Hands-on police research with citizen’s police academy

Lisa Jackson Haselton writer(This is the first in a multiweek series of posts on the references, resources, and connections you can gain from a citizen’s police academy.)

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.

Job application

Courtesy of Ann Arbor District Library

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.

Lisa Jackson on PD shooting range

Me on shooting range as part of 2002 citizen police academy

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?

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About Lisa Haselton

Lisa Haselton has had several short mystery stories published and has a couple of novels in various stages of completion. She always enjoys learning new tidbits about other writers, and takes great pride as an editor when working with writers on polishing their manuscripts. She's living a life around her passions for writing, photography, volunteering, and anything related to New England, particularly New Hampshire.
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9 Responses to Hands-on police research with citizen’s police academy

  1. Ruth Layne says:

    This is so helpful. I’m researching firefighters right now and have mostly been going off of interviews and research. Wonder if there are firefighter academies? I’ll have to look it up. Great tip!

    • Lisa Jackson says:

      Hi Ruth,

      There *are* citizen firefighter academies. I’ve been to one and it was fantastic! We learned everything…even got to climb to the top of the tall ladder truck, learn how to set up and support straight ladders, use the ‘jaws of life’ and other rescue tools, and we even got to wear a full outfit and do a training search-and-rescue exercise in a building full of smoke, use fire hoses, and so much more. Fabulous experience! And like the citizen police academies, no cost to attendees and every week has hands-on experience. I really liked the sessions on fire investigation. 🙂 I hope you can find one in a town near you!

  2. What a fantastic resource to learn about!

  3. This is great. I need to research this–I wonder if there is one in Boston.

  4. Lisa Jackson says:

    Julie, I know there’s an FBI citizen’s academy in Boston (that I’d LOVE to do), but it requires being recommended/referred by an FBI agent. There *has* to be a citizen’s police academy in Boston…or very nearby. Just give the PD a call and ask. 🙂

  5. That sounds like a great resource, Lisa. The nearest town to me is quite small and I’ve not heard of them offering such a thing, but among my “neighbors” are a retired police officer, an active PD detective and a judge. (Yes, I have to behave myself) I have tapped these resources on occasion, but the Academy sounds fascinating.

    • Lisa Jackson says:

      Sounds like you don’t need an academy! In meeting the local detective’s in the last class, I also got direct contact information for one of them who loves to answer questions (he says). Definitely a resource to take advantage of when my characters come up with things I don’t know about. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Week 1 of a citizen’s police academy | Pen, Ink, and Crimes

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