At the first meeting of the Yale Police Department’s fourth annual Citizen’s Police Academy on Tuesday night, an enthusiastic group of Yale and New Haven community members gathered to learn first-hand about the structure and operations of the YPD.

Although attendees at the weekly session, the first of six to be held at YPD headquarters on Ashmun Street, came for a variety of reasons, officials said they sought to transform the audience into safety and security activists in their communities.

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“Welcome to our home,” YPD Chief James Perrotti said to the crowd. “We’re here to educate you and to make you into strong advocates for the police, to make you believers.”

During the course of the 2 1/2 hour session, attendees listened to a handful of police officials — from the chief to a bomb technician — describe their jobs and how they relate to the community.

Perrotti and YPD Assistant Chief Ronnell Higgins gave an overview of the department, its mission and its relationship with other security agencies in the area. After an introduction by the program’s civilian coordinator, Kitty Parente, Perrotti took the floor. The atmosphere from the very beginning was casual, as YPD officials present quipped to one another and the laughter seldom died down.

Before starting, Perrotti asked how much time he had.

“You’re the chief,” Lieutenant Michael Patten quipped, “as much as you want.”

After the laughs had died down, Perrotti struck a more serious note. He emphasized that the role of the YPD is not merely to provide security for the campus property, but to solve problems actively.

Patten, who has a long career at the department, described the department’s training and emergency services programs, explaining his affinity for his job. He said that over his tenure, he has held almost every position in the department: “I can’t hold down a job.”

“It still amazes me that this many people are interested in what I do for a living,” Patten said, “but it is gratifying.”

Participants, who were mostly adult city residents, were ready with questions throughout the presentations, probing the chiefs about city and University budget cuts, past criminal cases and new challenges. A woman asked about the department’s response plan for a sudden pandemic; in answering the question, the chief conceded that in the case of a widespread virus, no one can really be ready.

A number of attendees had family connections to law enforcement. One, resident Benjamin Brossler, had a brother in the Stanford Police Department. Three other attendees were security guards for the Beinecke Library looking for tips and information for their careers. Diane Casella, who founded a community block watch, said she was seeking ways to improve the group’s coordination with the YPD.

Zhaoyang Ai, from China, said he was deeply interested in becoming a police officer: “I’m interested in seeing the cultural comparison of police forces,” he said.

Ann Corris, a Yale employee, summed up most participants’ reasons for being there: “It’s cool to get an inside look at a police department,” she said.

At the end of the night, Patten predicted that all of speeches would be quickly forgotten in light of the session’s surprise final act: Eli, the bomb-sniffing dog.

But he insisted, “They don’t need a dog; they got me.”

Admission to the free program, which decreased its number of spots from last year, was based on application and a criminal background check. The program ends with a graduation ceremony April 28.