Oxford 5-0: Citizens step into police officers' shoes
This semester, Oxford residents and Miami Students can see Oxford Police Department (OPD) in a new light - one that is not just red and blue. The OPD is offering a police-to-community awareness program called the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) that will officially begin its 16th season this Monday.
Created in 2001, the CPA offers a unique opportunity for people residing in Oxford to get a behind-the-scenes experience of what the OPD does, said OPD Community and Business Outreach Officer John Buchholz.
"[CPA] is an opportunity to reach out to the community and to engage them," he said. "It allows citizens to know a little more about the police, and for the police to know a little about the citizens."
After his service in the military and a 30-year career in law enforcement, Buchholz tackled the task of taking over leadership of the CPA in his retirement.
"I work more now than I did before I was retired, but I love it," he said.
His main job is to build a closer relationship between the police of Oxford, and its citizens. According to Buchholz, it offers a chance for citizens to ask and learn about the local law enforcement and for police to learn more about community needs and concerns. And the officers can benefit just as much as citizens from their involvement in the program, Buchholz said.
"The police don't solve crimes, citizens solve crimes. They're the ones who see everything, and they're the ones who know everyone. We just piece it together," Buchholz said. "If the police aren't unintimidating enough for the citizens to trust us, then we are never going to get anything done."
Ideally, Buchholz wants nothing more than for the CPA members to graduate from the academy with not only a better sense of what the OPD is doing, but also with the feeling like they can better communicate with the police.
"I've had skeptics join the class who weren't too fond of law enforcement, only to return the next year because of how much they loved it," he said.
But the CPA is not limited to verbal communication. One of the many unique qualities of the academy is that members are immersed into the daily lives of police officers, firefighters and various other law enforcement officers. According to Buchholz, every week CPA members are given the opportunity to do what the OPD does and to experience it first-hand.
In past CPA sessions, citizens have participated in fingerprinting, cop car ride-alongs, shooting weapons at the firing range, meeting a K-9 unit and putting on S.W.A.T. gear to hunt down a fake gunman in a local high school.
"Every session is different from the last, and no two years are ever the same," Buchholz said. "CPA members are certainly exposed to many once-in-a- lifetime experiences."
The CPA also hosts guest speakers. Past speakers include police officers, detectives and coroners.
OPD Chief of Police Bob Holzworth has been affiliated with the CPA for many years, and though he was hesitant about it at first, he now supports it wholeheartedly.
"At first I believed the academy to be an [inefficient] use of our resources, but fortunately now that I'm over 60, I have an easier time admitting when I'm wrong," he said. "The academy is just wonderful."
Holzworth said he would recommend the academy to anyone and he is sure anyone would love it and get something out of the experience.
Returning CPA member Debbie Vogt cannot stress enough how valuable the academy has been for her. She said just knowing what goes on behind the scenes of Oxford is the most important thing she got out of it.
Vogt, though, joined the academy with slightly different intentions than most. After she was invited to join the CPA at the fall "Welcome Back" community pig roast, she agreed to join in order to be an informed parent.
"Raising high school kids in a college town, it's important for me to know what the city is like," Vogt said. "Obviously Oxford at 2 a.m. is a different city than at 8 p.m., so I wanted my kids to know that I knew what went on, which would hopefully keep them on the good side of the law."
Vogt, along with the many other CPA members, has a long list of memorable stories to share her experiences throughout the years.
"During a ride-along I asked the cop to pull into the Kroger parking lot where I knew my son hung out with his friends," she said. "I'll never forget the look on his face as he saw his Mom pull up in a cop car."
Vogt shared many of her favorite experiences while participating in the CPA. These included shooting pistols at the firing range, marching through a high school in S.W.A.T. gear looking for a gunman, and doing sobriety test on actual intoxicated people.
To her, though, these stories do not even crack the surface of what the academy is like.
Vogt said what is most valuable to her is the respect she has earned for the police over her years in the CPA.
"After experiencing what the police do, I have gained so much respect for what they have to do and the danger that they're in," she said.
Buchholz said he loves how the class currently is, and hopes to continue it this way for years to come.
The first official session of the year is Monday, Feb. 24 and the academy is only open to 20 people.
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