(PA) State police use 'academies' to show workings of law enforcement


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Drizzt
February 12, 2003, 05:35 PM
The Associated Press State & Local Wire

February 8, 2003, Saturday, BC cycle

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 608 words

HEADLINE: State police use 'academies' to show workings of law enforcement

BYLINE: By GEORGE STRAWLEY, Associated Press Writer

DATELINE: TYRONE, Pa.

BODY:
Like many of the 18 kids fiddling with fingerprint kits at the state police student academy at Tyrone High School, 17-year-old Katie Weko became interested in police work by watching "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," the CBS crime show that has landed on the top of the television ratings charts.

"I found it interesting on TV. I want to explore it some more," Weko said after successfully lifting a clean set of her own fingerprints from a plastic bag. "I definitely could get interested in doing this every day." Weko, a Juniata Valley High School junior who came over to nearby Tyrone High School for the afternoon Wednesday, got a hands-on introduction to fingerprinting techniques as part of a state police program meant to give children and adults alike a greater familiarity with police work.

They are called citizens' police academies and the state police run about 14 of them a year, often in conjunction with local police departments. The student police academy in Tyrone, about 75 miles northwest of Harrisburg, is an offshoot run by state police Troop G in Hollidaysburg.

The concept of the academy is simple: Gather up some interested people and put them through a free program in which they explore the crimes code, get some criminal investigation experience, see a demonstration of drug search techniques and learn about patrol issues and accident investigations.

"The citizens' police academy is an awareness program on the part of the public, to give them what the role of the police officer is," said Lt. Rod Manning, head of the community services section for the state police.

The program started in 1997 with an academy initiated by the Brookhaven Police Department in Delaware County, which in turn got its idea from a citizens' police academy established in nearby Philadelphia.

"I've always done educational programs in the school and provided programs in the community and I thought this was a good vehicle for getting our message across," said Brookhaven Police Chief John M. Eller.

At first, the department conducted the program on its own, but the idea caught on with former state police Commissioner Paul Evanko by 1999, Eller said.

Evanko put out a memo urging state police barracks to come up with their own versions of the academies. In Delaware County, officials combined the state police and Brookhaven programs into one, Eller said.

By 1999 there were 12 programs across the state, with 211 people attending them, Manning said. The state police have averaged about 14 programs a year since then, with about 200 people a year attending, he said.

Some programs run 10 to 12 weeks while Troop G's program runs a shorter six weeks. Similar programs are offered by police departments nationwide.

Pennsylvania troopers say the program allows them to clear misconceptions about police work and explain a little about their line of work. In return, citizens give troopers feedback about where their work could improve, troopers say.

"The people who apply and attend the training are generally interested in what we do and why we do it," said Trooper David White, community services officer for Troop G. "The average citizen has a very limited idea of the services we provide."

Participants in the class come from all walks of life, said Eller, who now offers an advanced class with first-aid and firearms training.

"I've had a priest. I've had a minister. I've had several school teachers," Eller said. "The youngest person that I put through the class - she went through the course with her dad - was 14."

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