Officials honor graduates of first Citizens Police Academy

PARKERSBURG – A group of citizens got the chance to see how the Parkersburg Police Department operates during the Citizens Police Academy for the last 10 weeks.

The program, which was designed to give local citizens a look into the workings of the police department, wrapped up Thursday evening with a mock trial presentation and a graduation ceremony.

With weekly classes, 21 local residents got to see aspects of police work in the city, including computer crimes, S.W.A.T. operations, firearms program, the K-9 unit, the drug unit, juvenile investigations and detective bureau operations.

“I don’t think at any one given week that we had less than 19 people in attendance,” said Sgt. Greg Collins of the Parkersburg Police Department. “That is amazing considering they have personal lives and they are doing this on their own free time.

“They are here because they want to learn about what we are doing.”

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell, a former police chief and former magistrate, led the group through a mock trial of a person charged with driving under the influence. People read from a script, playing the participants in a trial.

Newell would stop the play from time to time to explain court procedure, why objections were made and other information that might come up during a trial.

Instructors throughout the 10 weeks were Parkersburg police officers. Collins said this helped many of the participants to see police officers as people in their own community.

Collins said he has tried to be straight forward with the citizens about crime in the area as well as the challenges police face everyday.

“I don’t think a lot of people know what is going on deep inside some of these neighborhoods and the battle we are really up against,” Collins said. “We have been very honest with them about some of these things that are going on.”

Participants came to the class with questions.

“They have asked great questions every week,” Collins said.

Jeff Park of Parkersburg said the class was a good opportunity to learn more about what police do. He was impressed with how freely the police officers gave of their time every week with the class.

“That stood out tremendously,” he said. “My favorite part was the ability for me to see all of the facets of what the police do.”

People tend to take the police for granted, Park said, adding many people do not know the amount of hours put in by police officers.

Charlotte Peters of Parkersburg thought the class would be interesting.

“Honestly, I knew nothing about the police department, but I have learned volumes,” she said. “I am so glad I came.

“I feel educated to the point where I can make a proper assessment of our police officers and I appreciate what they do immensely.”

Peters said the time the class spent on narcotics crime stood out to her, but not in a good way because of a family member’s death from drugs.

“It was a very negative thing, but it was something that I needed to face,” she said. “Maybe the Lord sent me here to do that.”

Peters said she has gained a lot of respect for police officers and the dangers they regularly face.

Officials are planning another Citizens Police Academy in the fall.

A program like this is able to connect the police department to the community.

“It makes us a part of the community and makes them a part of our operation,” Collins said. “We realized several years ago that if we get the public to help us, we will do a better job.

“When they trust us, we solve more crimes and that is exactly what we want.”