Union Township Police launch outreach program

The Union Township Police Department is working to revive an old outreach program in the hopes of creating a better working relationship with the people it serves.

A citizen’s police academy will begin on Sept. 6 and continue through Nov. 8, and is designed to draw its participants into the day-to-day life of a police officer.

“There will be no tests, it will be like 25 or 30 percent classroom and 70-75 percent hands-on,” said Lt. Scott Gaviglia of the Union Township Police Department. “We want to make it interesting for the participants. They will be able to get a feel in a few short weeks of just what a police officer does as a daily routine. The point is to familiarize the citizens with the police officers and to open up the police department so the citizens can see what we do. It also gives them an opportunity to volunteer with us if they want to.”

The academy will meet every Wednesday night during the two-month period to cover police basics in classes stretching from self defense to criminal justice. The idea is to expose residents to how a department works so that they will better understand just why police officers do they things they do. Traffic patrols and laws, accident investigations and DUI regulations will be examples of the types of everyday operations that participants will learn about.

“The citizen’s academy participants will be exposed to things like uniform patrol function, traffic laws for things like DUIs, accident investigation and how to make traffic stops,” said Lt. Gaviglia. “There will be other sections, like one on firearms that is optional. If you don’t want to shoot, you don’t have to. We’ll talk about crime scene investigation and narcotics investigation. We’ll spend a session on response to resistance or use of force. Judge Shriver will do a judicial system block. We’ll do a tour of the jail, talk about vehicular pursuits and cover driving.”

Building that relationship with the public, said Lt. Gaviglia, is important. The hope is that, after the academy, residents will have built some sort of relationship with an officer that will allow them to report information or seek it without feeling scared, embarrassed or awkward.

“It opens up avenues for the citizens,” said Lt. Gaviglia. “They will have personal contacts in the police department to pass along information to, and they can give that to their friends and relatives.”

Lt. Gaviglia said that two such academies have been held in the past, but that it has been far from an annual event. If this academy goes well, there may be one a year from now on, or two a year if the demand is great enough. So far, the academy looks promising, with all available slots filled within a short time.

“We’re very excited, we’ve been working about nine months now and we can’t wait for September to get here,” said Lt. Gaviglia. “This class filled up very quick, and we’re very impressed by that.”

While designed to be safe, the academy does have some physical limitations attached to some of the sessions. This, however, should not be too big a hindrance as all sections are optional. If you can’t physically participate in self defense class, you don’t have to. Otherwise, the only limitation is age and the results of a criminal background check.

“Since we are going to expose people to some of the inner workings of the Union Township Police Department, some people won’t qualify,” said Lt. Gaviglia. “Those are people who have committed felonies or some misdemeanors.”

“Anything the student doesn’t think they can do physically they don’t have to do,” added Lt. Gaviglia. “Everything we do is geared towards the individual. You have to be at least 18 or as old as 95, it’s up to the person as to what they can do and how much energy they want to exert. To get a feel for the entire academy, it would be more interesting if they could participate.”