Most times when Gloucester police interact with residents in their roles as officers, adrenaline runs high and small talk is sparse.
But for the past six Wednesdays, officers have met with citizens in a more positive environment — Gloucester’s Citizen Police Academy.
”People don’t call us up at 6 at night and say ‘hey my daughter just told a great joke at the dinner table, why don’t you come listen to it?’” Police Chief Leonard Campanello. “They call because there’s an emergency or someone’s having a bad time or there’s a guy to chase. The academy is an excellent way to get police officers and citizens in a positive atmosphere and show residents what we do on a daily basis.”
Wednesday night, 34 residents gathered in the Gloucester District Court house at 6 p.m. for their weekly classes, all anticipating the night’s course with fresh excitement. The group, which included young men in hoodie sweatshirts, retirees with grayed hair and even two city councilors — Melissa Cox and Paul McGeary — geared up for K-9 demonstrations and a hands-on firearms safety class.
Participants have grown familiar with each other over the six weeks, spending two hours a week in programming that included a tour of the police station and of Middleton Jail, a ride along with patrol officers, a course on crime scene investigation and fingerprinting. One night even featured Breathalyzer tests, during which five of the classmates acted as guinea pigs, drinking alcohol then performing sobriety tests and Breathalyzers for police.
Each of the five volunteers had secured rides home ahead of time and police carefully monitored their drinking, but the stories that emanated from that week’s course had the group giggling and snickering all over again a week later.
Along with creating fun memories, the course has acted as a valuable tool in teaching residents about police work, resident Ross Burton said.