For the past 10 years, people who work and live in Chula Vista have participated in the city's free citizen police academy training with the Chula Vista Police Department.
This year, the program had close to 40 participants from all ages and backgrounds, which was one of the biggest turnouts the police department has had since the academy began. The 11-week training required participants to meet each Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. for 11 consecutive weeks.
The academy was created by former police Chief Rick Emerson to give citizens the opportunity to have a view of public safety from the inside and a better understanding of law enforcement's role in the community. Classes focused on learning defense tactics, pursuit driving, ethics and complaints, performing accident investigations and participating in patrol role-play scenarios.
Leo Baňales is a professional standards unit officer and a facilitator for the academy. He has worked with the CVPD for more than 16 years.
"What's great about this class is that no one is here half-heartedly," Baňales said. "Every evening they are grateful and eager to learn more.
Stacie Davalos is a 21-year-old Chula Vista resident who just finished school at UEI with an emphasis in criminal justice and wants to become a police officer. Davalos said one of her favorite classes involved role-play scenarios.
"They put us in a role-play scenario where we had to talk a person down or shoot them," she said. "It was hard for me because I'm shy but I love learning about what patrol officers do."
Chula Vista Police Lt. Phil Collum said the academy training has helped build stronger bonds within the community. "We've had several participants who have gone on to volunteer for the city," he said.
Davalos said that many people have the wrong impression of police officers, especially youth.
Davalos said the officers are thorough and had answers to every question. "They help you understand - it's a great class that I think everyone should take," she said.
Virgil Ostberg is 68 years old and retired from the Navy after 19 years as chief master of arms. Ostberg has been a senior patrol officer for the city for three years wanted to participate in the academy because he's interested in seeing what officers do day-to-day.
Ostberg said that anyone with an interest in the community would gain from the training.
"You always hear things from the civilians' side and now I have some answers of how and why they do what they do," Ostberg said. "It makes me much more pro-law enforcement."
Baňales said officers understand when people are having a bad day. "I'm a human being -we're not robots. And when someone tells me they are having personal problems and they are honest, the officer may give them a warning but tell them to get off the road so they don't endanger themselves or other drivers."
The printed version of this story stated that current Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano started the citizen's academy. The program started under former Police Chief Rick Emerson's tenure. The Star-News regrets the error.