EAST PROVIDENCE — In an attempt to dispel common myths and mysteries about law enforcement, the city's police department has decided once again to offer residents the opportunity to register for the Citizens Police Academy, a 13-week program slated for Wednesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m. beginning March 16.
“This is certainly one way, a great way, to build a partnership with the community,” said Patrolman Thomas Aguiar, who not only acts as the community relations officer but also coordinates the academy. “It's pretty much a community outreach program. We're going to open up the police department and give people a more in-depth look at what we do and how we do it.
“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there, and we want to give them the scope of our authority, our police powers, and how we go about fulfilling our mission,” he added.
The academy will include instruction from EPPD officers who will volunteer their time to present topics such as criminal investigations; patrol operations; legal issues; crime scene investigations; and communication operations.
Academy members also will be given the chance to take part in mock motor vehicle stops, building searches and equipment demonstrations.
The only rules for signing up for the academy, to be conducted free of charge: Only East Providence residents at least 18 years old are permitted, and those who have been convicted of a felony won't be.
“We want our citizens to be informed, know what's going on,” Aguiar stated. “We want residents to know that not all a police department does is a big secret. Informing them is what we want to do. When it comes to applicants who have been convicted of a crime, we'll take their (sign-up) sheets on a case-by-case basis.”
Aguiar indicated he's added an exciting new element this time around.
“I'm going to give participants a crime scenario and have them write up their own police report based on the facts and circumstances of the incident,” he noted. “I'll inform them what needs to go into a police report, and I think that will be fun for them.
“Last year, we introduced a segment about radar gun usage,” he continued. “We brought one out for them to use, get a feel for it, because there a lot of mysteries about how a police officer uses it. People want to know how it works.”
Aguiar mentioned he decided to implement both based on feedback he's received by past participants.
“I conducted my own review of the program, and – like I said – we're always looking to make it better,” he said. “When it comes to crime scene investigations, we'll bring in our BCI detectives and have them give a general overview of their job duties, like how they collect and process evidence.
“With mock motor vehicle stops, which we do later in the academy program, the patrol commander will come in and talk about his responsibilities and how he delegates authority to underlings,” he added. “The second half of that evening, I'll bring in patrol officers who will discuss how and why they became involved, what their academy training was like and a typical day in the life of an officer.
“Every unit or division will be represented, including the office of the chief of police; patrol; detectives; and services/records/dispatch.”
Sgt. John Andrews, who works closely with Aguiar at the Community Policing Unit located at the Municipal Court building (near the Senior Center, 610 Waterman Ave.), stated the academy has been a success since 1996, the first year it provided such a program. The EPPD has missed only two since, the last one occurring in 2009 due to a lack of registrants.
“One misconception people have is what happens during a regular traffic stop,” Andrews offered. “A lot of people wonder why they may see multiple cruisers or officers at a stop location. Academy students learn there are certain circumstances behind each stop. It's automatic that when one officer makes a stop, a back-up officer will radio that he or she's on their way.
“If the person who has been pulled over is discovered to be wanted, a sergeant also must be on scene,” he continued. “Say a vehicle has five occupants inside it. That means there's a potential to see more officers on scene, because one officer on five individuals isn't safe.
“Another myth or mystery we like to dispel is why folks see a cruiser with an officer sitting inside it, but he or she doesn't appear to be doing anything. The fact is, he or she could be monitoring traffic for violators, doing surveillance work or completing a lengthy report.”
Stated Aguiar: “Over the years, I've had a lot of memorable responses from people talking about how they enjoyed it, how much they learned. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback. I means a lot when they say they've learned to appreciate what law enforcement does to keep the community safe.”
The academy will culminate with a graduation ceremony, and invitees include Police Chief Joseph Tavares, the deputy chief and three captains, other officers and families and friends of the participants.
Those graduates will receive a certificate of completion, a Citizens Police Academy pin and mementos and other items.
Because class size is limited to 20, Aguiar has asked residents to submit their applications as early as possible. Five have already expressed interest, so slots are going fast.
Those applications are available at police headquarters, 750 Waterman Ave.; on the city's Web site, www.eastprovidenceri.net;  or by calling (401) 435-7630.