Participation in a citizens law enforcement program in Craig has continued to grow, allowing residents and officers to continue improving understanding and communication.
The Craig Police Department's Citizens Academy is now in its third year, and this session boasts the largest class so far. Fifteen residents are participating in the 10-week course. Craig Administrative Sgt. Bill Leonard sees this as a sign the program is gaining popularity in the community.
"I'd like to think the program is getting more popular," he said. "A lot of people are now getting involved through word-of-mouth co-workers and friends. From this class alone, we already have five people signed up for the next academy."
The Citizens Academy meets one night a week for about three hours. Each class covers a different aspect of law enforcement. Officers from the department come in and discuss a variety of topics, including patrol, traffic enforcement and arrest control.
Subjects such as the use of force, firearms, community policing policy, investigations, the judicial system, animal control and the Special Response Team are also covered.
The academy is part of the community policing policy the Craig Police Department has adopted as its guiding philosophy, according to the department. Community policing aims to create a department that not only protects a community but also is a part of that community. That relationship allows a department to be more sensitive to residents and their issues, more effectively enforce the law, and encourages the community to assist in law enforcement.
As the program has progressed, the community's image of the police department has changed, Leonard said.
"I think the classes have helped people see us differently," Leonard said. "Not only with people who take the class, but from those people talking to others. The class gives people a chance to learn about the department.
"I've heard from past students that when they hear negative comments (about police), they'll confront that person, asking 'Are you sure that's how it works?'. From their time in the class, the past students have an overview of law enforcement and they'll have a different perspective o something that happened because they have a better idea what law enforcement is all about. And they'll talk to someone about that or encourage them to take the class."
Craig resident Tom Ripkoski is attending the Citizens Academy, and said he views the program as "a good thing" for the community and the police department.
"I look at the department a little differently because the class lets you get an inside view of what these guys go through," he said. "It's made me realize what a difficult job the police have. They have to deal with a lot of different people. I think the police are grossly underpaid and under appreciated."
Ripkoski said he would be recommending the program to other residents.
Thursday night's academy course covered investigations. Craig Police Lt. John Forgay and Investigative Technician Michelle Anderson discussed the many facets of running an investigation. Anderson explained the "chain of custody" how evidence is collected, protected and preserved. Anderson also talked about how a crime scene is handled, and the resources available to process DNA, blood, gunshot residue kits and other intricate types of evidence and evidence collection.
"Cases have been lost by evidence not be collected properly or handled and stored properly," Anderson said.
Forgay gave a presentation on the investigative process how a case is worked from the scene to interviews to interrogations through the arrest. Forgay discussed the difference between the concepts of "probable cause" and "beyond a reasonable doubt." He also talked about what type of evidence police usually work with and demonstrated some of the equipment officers use to detect and gather clues.
"In 30 years, I've solved three cases with fingerprint evidence," Forgay said. "Working a case is much different than what is shown on TV.
"As Michelle said, when someone goes into a place, they leave something behind, and they take something with them. I look at an investigation as a puzzle you put the pieces together to put the person who committed the crime away."
Castings, prints, handwriting, fibers, hair, fluids both at the scene and on a suspect will help officers complete a case. Statewide and national databases on the types of material specific to a certain model of carpet, tire patterns and paint exemplify some of the modern resources available to law enforcement, Forgay said.