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County Police begins weekly citizen's academy

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Maj. Ken Green gestured at the lit-screen, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at the words "Fifth Amendment." He gestured at the 12 people sitting in the partially darkened room.

"See," the major said, "this is tier-one contact. We're just talking, it's consensual, and I don't have to read you your Miranda rights. The fourth amendment is not in play."

In a community room at Clayton County Police headquarters, 12 heads nodded in understanding, Thursday night, and the first session of the first citizens' police academy neared a close.

The 12 Clayton County residents -- 10 women and two men -- will gather at the police department once a week for 10 weeks, learning about community-oriented policing, patrol procedures and gang awareness. The inaugural program will conclude with a ride-along in the beginning of December.

Chief Jeff Turner started the program, which will run twice a year, as part of the community-oriented policing policy he's instituted since he took over the department in March.

"It's about educating the public, making them aware as to what's going on in their community," Turner said. "The citizens' academy is an important component of the [community-policing program], from the standpoint that it allows citizens some insight into what policing is all about."

Turner said such academies have been shown to strengthen relationships between the residents of a jurisdiction and law enforcement officers -- the education gives police "understanding and support from the community," according to the academy's mission statement. It makes the residents more sympathetic toward police, and less likely to complain officers are "just out there wasting time," the chief said.

During the course, the 12 accepted applicants will learn what an officer does during daily duty, how and why 911 calls are prioritized.

"We are doing a lot of work that they don't see, behind the scenes," Turner said. "This will give them a general idea."

Green said people generally have learned what they know about policing from television shows and movies, and the class allows them to see a truer picture.

On Thursday, he gave out a series of hand-outs and lectured through a brief history of the constitution, the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as they relate to police work, and the rules of criminal trials.

"Lawyers," he told the 12, "get days and days to prepare for trial. Judges get days and days to consider a case, and if there is an appeal, they get days and days more. The policeman has to make a decision right now."

The free, bi-yearly program has received a quick response from Clayton County residents, Sgt. Rebecca Brown said. The classes slated to start in January are almost full.

County citizens attending the first class said they were there to educate themselves and get a better understanding of police work.

Judy Taylor said she was there representing her neighborhood, Sherwood Forest.

"We want to work with the police the best we can," she said. "We know they want to work with us, and we're experiencing crime problems we've never experienced before."

That connection between the law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens is key to community policing, and the connection can be made during the weekly, evening meetings, Green said.

"We need the citizens' help," he said. "The police are admitting -- we can't do this by ourselves. So we arm this group of citizens with a lot more information than the average citizen has, with the goal of preventing crime."

The next citizens academy begins on Jan. 8. Classes are free, attendees must be at least 18 years old and have no felony convictions.

Those interested in joining the classes can call Sgt. Brown at (770) 473-3935.