NHPD program teaches citizens about policing

Over 30 New Haven residents sat on the edge of their seats at a lecture hall in the New Haven Police Academy building on Wednesday, many trying to figure out whether they can get a job in law enforcement.

One resident was antsy: she asked whether the New Haven Police Department would do a background check on her sister.

On Wednesday night, the NHPD inaugurated its 10th annual Citizen’s Academy, a two-month-long program designed for New Haven residents to undergo a less rigorous version of actual police officer training for people who are interested in becoming police officers or have had a negative interaction with the police.

At the orientation meeting, program organizers and city officials told the residents to work with the police to monitor crime. But the residents also had more informal questions, which caught the organizers off-guard.

“I heard that you get kicked out of the Police Academy if you don’t pay child support. Is that true?” one participant asked Board of Police Commissioners member Evelise Ribiero.

“We teach citizens what we do, why we do it, and how we do it,” said Sgt. Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09, director of the New Haven Police Academy. “The class is a miniature version of the police academy, which is also currently in session.”

In 2001, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and New Haven’s first black police chief, Melvin Warning, established the academy, free of charge to citizens, because local residents wanted to learn where their tax dollars went, Campbell said. Over the course of the program, he added, Academy participants ride along with police officers to respond to calls, sit in while emergency dispatchers handle 911 calls and learn how to perform a crime scene investigation, among other practical and hands-on law enforcement lessons.

City officials use federal funding to run the program, which provides free dinner for participants. Campbell and Assistant Chief of Police Services Roy Brown, who were at the orientation meeting, said Academy graduate often use information they learn from the program to form block watches to inform the NHPD about low-level crimes. Other program graduates, they added, also go on to join the Civilian Review Board, which reviews complaints against NHPD officers from within the department, Campbell said.

One of the participants was Isobel Rosenthal ’12, who is working on a paper for her college seminar, “Identity, Crime and Justice.” They all remained silent and attentive to the speakers, who included DeStefano, Board of Police Commissioners and Civilian Review Board member Evelise Ribiero and New Haven Police Chief James Lewis.

“Here in New Haven, it’s like having a bunch of flowers, and they look better when you mix them all up,” DeStefano told participants. “But sometimes we have to work harder at understanding each other. When the citizens are involved [with the NHPD], it makes a big difference. It’s how crimes get solved.”

In his presentation to the participants, Lewis said the city’s crime rates have dropped and he hopes to see continue to do so. He used the example of traffic ticketing: the NPHD increased its efforts to stop cars for tickets by over 20 percent, resulting in a 10 percent increase in gun seizures and a 9 percent decrease in shootings.

“We’re spending a lot of your tax money,” he said to the audience. “Challenge my staff, ask good hard questions and find out what they’re doing with your tax dollars. It’s valuable to us, and it’s valuable to you.”

After the meeting, Rosenthal said the Academy is a valuable program that helps “relieve the stress between the citizens and the police force.”

The number of citizens enrolled in the 10th annual Citizen’s Academy is 10 percent larger than last year’s because Lewis publicized the program to the community more than in the past, Campbell said.

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