Citizen Police Academy: Improving communication with residents

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FORT MYERS, Fla.- The final part of WINK News’ series on the Fort Myers Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy.

The class is designed to bring better communication between citizens and officials. For some of class members, it gave them a whole new outlook on local law enforcement.

On a Saturday night, WINK News reporter Sam Smink went on a ride-along with Officer David Dietz. Two minutes into the shift, the officer was already on a call.

“We are going to go to a breach of peace. It is an argument between a female and her boyfriend. Apparently the boyfriend has had a little too much to drink. She wants him to leave, and he doesn’t want to leave,” said Dietz.

Officer Dietz says traffic stops and breaches of peace, are the two most dangerous calls an officer can face, because of their unpredictability.

In light of recent police activity in the news, I asked how do you not go into every call, automatically aggressive, possibly making something worse than it is?

“How do you do that? I don’t know how to explain how you do that. It’s just kind of something you learn doing the job pretty much,” said Dietz. “You’ve got to be the level headed one going in, maintaining control.”

He adds, “we have had people come here, and after a month or two, put the badge on the desk of the sarge and say ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m not used people hating me.'”

The brutal honesty of the ride-alongs was something each member of the CPA class said really stuck with them. Each class member took a different journey during the 10 weeks.

Alexia Dixon, who just moved to Southwest Florida from California, only knew about the police through what her friends said.

“Some have told me the police pick on them. Say they are walking down the street, kind of harass them sometimes,” said Dixon.

Marlette Wells has lived in Dunbar her whole life.

“I was kind of angry,” said Wells, “I had a negative attitude toward cops.”

Judy Nedeau from Maine enrolled after watching police controversy take over the news. “You know, you say, ‘do I have a distorted view of my upbringing?”

Captain Dennis Eads is the fearless leader of the academy. For 10 weeks, he’s tried to show members what it’s really like to be police officers.

“It takes more than words to bridge a gap,” said Eads.

“What I found is, it’s a bad cop, or bad apple in every bunch, and it doesn’t make the whole batch spoil,” said Wells.

In some shape or form, everyone in the class agreed, that the honesty of the course really surprised them. They felt there were real conversations between them and the police.

Captain Eads says his goal was to be as honest as possible.

The Citizen Police Academy runs twice a year and is free to anyone. If you’re interested, you can contact the Fort Myers Police Department.

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