m within a 10-week program with my current town at the moment and I’ve participated in 2 prior academies in a town and city I lived in before. The experiences and connections are priceless.
Academies are generally offered in the fall, but depending on the size of the community(ies) the academy is focused on, there couple be multiple offerings during a calendar year.
Police department (PD) websites generally contain information on citizen’s academies, but you can always call on the PD business line and inquire as to whether one is available in town or nearby.
Of course, procedures will be different depending on the PD, but I’ve always had to go to the PD to fill out an application. And the application is a regular job application that wants high school, college, areas of study, job history (complete with start and end dates and hourly wage) – you know the type – 4 pages with lots of boxes to fill in. Applying can be intimidating if you over think it. I’ve learned that filling in the basics is good enough, since you are not applying for a job.
You also have to sign a form allowing the PD to perform a criminal background check.
Academies are generally capped at no more than 30 people, as the academies like to offer hands-on classes and want to keep the classes manageable. My current academy is only 11 people; it had a cap of 20. It’s great to have a small class because it gives us each more time for hands-on work and also more time to ask questions.
All academies I’ve participated in have been no cost to participants, are offered one night a week for 8-12 weeks, and run for 2.5-3 hours each evening. It’s common for participants to volunteer to bring in goodies each week to go with the PD’s offering of coffee, water, and candy – one academy always had Dunkin’ Munchkins on hand.
During the weeks of the academy, you will meet officers at all levels of experience, newbies as well as those ready to retire. You’ll meet beat cops and detectives, learn various behind-the-scenes procedures and processes, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, get to participate in ride-a-longs with an officer on duty. I particularly enjoy learning forensic processes (small towns don’t have a lot to work with), meeting canine officers and seeing how they work, and I love going to the shooting range for target practice.
I’ll share more soon. If you have any questions about a citizen’s police academy, please let me know!
If you’ve participated in a citizen’s police academy before, did you find it helpful for your writing?