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A day in the Citizens Police Academy class

There is a class held every year on the University of New Hampshire (UNH) main campus that has no exams, no required note-taking, no PowerPoints, and also, no credit. It’s the Citizens Police Academy (CPA), held weekly at the UNH Police Department for 10 weeks every spring.  

The Citizens Police Academy began in 2007, and has run every year since then. In the past few years, the class has typically been composed of undergraduates interested in law enforcement who are taking a course offering extra credit for the academy, according to Officer Garrett Anthony. Anthony said that he has been running the “day-to-day” operations of the course since he joined the UNH Police Department (UNH PD) a few years ago. Sergeant Aaron Derek Standard acts as the logistical and administrative manager of the course, Anthony said. To enroll in the course, students and community members have to contact Standard. 

The 18 enrolled students this semester are all UNH undergraduate and graduate students, though the past has seen members of the Durham and local community, interested in learning more about law enforcement, according to Anthony. The course this semester is primarily women. 

“Everyone’s here to understand what we do,” Anthony said after Tuesday’s course, that students use what they learn in the course in their careers.   

Many of the students were enrolled in either JUST 401: Introduction to Justice Studies or SOC 515: Introductory Criminology. Both classes offered extra credit for students that went through the course at the UNH PD, and many of the students in those classes had some sort of law or law enforcement aspiration, Anthony said. 

“I want to be a police officer,” Nikki Harnett, an undeclared first-year student said, who was also getting extra credit. First-year psychology and justice studies dual major Courtney McCarron felt similar about the extra credit, and is interested in becoming specifically a federal officer. First, though, this class at UNH PD will confirm that this is the career path she wants to follow. Other students in the class were interested in being a lawyer, working in wildlife law enforcement, or even applying it to personal research interests.  

Tuesday’s class focused on “Blue Courage,” the philosophy from an organization of the same name that produces a number of blog posts, courses, and other services, according to the organization’s website. They also create a guidebook, which Sergeant James Ford, who led the class, spoke of, using a physical copy of the guidebook as a reference. The guidebook and its program work to ensure the mental health of those in law enforcement, he said. 

Ford used the guidebook to speak of the demands placed on those in law enforcement, saying that it’s unlike other shift-based occupations where the shift encapsulates an employee’s entire working life—no work is done outside of the shift. 

“This job is a quite a bit different than that.” Ford said. He used himself as an example. Ford is at the police department approximately 45 minutes before his shift begins, “to be ready for that shift.”  

Aside from being on shift, Ford and Anthony explained, police officers can have other assignments, such as teaching the Citizens Police Academy, along with standard work like preparing their cruisers and themselves for the shift, and finishing up any calls that may go far beyond the shift end time. This can impact one’s family life, Anthony remarked.  

The sleep deprivation an officer may experience are a stretch for even a college student, with Ford saying that four to five hours of sleep is a significant amount. As a result, he said, “You’re exposed to a lot…you’re not always set up to perform at your optimum.” To mitigate this, officers go through a “duty cycle,” of four days straight working 10-hour shifts, and three days off. Good food is often also not a certainty.  

The class soon drifted into other topics, from the tools on an officer’s belt to how the belt is actually held up, to other parts of the uniform, like the bulletproof vest all officers wear as part of their uniform, regardless of weather.  

“We got to make sure that we’re prepared to deal with what happens and wherever it happens,” Ford said of the tools an officer carry. 

The officers spent much of the class speaking on the application and hiring process of an officer at a police department, which in the case of the UNH PD, involves about nine steps taking over a year, physical tests, written tests, a background investigation, and a polygraph—commonly known as the lie detector—test.  

Ford did not speak of those steps in detail to dissuade students.  

“It’s the coolest job I’ve ever done. And that’s why I’m still doing it,” he said. 

The class moved towards a discussion of the use of force: when officers should and should not, and how they make those decisions, to physically interact with someone, such as using a taser or firing a gun. Students asked questions during much of the conversational-type class. 

“Most cops are going to provide themselves of being able to have a conversation,” Ford said. He and Anthony emphasized that using force was a tightly-controlled tool that most officers avoided.  

“It’s reasonable response to what we’re experiencing,” Ford said. 

“You have to justify every time,” an officer uses force, Anthony added. “They [police administration and courts] analyze every time you use force.” 

The class ended with questions about what UNH students often think of when viewing the UNH PD: alcohol and traffic tickets. Anthony summarized the results of the 1986 Weldy v. Town of Kingston court case that created a case law where underage designated drivers will be arrested and their cars towed if someone else in the car, outside of immediate family, has alcohol. UNH Chief Paul Dean spoke with The New Hampshire about this law in more detail in October. 

“I wish that was conveyed more often coming here,” Anthony said. For cases like those, “those are the ones I’ll talk to the prosecutor after” about the driver just trying to be responsible, he told the class.  

In the coming weeks, as written on the course’s syllabus, students will see a variety of law enforcement components, such as polygraph testing this coming Tuesday, March 3, and visiting the Strafford County Jail in April. Last week, students got a tour of the UNH Police Department. Students will also meet with people from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Clandestine Lab Interdiction Team, who, according to their website, focus on controlled substances. Some of the people students will meet will be UNH instructors, according to Anthony. 

The conversational tone of the course will continue. “It’s all very fluid.” Anthony said. 

The Citizens Police Academy runs every spring semester. This semester’s course cannot take any more students. Anthony encourages those interested to email the UNH Police Department. 

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