WR residents walk in officers’ shoes at Citizens Police Academy

WARNER ROBINS — Michael L. Rutland, a 50-year-old aircraft consultant, said his co-workers wanted to hear each Friday what he’d learned the night before at the Citizens Police Academy in Warner Robins.

Rutland was among a group of 21 who graduated recently from the academy, a 12-week course taught by Warner Robins police to give everyday folks an idea of how the police department works and to enable them to interact with officers on a more personal level.

Rutland said he got interested in the class because two of his friends are police officers in other states.

The once-a-week class included a range of hands-on activities from running the same physical agility course that officers do to learning about how crime scene evidence is collected to riding along with police officers on patrol.

For Rutland, the ride-along was what he enjoyed most.

The calls he was along for included a terroristic threat, a burglary alarm, a burglary in progress, a fight and two traffic stops. He also witnessed two arrests.

Rutland said he came away from the experience with a deeper appreciation for law enforcement officers and was especially impressed with the level of maturity in the young officers he worked with. Rutland said the officers were wise beyond their years and carried themselves professionally.

He also was surprised at how busy the officers were on duty. He said there wasn’t time to sit around and watch for speeders. The calls came back-to-back.

Nick McCollough, 66, who is retired from the Air Force, said he also was impressed with the maturity and professionalism of the young officers.

He enjoyed the class on crime scene evidence.

“Those CSI shows you see,” McCollough said with a laugh. “It’s really not like that.”

Cleona Smith, 68, of Macon, said she enjoyed the firing range the most.

“I never had shot a gun before,” said Smith, a retired customer service manager in retail sales. “I shot a M-16!”

Smith, a member of the Citizens on Patrol with the Macon Police Department, said she’s eager to take back what she’s learned to share with others on patrol.

The Citizens on Patrol in Macon work with city police and patrol areas as assigned with walkie-talkies and report what they observe.

“We’re the eyes and ears of the police department,” Smith said.

Richard Fidler, 65, of Warner Robins, went through the academy a second time, having first gone through more than 12 years ago. He initially took the class because his former son-in-law was a police officer.

Fidler said he noted a difference between then and now.

“They’re honed to a much finer edge,” he said.

The academy, which is offered twice a year, was first offered 20 years ago.

Warner Robins Maj. Harry Dennard once led the academy and Fidler was one of his graduates.

“It’s one of the best things for public relations that I’ve seen in my career,” said Dennard, 61, who’s been in law enforcement for about four decades. “It allows you to see how the department operates ... and see what the officers do day in and day out every week.

“It’s a chance to show the community what we have and what we can do,” added Dennard, whose father, B.E. Dennard, formerly served as Perry’s police chief.

Warner Robins Capt. John Clay, who now coordinates the academy, said that in addition to giving people an inside look at police work, it also allows them into the lives of the officers.

In most cases, the average person only comes into contact with an officer when pulled over for speeding or a victim of a crime, Clay said. But in the academy, folks get to know officers on a personal level, he said.

For Joe Catania, 67, of Macon, who’s retired from IBM, getting to know the officers made the experience for him.

“They make you feel like they’re your best friend,” Catania said.

He also enjoyed K-9 officers Ajax, a drug dog, and Arno, who’s trained to sniff out explosives.

The canine demonstration was also a favorite of Nancy Moran, 60, who teaches first grade.

She and her husband, Joe, 68, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, took the class together.

She said she came away with a deeper appreciation of what it takes to be a police officer from specialized training to physical agility to smarts.

“Not everyone can be a policeman,” Moran said.

For Curtis Wilson, 22, of Warner Robins, the experience solidified his interest in law enforcement.

Wilson is working on an associate’s degree in criminal justice at Georgia Military College in Warner Robins.

He said he was especially impressed with the criminal investigations unit.

The next academy is expected to be held in early August.

The classes are free. For more information or to sign up, call (478) 929-7253.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.