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Back to Archives | Back to March 2009 Contents 

Citizen Police Academies: A Model for Smaller Agencies

By Scott Barlow, Chief of Police, Culpeper, Virginia; Jim Branch, Sheriff, Culpeper County, Virginia; and Gary Close, Commonwealth Attorney, Culpeper County, Virginia

itizen police academies (CPAs) have become one of the most beneficial programs developed under the community-based policing philosophy. The first CPA was showcased in Orlando, Florida, in 1985; today, they are used across the country to educate citizens on the basics of the law enforcement profession, to bring citizens closer to police, to recruit potential employees (both civilian and sworn), and to recruit a strong volunteer base. From these CPAs, citizen police academy alumni associations (CPAAAs) were born.

The benefits of CPAAAs are far-reaching. Not only can they be strong allies during difficult times—such as encounters between the community and police that are perceived negatively—and lean budget years, but they are also a fantastic volunteer base. These volunteers can be used to assist with administrative tasks, to help at impaired-driving enforcement checkpoints, to be part of crime watch groups, and to assist with job fairs and recruitment activities.

Although there is clearly a huge advantage for an agency able to sustain a CPA and its accompanying CPAAA, the challenges for smaller agencies who wish to do so are many. These challenges include securing funding to facilitate such a program, establishing the availability of instructors, and having a sufficient level of interest from citizens to justify the program. Unfortunately, many smaller agencies have chosen not to tackle these issues; in doing so, they have failed to tap a valuable resource.

Role of Partnerships

Partnerships are really the only answer to these challenges for smaller agencies. Most small agencies have relationships with other small agencies or even larger agencies nearby. For example, towns and small cities fall within a county, or sometimes there are several towns within a county. Most counties, towns, and small cities have prosecuting attorney’s offices, magistrate’s offices, regional jails, and a variety of other criminal justice agencies.

In reality, the only rule to make the plan work is to be creative. By developing relationships with other agency heads, a smaller agency can devise a plan that will work for everyone involved. A CPA hosted in partnership with other agencies is clearly a win-win for all participating agencies and the communities they serve.

Sergeant Jason Deal of the Culpeper Police
Department and Deputy Maria Rodriguez
of the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office
speak at the first Culpeper joint criminal
justice academy class banquet.
Photo courtesy of Deputy Rodriguez

Culpeper Model

Culpeper is the name of a county in Virginia as well as a small to midsized township within the county. The county is policed by an elected sheriff and staff, whereas the town is policed by an appointed police chief and staff. There are also several other criminal justice entities within the county/town form of government. Another primary player in the criminal justice system, the commonwealth attorney, is an elected official who represents the county and the town as their chief prosecuting attorney.

Each agency in the county could host a CPA by itself and draw interest, but it would create competition for resources such as grants, donations, and prospective participants. In addition, it would create a strain on such resources as instructors and facilities.

For Culpeper County, the obvious solution was to combine resources and host a joint Citizens Criminal Justice Academy (CCJA). Each participating agency provides instructors and develops the curriculum. The efforts of the police department and the sheriff’s office are combined at the beginning of the 12-week program, and the commonwealth attorney’s office closes out the program with its instruction. The course was formatted this way in keeping with how the criminal justice system works. Law enforcement agencies begin the process; the jail is then involved, when full custodial arrests are necessary; and then the commonwealth attorney is involved in the prosecution of the case.


The only obstacles to establishing a joint program such as the one in Culpeper County are those that are self-imposed, by turf battles and bruised egos. The main player in the Culpeper CCJA model is the sheriff, who has the largest organization and who was already hosting CPAs before the advent of the CCJA. The town police and the commonwealth attorney’s office, based on a strong professional alliance, requested to become part of the existing CPA instead of creating their own. The sheriff graciously welcomed the partnership.

The 12-week class is held one night per week, with an occasional weekend. It is important not to have unrealistic expectations of participants’ time, which would preclude many interested individuals from attending.

The CCJA designs classes to interest all involved but not to be so complex that they confuse participants. For example, search-and-seizure laws are very complex even for professional police officers, who receive many hours of training in this area. To condense this topic to one hour is a difficult task. The CCJA strives to keep instruction basic and relevant and to educate and entertain at the same time. This is known in the police training community as “entertrainment.”


Sergeant Deal and Master Police Officer Holly Hill
of the Culpeper Police Department prepare for a
K-9 demonstration.
Photo courtesy of Deputy Rodriguez
For any CPA or related program, classes should begin with introductions of all the main players, tours of facilities, and an open discussion of expectations for participation and graduation. The agency heads should all be present on the first day. After this opening day, agency heads should occasionally check in, but the instruction should be carried out by selected practitioners within the agencies.

There is really no hard-and-fast rule for what topics can be taught, other than discussing administrative functions, operational functions, and current hot topics. Some of the more relevant and useful topics include emergency dispatch, patrol operations, criminal investigations, drug investigations, jail operations, court security, civil process, the school resource officer program, use of force, firearms, traffic stops, building clears and searches, special teams and equipment, courtroom testimony, and prosecuting attorney procedures.

Whether held by only one agency or coordinated by multiple partners, CPAs often benefit from the following five suggestions:

  • Hold a joint press release with all involved agencies. This not only publicizes the program but also sends a positive message on the working relationships an agency has with other agencies.

  • Select appropriate instructors. It is important to send a positive message to the community and any partnering agencies.

  • Recruit most of the participants for the first CPA classes the agency holds. Such a move allows agencies to make mistakes—which will happen in any new program—in front of a sympathetic audience.

  • Emphasize the importance of this program. If the agency offering the classes does not treat them as important to the community, how will instructors and participants appreciate them?

  • Publicize graduation ceremonies. Invite local politicians and businesspeople.

Implementing a CPA is an achievable goal regardless of the size of the agency or agencies starting it. It is entirely up to program designers to build the relationships necessary, to be as creative as necessary, and to be willing to share the credit for the program with other agencies collaborating in the effort to develop an effective community volunteer corps. ?



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 3, March 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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