“It is important for us to make clear that it is not only open for citizens of Chapel Hill,” Mecimore said. “It can also be people who have a connection to the community like someone who goes to school here, works here or grew up here.”
This year, participants are required to attend a 3 1/2-hour evening session on April 9 or 10 and a five-hour afternoon session on April 12.
When it started, the Citizen’s Police Academy spanned 10 sessions, making it hard for many residents to carve out the time it would take to complete the program.
The department shortened the program to reduce the time commitment and attract more students, Mecimore said.
“Students are a part of this community and even though some might expect to leave when they finish school, a lot don’t,” Mecimore said. “We want them to learn what the police do.”
Chapel Hill Town Councilman George Cianciolo said he participated to see what the police officers lives were like on a daily basis.
“As a council member, we have to make decisions about budgeting that affect the police department,” Cianciolo said. “I wanted to know why they work there and what the stresses of the job might be.”
Many residents do not know or appreciate what the police do day-to-day, Cianciolo said.
“When you hear an officer talk about having a gun pointed at them, you realize that these people are risking their lives for us and we often take that for granted,” he said.
Charlie Pardo, a Chapel Hill police officer and academy instructor, said the program gives officers a chance to debunk myths people have about police work.
“Policing is one of those professions that people get their information from television because there are so many cop shows,” Pardo said, adding that many of the shows aren’t realistic.
The academy also provides a good opportunity for community members and police to interact on a normal level, Mecimore said.
“Police officers sometimes get a jaded view of the community because they only see people at their lowest level when they are facing their worst demons,” Mecimore said.
During a simulator event, Cianciolo was called to the scene of a crime. Cianciolo saw the smooth, silver outline of a handgun pulled from the man’s pocket and his life flashed before his eyes.
Cianciolo was one of about 30 participants in the November program, where residents learned about arrest procedures, police canine demonstrations and the appropriate use of force.
Cianciolo said he would recommend the academy to anyone in Chapel Hill able to participate.
“It was definitely a worthwhile experience,” Cianciolo said. “I talked so highly about it that my wife is signing up for the next one.”