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First class citizens

Bellefontaine Police Department graduates inaugural Citizens’ Police Academy

The Bellefontaine Police Department got its newest tool in crime-fighting Thursday evening as it graduated the first class from the newly created Citizens’ Police Academy.

The group, which consisted of 14 regular citizens, both men and women from all age groups, walks of life and professions, received their certificates of completion after sitting through 12, three-and-a-half-hour classes since February.

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The 14 members of Bellefontaine Police Department’s first graduating class of the Citizens’ Police Academy are, from left, front row: Ann Hess, Shannon Maier and Brenda Fahle; scond row, Kimberly Embry, Roger Holycross, Kathy Comer, Michael Little, Michael Valentine and Russell Strayer; and third row, Mitzi Hess, Daniel Branson Sr., Paul Benedetti, Kerry Snapp and Craig Fultz.

“There was good diversity, but everybody was of one mind about this,” said Russ Strayer, who later presented Chief Brandon Standley with a framed pledge supporting the police department’s efforts signed by all 14 class members. “We all want to support the department.”

Over the course of the 12 weeks, the students learned what it was like to walk in the shoes of a police officer. Lessons ranged from basic traffic stops to identifying impaired drivers, investigative techniques and crime scene investigations, the flow of information through dispatch, decisions on when deadly force may be justified, proper handling of firearms and hand-to-hand self-defense.

To the dismay of many students, they did not get their time on the shooting range because of cold rainy weather the day it was scheduled, but it has been rescheduled for the evening of May 23.

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LEFT: Shannon Maier, a member of Bellefontaine Police Department’s first graduating class of the Citizens’ Police Academy, presents Chief Brandon Standley, center, and Sgt. Allen Shields with wall hangings of their names after the Thursday evening graduation ceremony at Chattan Loch. RIGHT: A cake was made for the Bellefontaine Police Department’s first graduating class of the Citizens’ Police Academy at Thursday’s graduation ceremony  EXAMINER PHOTOS | REUBEN MEES

With the cooperation of the Logan County Sheriff’s Office, the class toured the Logan County Jail and met local deputies and detectives.

And in their time off from class, most participants rode along with a police officer at least once during the course.

“I know it has been hard for you to take time out of your schedules for 12 weeks to be part of this, but now many of you are thinking, ‘What am I going to do on CPA nights?’ ” Chief Standley said. “You have been a part of something new to the Bellefontaine Police Department and the city of Bellefontaine. You have made history. And this has opened a whole new relationship you probably never thought you would open in your lifetime.”

Brenda Fahle, who is transportation supervisor for Bellefontaine City Schools, said the class left her wanting more each week.

“This class ... it met and exceeded everyone’s expectations. It was over-the-top,” she said. “I went to class each week and I walked away wanting more. The time ... there just wasn’t enough of it.

“You would spend 3 1/2 hours in class and 3 1/2 hours going over it that night. But they left hints about what next week’s class would be about and it made you want to come back. A part of me is saddened it’s over, but I’m looking forward to what we can do in the future.”

One of the first tasks the volunteer CPA class has assigned itself is to support the police department at a community outreach event planned for Wednesday evening in the Heritage Court neighborhood.

And the chief encouraged them to continue to share stories of their experience at the academy and try to recruit a new class for next year’s session, which will again run from February through May.

The keynote speaker for the event, Hilliard Police Chief Douglas Francis, echoed those sentiments in his remarks.

Entering his current position at a time when the Columbus suburb’s police force attitude was apathetic and the community’s perception of the police was one of disgust, a Citizen Police Academy helped turn that around, he said.

“Just like Chief Standley, we went around to other agencies and we listened and we got this off the ground,” he said, noting the first class graduated 32 members but it eventually grew to 130 members. “People were talking about it and the press was writing about it and we had a waiting list for the next CPA. We made inroads with our community and people started believing in us again.

“But one of the most important things a CPA does is to be the community advocate for Chief Standley and his staff,” Chief Francis said. “Our job is a difficult one and we are often misunderstood. I ask that you stay involved in promoting this CPA and keep it going.”

The class, which was largely patterned after the Hilliard one, took many months to organize and was led largely by Sgt. Allen Shields and Dispatcher Kim Rhoads with help from other patrol sergeants and officers, Chief Standley said in his many thank yous.

“One of the big hurdles for me when I took over was I wanted to get the staff more involved in the community,” the chief said. “Because of the dedicated people working at your police department, we have been able to get things done in rapid succession. Allen Shields really took the bull by the horns and got things done. Hours and hours of preparation goes into getting this running.

“Now you folks can go back to your own neighborhoods and families and share what this is about.”

For more information on the Citizens’ Police Academy or to consider applying for next year’s course, contact the police department at 599-1010.

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