SURRATT: Citizens on Patrol Academy helps bring insight to Vicksburg Police Department

Published 4:00 am Friday, June 24, 2022

Tuesday night, I spent some time at the Vicksburg Police Department to watch an innovative program.

The members of the Vicksburg Police Department’s first Citizens on Patrol Academy received certificates and VPD shoulder patches to mark the academy’s first 10-week session.

In the interest of transparency, I am a member of that first class.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the program, the Citizens on Patrol Academy was the idea of Police Chief Penny Jones to give local residents a look inside law enforcement and help them better understand how the police department operates.

For the past 10 weeks, the class members were exposed to a variety of topics from patrol operations, narcotics, investigations, domestic violence, DUI and traffic to the criminal justice system.

Members rode with police on patrols, received a course in firearms safety and worked a mock crime scene to determine “whodunit.”

Chief Jones chose the first class and we’ve been the test group; the folks who will help make future classes better and more informative. I was surprised when the chief told me I had been selected as one of the pioneers, but I was interested to see how the department would conduct the academy.

Over the years I’ve covered a number of police-community relations activities designed to improve how departments are perceived by the public. Some have worked well, some were failures and others brought temporary results.

The Citizens Academy, as it’s called, is something completely different. It brings the public inside the department; as Deputy Chief Mike Bryant said, it “pulls back the curtain” to give people a better understanding. And it did.

As a reporter, I’ve had the chance over the years to observe police departments and sheriff’s offices and that experience has given me a better understanding of police work. And while the folks attending the academy don’t get the same exposure to police work that I have, the classes they attend give them some insight that can help them better understand how law enforcement operates.

From my experience, I think the academy is a good program and people should call the police department and ask to attend.

I know there are some people out there who will sit in their recliners and criticize the program and grumble that the academy is some kind of a stunt, but I believe them to be in the minority and are among those who would rather remain ignorant than take the opportunity to have their closed minds opened.

It’s easy to criticize what you don’t know or understand. That’s what makes the academy an important program. It gives the people the department serves a chance to see how it does its job. Law enforcement is an interesting profession and, like many functions of government, it can be confusing and hard to understand.

People have the chance through the academy to better understand.

So to borrow from the song “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” “before you abuse, criticize and accuse, just walk a mile in their shoes.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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