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Citizens Academy Gives Residents First-Hand Look At Police Work

AMERICAN FORK, Utah – Domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous situations for a police officer. When Mike Browning responded to the call, a man he was talking to pulled out a gun. Browning ended up shooting the man. Fortunately, it wasn’t real.

“This is a tough, tough job. I don’t envy them at all,” said Browning.

Browning and his wife were taking part in the American Fork Police Department’s citizens academy.

What they experienced changed how they think about law enforcement and the job they do, especially for Rebecca Browning, who admits she’s often been more critical of police officers.

“You can’t imagine it until you see it,” she said. “And you can’t imagine the scenarios until you’re in them.”

The Brownings participated in American Fork’s citizens academy over the last seven weeks.

That’s the whole idea behind the citizens academy class.

“Especially in today’s society, that’s a lot of the issues that we’re faced with, is we’re just not understanding each other’s point of view,” said Lt. Josh Christensen with the American Fork Police Department.

Students met at American Fork’s class once a week for three hours over seven weeks.

“We have a detective night, where they learn how to fingerprint and how to gather evidence,” said Christensen. “We also have a patrol night, a SWAT night, a K-9 night, an active shooter scenario — anything to give them hands-on experience to what we do.”

Monday night was the final class for this particular group. Students went on calls designed from real scenarios officers have dealt with. Other officers, on their own time, acted out the roles of suspects.

In one scenario, the Brownings responded to a call about a suspicious guy watching high school cheerleaders in a parking lot.

On another call, they stopped a man in a truck who was doing circles in a parking lot. He didn’t appreciate being pulled over, had a gun in his truck and wasn’t very cooperative.

Another call involved a homeless man staying on public property.

The students also dealt with a call about someone who was in a city building after hours who shouldn’t have been there.

“These officers have to have so much knowledge about the law and what you can and can’t do,” said Mike Browning.

Often, the students had to make split-second decisions in dealing with suspects.

“Too many people think you can just stand back and make it work differently. You can’t,” said Rebecca Browning. “It’s an immediate reaction and you have to deal with it right then.”

American Fork does about four of these types of classes a year.

It’s not to excuse mistakes officers sometimes make; it’s more to show how difficult — and how quickly — things can happen and why training is so important.

“I truly believe that if people were to attend something like this, they would walk away with a different perspective,” said Christensen. “In the years we have been doing this, no one has ever left with a bad taste in their mouth about what we do.”

The class changed how the Brownings feel. It has given them a perspective few people truly understand.

“I thought I understood this,” said Mike Browning. “I realize I don’t understand any of it.”

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