SLCPD Citizens’ Academy Aims To Build Trust In Community
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Around 30 people took part in the Salt Lake City Police Department’s latest five-week, 15-hour Citizens’ Academy, which aims to help citizens learn about police work and build trust with officers.
“The idea is to get a dialogue going and meet in the middle. Help the public understand why we do what we do,” SLC Police officer Allen Anderson said. “We never meet eye to eye on every subject, but they have a lot more respect for what we do at the end. And they understand the why’s. That’s my favorite thing about it.”
It’s easy to point fingers when the only view you ever have is from the sidelines. But step into the game and you might be surprised by where your finger ends up. In today’s age, the same might be said of police work.
“I like to talk about the more controversial subjects,” Allen said after recently wrapping up another Citizens’ Academy. The course gives citizens the chance to step onto the practice field, learn about police work and build trust with law enforcement officers.
“So you have what’s viewed as acceptable force by the public and what’s viewed as acceptable force by the police,” Anderson said. “And a lot of times they seem to be at two very different levels.”
Anderson has 10 years’ experience on the force. He’s currently a training officer and the head defensive tactics use of force instructor at the department.
“We clear up a lot of common misconceptions like, ‘why do you shoot the knife out of his hand? Why don’t you shoot him in the leg?’” he said.
About 30 people who live and/or work in Salt Lake City took part in this latest academy, the largest turnout yet. It included 15 hours of instruction, complete with visits from several units within the department coupled with training scenarios.
Near the end of one class, students took turns responding to a made-up situation that they would have to de-escalate or put an end to with force. Sworn officers acted as criminals or victims in high-stress situations.
“When you bring the community together with our police officers, we develop relationships. Anytime we do that, relationships build trust,” said Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown. “Trust is a commodity we need to collect because it helps us police our community in a better way. And it also helps the community help us.”
More recently, Anderson said he’s noticed it has been a struggle to attract candidates to the job.
“Oh, it’s been super hard to get recruits,” he said. “It has been hard to maintain our high standard for hiring and also maintain adequate manning.”
Fellow officer Sarah Crane, who joined the department after several years as a Utah Highway Patrol Sergeant, told the class of students that for some people, “it sounds exciting. It sounds like a great thing to do and then you get into the thick of it and you’re like this just is not for me.”
Chief Brown said over the last couple of years they’ve increased the size of their department by 50 officers.
“There’s a lot of work that’s involved because police officers, you don’t just hire them one day and then put them on the street the next,” Brown said.
In fact, Brown said the process can take more than 10 months. That includes a 26-week long academy and an extensive background check.
But, whether a citizen or a recruit, the goal at the citizen’s academy is to help you step off the sidelines, out of your comfort zone and then to walk off the field with a new perspective.
“Sometimes people, the only perception they have of law enforcement might be a negative one from a ticket they received or something like that. Or what they may have seen on TV and it’s just not that,” Brown said. “There’s so much more to the job we do.”
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