Citizens Police Academy gives Joliet residents look at law enforcement

Sgt. John Perona, lead Taser instructor for the Joliet Police Department, demonstrates how to use a Taser during an April 4 session of the Citizens Police Academy. (Megann Horstead / For The Bugle)

Sgt. John Perona speaks to residents in attendance for the April 4 session of the Citizens Police Academy. (Megann Horstead / For The Bugle)

By Megann Horstead | For The Bugle

Residents learned about use of force and high voltage electronic devices by the Joliet Police Department during an April 4 session of their 12-week Citizens Police Academy.

The course gives citizens an introduction into what local law enforcement officials do.

Sgt. Rob Hall, a training coordinator for the Joliet Police Department, said the reason for holding the program is clear.

“In large part, it’s an outreach program,” he said.

The program, which started a number of years ago, also gives participants a law enforcement perspective on relevant current events.

Hall noted that many shape their views of law enforcement officials based on what they see in the media and said this gives the police department a chance to shed greater light on what they actually do.

Each week, the class learns firsthand from guest speakers, such as a gang intelligence sergeant and a judge. In previous years, the police department invited representatives from the State’s Attorney’s Office to learn about the criminal justice system as a whole.

While last week participants learned about gangs as well as law enforcement training and recruitment, later in the course they’ll explore other topics, such as traffic stops.

“We’re going to go in the parking lot, we’re going to set the cars up, and they’re going to go up and do mock traffic stops,” Hall said. “They’re going to face the exact same things that we face on traffic stops, including the absolute terror at times.”

Hall noted the many efforts taken by the department to increase diversity among the police force and said this occurrence is also evident among attendees for the Citizens Police Academy.

“In large part we do [get a broad spectrum of participation] in large part because of recruiting efforts as well,” Hall said. “In your typical Citizens Police Academy in most places consists of retired people with a little time on their hands and think, ‘oh, well, we’ll go do this.’ When I took over this position a couple years ago, I said, ‘that’s not going to cut it.’ Most of those people already get us. They support us already. We need the younger people, we need them to understand.”

Robert Bolek, of Joliet, said he decided to sign up for the program to learn more about law enforcement.

“It gives a whole different perspective on what they’re up against, just like this Taser program,” he said.

Bolek said you start thinking about what police officers are exposed to, how they time everything and when they should look to exert use of force.

Bolek said it was “mind boggling” to learn about gangs and law enforcement, as they did the prior week.

“I had no idea what these symbols are, but when you see a gang sign [and it is] explained [to the class] what you see on garage, who wrote it, and who they’re up against,” he said.

Bolek added that he looks forward to what the program holds in the coming weeks.

“At the end, people really understand a whole lot better,” Hall said.

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