An academy that teaches ordinary citizens about the ins and outs of the police department has secured nearly 50 participants this year.
For 11 weeks, every Wednesday for three hours, participants will gain an inside view of public safety and ultimately graduate after completing the annual citizens’ police academy.
Last week during orientation, Chula Vista Police Capt. Gary Wedge discussed the administrative side of the department.
In the weeks to come, participants will also learn about firearms, participate in role-play scenarios and pursuit driving.
The citizens’ police academy began more than a decade ago and has had more than 500 residents participate since then.
Police Chief David Bejarano said the community plays a vital role in being the eyes and ears for the department, which relies heavily on volunteers.
The police department has 213 sworn police officers and 126 volunteers.
Grossmont College student Zach Ambrose applied for the academy to learn more about law enforcement.
“I like how it’s almost a mini version of the real academy,” he said.
Ambrose, 19, is currently studying criminal justice and said his interest in law enforcement stems from his grandfather, who was a detective for more than 21 years.
“What I’m interested in is specialties, like SWAT,” he said.
Wedge said the department receives approximately 200 applicants per testing cycle and ultimately a few are selected for a conditional offer of employment.
Frances Nunez, 19, is a full- time student at Southwestern College. While she’s going to school to become a mechanic technician, she’s also interested in getting into law enforcement.
Nunez said she signed up for the class after being encouraged by her mother, who went through the program in 2001.
“I was thinking of maybe joining the Explorers program once I learn more,” she said. “I’m one to go to programs like this to open my mind to different options.”
Nunez said she’s looking forward to firearms training as well as patrol car maneuvers and defense tactics.
“I’m most interested in firearms because since I can remember I was wanting to go to a shooting range to know the feeling of being able to shoot a gun and what they (officers) go through.”
Nunez said she enjoyed the first day and is looking forward to the weeks ahead.
“It’s so much information to take in but I think those three hours are really worth it,” she said. “I like how most of the things are hands on.”
For Chula Vista resident Joseph Marin, the reasons are different for participating in the academy.
“A lot of times not knowing each other is what keeps people from getting involved in doing things for their community,” he said. “I want to be more up to date and learn about what’s going on in my community.”
Marin, 45, brought his then 5-year-old son Gary to the city’s National Night Out in 2010 and has attended the event four times.
Marin is an executive protection agent, in other words, a bodyguard working high threat security.
Marin is also a member of the city’s Community Emergency Response Team, which is how he heard about the academy.
“I like to get involved, period,” he said. “If I see something is wrong, I’ll at least make a call to help a person.”