Article for Medill: Citizen police wrap up training

Hand-to-hand combat, a bagpipe player, men in uniform and gunfire. Were it not for the cookies and coffee, it could have been war.

On Tuesday night students in the Niles Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy (CPA) had their final class before they accept graduation certificates at next week’s graduation ceremony.

The class kicked off with sparring between two martial artists from Shim’s Taekwondo Academy in Niles. They punched, kicked and grappled until one of them got tossed to the floor, his arm twisted behind him by his foe. Then they took out small boards and warned the academy students: Wood will fly.

A few students changed seats and the martial artists, one of them holding the board while the other stared it down, promptly snapped the board in half with a jumping kick. The wood, as promised, flew.

Then came a cop in a kilt. He carried bagpipes.

Owen Masterton, an officer at the Glenview Police Department, blew his bagpipes and filled the tight quarters of the conference room – decorated with American flags – with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

The performances were just part of several activities capping the 12-week CPA program designed to give Niles residents an intimate look at police work. Topics covered in the class included canine units, terrorism, juvenile law, domestic violence, gang awareness and evidence collection. Students also have the chance to get out of the classroom by accompanying police on patrol and driving a police car while performing a mock traffic stop.

Niles Finance Director George Van Geem estimated the CPA program costs the village of Niles less than $5,000 a year.

CPA alumni often volunteer to assist the police department with law enforcement conferences and programs, said Officer Charles Law, a coordinator of the CPA.

Alumni have done work for the National Night Out program – where citizens learn what they can do to reduce crime in their neighborhoods – and the Child Safety Seat Checks program, where police help citizens install child safety seats. Ninety percent of the seats are installed incorrectly, Law said.

Because of their familiarity with police work, CPA alumni may be asked to fill the ranks of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), said Officer Robert Tornabene of the Niles Police Department. The CERT program, still under consideration by the Niles police, would create a team of people who could be asked to assist the police department in the event of catastrophe, Tornabene said. A grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would pay for CERT training and equipment, he said.

Made up of about 15 women and men with ages ranging from 24 to 80, the latest CPA class offers Tornabene a diverse group of people from which to choose members of CERT.

Niles resident David Craig, 24, said the CPA taught him a “mixture of all things.” How police position and exit their cars during traffic stops was a particularly interesting fact, he said, because it erased some of the mystery he felt surrounded police work.

“It [police work] is just common sense,” he said.

A desire to better understand police attracted Niles resident Crida Leblebijian, 40, to the CPA program.

“We only see them [police] when they’re writing you a ticket,” she said. “I wanted to know everything.”

Leblebijian got what she asked for.

For part of the last class, she and her classmates crammed into a small room with Officer Carl Kully. A window took up most of one wall that, along with a door, separated the students from a 75-foot-long firing range used by the Niles police for shooting practice. The class nodded their heads as Kully explained gun calibers, gun safety, bullet speed, and the difference between a magazine and a clip.

Kully drew laughter out of the class when he took a long rifle and said as he *censored*ed it, “If you ever hear this noise, it’s time to run.”

After the introduction, students were taken three at a time into the firing range. Kully and assisting officers showed students how to safely load a revolver and gave pointers on gun-holding techniques – keep your hands on either side of the grip, keep it straight and steady, and focus on the gun’s site, not the target. Lesson learned, students pumped six bullets through a paper target hanging about 15 feet away.

“I hadn’t shot a gun since I left the war,” said Joseph Musso, 80, a CPA student who served in World War II. “It was very exciting.”

Musso’s classmates echoed his excitement and added that they had a deeper respect for police officers after completing the CPA.

“They [police officers] deserve the title of hero because they choose to put themselves in harm’s way,” Leblebijian said.

It is that kind of praise that inspires Officer Tornabene. “It makes everything we do worthwhile because we know there are people out there that actually care,” he said.

The CPA’s Graduation ceremony will be held at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 18 in the Niles Village Hall, 1000 Civic Center Drive.

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