By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald
A year ago, Clinton Thom signed up for the Port Huron Public Safety Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy while he was studying law enforcement in college.
Thom completed the police academy program at Oakland County Community College and is just two weeks away from becoming a sworn-in officer at the department.
He said the citizens’ academy opened his eyes.
“I went in thinking it was going to be a lot of PowerPoint presentations and going over stuff in the classroom,” said Thom, 22. “My opinion changed within the first week. The main thing I took out of it is it showed me how the police department has formed such a good relationship with the community.”
The Leonard resident said his eyes were opened to the misconceptions the public has when it comes to how the police operate.
Port Huron police Capt. Jeff Baker said it makes sense now more than ever to educate the public on what it is like to be a police officer.
“It gives citizens the insight on the structure of the agency,” Baker said. “It’s important for people to know why we do things.”
The year’s academy will be every Monday evening from Feb. 2 through April 20.
Through the citizens’ academy, participants are exposed to the problems and challenges facing law enforcement as well as being shown the decision-making issues that officers face on a daily basis.
The grant-funded program can take 20 to 25 participants.
The application deadline is Jan. 9, and Baker said officers do a small background check. Those who apply must also be 18 years or older. Baker said both the application and the academy come at no cost. The application can be accessed online at their website.
Baker said priority will be given to Port Huron residents, but people from other communities can apply.
He said the classes teaches nearly everything within those 12 weeks.
“After discussing police selection, the class starts to ramp up with scenarios,” Baker said. “This includes arrest procedures, traffic stops, drunk driving arrests and methods for processing crime scenes. They are also offered an opportunity to ride along with an officer to see the city and respond to some calls.”
Instructors include Port Huron police officers and guest speakers from around the local law enforcement community who present topics relevant to their agencies.
“It’s a collective effort,” Baker said. “We have several officers who are specialized as hostage negotiators and evidence technicians. We also have someone from the prosecutor’s office that comes in.”
Michael Reaves, Port Huron’s public safety director, said the department’s volunteer program gives participants another chance to become immersed within the police operation.
Volunteers assist police in traffic details and parade routes, while also volunteering their time to work in the department office.
Reaves said both officers and residents benefit from the programs.
“The community relations are better, and it makes it easier for us to do our job,” he said. “It builds bonds between our officers and the community.”
Thom said after going through the academy and volunteering with the department, he came to view the police department as a family — and one he wants to be a part of.
“It was an extended family,” he said. “Going there every week was truly a blessing. We all got along, and I was never afraid to ask any questions.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 28, 2014)