By Joseph Robertia
“Law and Order,” “CSI,” “Criminal Intent” — there is no shortage to the number of procedural crime shows on television, and while they may be interesting and entertaining, their methods of how law enforcement officers solve crimes can be misleading.
“Each week the media places their own spin on the reality of policing in America, which has created some unrealistic ideals and misinformation to citizens on law enforcement,” said Sue Macholz, Alaska State Trooper coordinator, with the Soldotna-based E Detachment.
On TV, detectives use sophisticated computer equipment, which may realistically only be found in a handful of labs across the country, to catch the culprit every time, typically within days of the crime occurring. True crime-solving is substantially more complicated.
“Law enforcement has always been of interest to the public,” Macholz said. “Providing citizens with more accurate information and explanations on policies and procedures can assist in promoting and enhancing citizen understanding and awareness of the role of the Alaska State Troopers within their community.”
In an effort to perform this type of outreach, troopers and the Department of Public Safety organized a citizen’s academy in Soldotna from March 13 through May 22, which is designed to enhance the public’s understanding of the role of troopers within their community.
Macholz said that the purpose of this class is not to produce reserve officers or prepare people for the police academy. Rather, it is to inform the public on the functions and services provided by troopers.
“It should provide citizens with a firsthand look at the statutes, regulations and policies that guide the troopers in their daily duties. The academy is designed to have the citizens meet with their local troopers and open the lines of communication through education and discussion,” she said.
Classes meet once a week for 11 weeks and cover a wide variety of law enforcement topics, including investigation of drugs and alcohol violations, cold cases and Internet crimes, evidence processing, the sex offender registry, evidence processing, and court procedures and judicial services. There also is one firearms outing scheduled outside the normal class time on a Saturday at the Snowshoe Gun Club in Kenai.
Nancy Whiting, of Nikiski, was the first person to sign up for the academy.
“Basically, the troopers are a mystery to me,” she said. “I don’t know who they are, what they do or how they operate compared to city police, so this seemed like a good way to find out.”
Whiting said that, in addition to learning about the procedural aspects of troopers’ duties, she also is hoping to glean insight into some commonly asked questions.
“‘Do they really pull people over for violating the five-car rule?’ ‘Why do they close the road for four hours when investigating an accident?’ These seem like trivial questions, but I want to know the answers to them,” she said.
Whiting said that she also hopes the academy will prepare her to better help her fellow citizens, since she is an active volunteer in the Community Emergency Response Team.
“Having a better idea of how they work and getting to meet a few more troopers, hopefully it will help my CERT training. CERT is my priority and since we live in a disaster-prone area, chances are good that something will eventually happen, and I want to have the know-how to help my friends and neighbors when it does,” she said.
While this is the first citizen’s academy in Soldotna, it is far from the first one ever. The first citizen’s academy began in the U.K. back in 1977, and received an overwhelming number of applicants. It was so successful it was permanently adopted as part of law enforcement’s educational outreach program.
Its success spread across the pond and, in 1985, the Orlando Police Department became the first in the U.S. to adopt the program. Citizen’s academies have since spread to numerous states. Alaska has offered academies in its larger cities, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Wasilla.
To learn more about the citizen’s academy, visit the troopers’ Public Information Office website at http://www.dps.alaska.gov/PIO/citizenacademy.aspx.