Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Bridging the gap

Granbury PD now accepting applications for Citizens Police Academy


Have you ever thought about what it takes to be a police officer? The strength, the determination — and not to mention the courage — it takes to defend the lives of not only a few people, but an entire town, is astounding.

That’s where the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) comes in.

Provided by the Granbury Police Department, the CPA is a free 10-week course that gives Hood County residents a unique, behind-the-scenes look at what being a police officer is really like.

“The short of it is, it’s a community program to bridge the gap,” Lt. Cris Brichetto told the Hood County News. “Typically, when does law enforcement meet the community? When something bad happens. So, this is a way to bridge that gap, for us to learn from them, them to learn from us, and to ask questions and dispel some myths — because we all know what we’re told.”

Since 2003, GPD’s Citizens Police Academy has educated residents from every age and background about everything from criminal investigations and SWAT to animal control and police K-9s.

According to granbury.org, emphasis is placed on the patrol division as that is the segment of the police department the public most often comes into contact with. Instructors for each course are real police officers, and they will take attendees on an accelerated overview during the 30-hour block of instruction designed to teach them the various operations of the Granbury Police Department.

“You name it. (We teach them) everything that we do,” GPD Police Chief Mitch Galvan said.

Instruction in the topics will consist of lectures, demonstrations, tours and hands-on experiences — the latter of which Galvan said has made the program even better.

“In the past, there wasn’t a whole lot of hands-on stuff. It was just basically people coming in and teaching,” Galvan said. “But Cris has expanded to where they do scenarios, fingerprinting, and they are actually involved in seeing what it’s like.”

Students will get first-hand exposure to the police department, its personnel and equipment, and can put themselves in the officers’ shoes.

"You can talk about taking a fingerprint and show somebody how you take a fingerprint off of glass or something, but to put paper down and have them actually learn how to do it, (is pretty cool),” Galvan said. “You know, they leave and they're going, ‘I know how to fingerprint someone now!’ It's that kind of stuff that we like to see.”

In addition, a virtual simulator will allow students to learn the fundamentals of firearm shooting, similarly to how it’s depicted in an arcade.

"It's also scenario based, which means it'll start up and somebody will actually talk to you, and whoever is operating the scenario can push different buttons,” Brichetto explained. “So, I can push X, which means if you say, ‘Hey, drop the gun,’ I can push X, and they drop the gun. But if you're being maybe too passive and not controlling the situation, I can push Y and it means they lift it up.”

“It's pretty cool,” Galvan said. “Especially when the scenario goes into a situation to where you have to use deadly force, and you can't tell on the screen when you pull the trigger where the rounds are going. But if the bad guy never falls, it means you're not hitting him, so until the bad guy falls, you're still at risk. Then after it's all over and he hits the screen to show where all the shots go and you see all these holes all over the screen, it's like, ‘You might need to work on that a little bit.’”

Galvan said the department prides itself on making the course fun and interesting and added they’ve never had a student leave saying the program wasn’t worth their time.

“Everybody loves it, because they get to see a side of reality of what law enforcement really is, instead of what is depicted on TV,” he explained.

Galvan added the hardest part about dealing with the public is having to explain that shows like “NCIS” are not always accurate when it comes to portraying law enforcement procedures.

"We don't have a supercomputer that will pull up somebody's credit card uses and track their vehicles — and (they think) that we can solve a crime in 30 minutes because they have to do it on the show. There's no such thing," he said.

When Galvan was an investigator, he said there were a few experiences that made him realize just how much residents rely on television when it comes to law enforcement.

"I've had people when I was on the street say, ’We want you to come take DNA samples off all this.’ ‘No, ma’am, we don't take DNA samples for somebody stealing a water hose.' ‘Well, why not? They do it on TV all the time.’ I'm like, ‘Well, no, actually, it costs a lot of money to send something off to get DNA (tested) and it takes about six to eight months before we'll ever see a result of that DNA, and we're not spending that kind of money on property,’” Galvan explained. “If it involves a person getting killed, or sexually assaulted or whatever, then that's when we do DNA. We don't do it for property crimes, and they just don't get that because on TV, they do DNA for everything, and we have to explain to them that's not how it works.”

He said another woman was burglarized and she demanded that Galvan test her entire house for prints, while he continued to explain to her that the process is dirty and results in black powder getting everywhere.

“The whole purpose is for them to have a better understanding of us, and what we do and how it really works, so they don't have these expectations that are way out there,” Galvan said. “But out of all of that, the biggest thing is they get to know us. They get to know the officers who are standing up in front of them giving them presentations. They get to see us as people, just like them. We're members of the community, just like them. We have families, just like them. And they get to see that side of us and who we are instead of just seeing the uniform. They walk away a part of us — and we tell them that.”

Since the program began, Galvan said the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with students leaving the class and having a better understanding of how the criminal justice system works, along with having a better appreciation for what police officers do every day.

"They kind of experience some of it, so they leave here going, ‘These guys are pretty friggin’ awesome,’ which is another thing, we like to show off and let them know how great we are,” Galvan said, chuckling. “But to listen to the reactions, especially when they go through the scenario side, you just smile.”

Former graduates also stated what they loved about the program on the granbury.org website.

Angela Parker, Citizens Police Academy Class of 2008, said the experience was “riveting,” and that she learned “so much about the police department and how we as citizens can help.”

“I really liked the role-playing session!” James Ambrose, a 2022 graduate, said. “Until I did that, I had no idea how stressful it was for the officers on just about every call. It really made me appreciate the officers being able to get called out and remaining calm and aware of their surroundings."

Husband-and-wife duo Tom and Rhonda Dicicco attended the program in 2013. Tom said the academy is a great opportunity to learn about the police department and its service to the community.

“It’s a fun activity, and you get to meet some great folks,” he said.

Galvan noted that many attendees graduate from the class and are overwhelmed by emotions, adding there’s always a select few who shed some tears following the accomplishment.

"When they graduate, I get to have the pleasure of handing them their certificate,” he explained. “Everybody comes in, and we line the wall. When the graduates’ name is called, they go down the wall, and they're greeted by all of us until they get to the end to get their diploma, so it's a pretty big deal, and our guys love it."

Brichetto also explained how attendees in the program are getting a taste of what it’s like to graduate from the police academy itself.

“They don't even realize that I'm putting them full circle," he said. “They're meeting the chief of police, you know, what do we do in our interviews? You meet the chief of police, so (Galvan) gets to meet them first, he gets to talk to them, and then they go through the academy, which is what our guys do. Then at the very end, they graduate, and then they get to come back and talk to the chief of police.”

Following completion of the program, graduates of the Citizens Police Academy are offered the unique opportunity to join the Citizens Police Academy Alumnus (CPAA), the alumni organization of volunteers supporting (and supported by) the Granbury Police Department and promoting an effective relationship with them.

“We tell them that you're now a part of us and that you're welcome here anytime,” Galvan said. “You're now part of the family.”

“The real thing that we give (our students) is the opportunity to come back and then that's where they really get to kind of be involved,” Brichetto said.

CPAAs support the GPD by fundraising and providing equipment, events and benevolence not covered by the governmental budget, continuing education of law enforcement at monthly membership meetings, and supplementing police duties such as intersection control at parades, according to cpaalumni.org.

“When I first started here, we were the only ones to handle the (July 4th) parade, and we only had 15 officers total in the whole department,” Galvan said. “How we did it back then, I'll never know. But now, when you think of how many intersections are up and down that road, we still can't cover all of it. We couldn't do that parade without the CPAA assistants. Truly, they're the reason that parade goes off without a hitch. They're just an amazing group, and they just keep coming back wanting more.”

Additionally, if graduates decide they want to join the CPAA, they will also have the option of becoming a Citizen on Patrol, where they will provide non-confrontational support to Granbury police patrol officers.

The COP program is designed to reduce crime in the community with the obvious presence of an additional vehicle and with additional “eyes and ears” on the streets.

“They actually drive our systems patrol vehicle, and we train them to patrol the neighborhoods,” Galvan explained. “We went from like 10 or so people to three, so we would love to see that expand even more.”

The 2024 Granbury Citizens Police Academy will begin March 21 and will run through May 23. The class meets once a week at the Granbury Police Department Thursday nights from 6-9 p.m. over a 10-week period. There is zero cost to attend, and dinner will be provided for all attendees.

To be eligible to participate in the program, applicants:

  • must be at least 21 years of age.
  • must be in good health.
  • must have a valid driver’s license.
  • must have no convictions of a class B misdemeanor within the past 10 years, and no family violence, class A misdemeanor or felony convictions.
  • must pass a background check.
  • must be able to fluently speak, read, write and understand the English language.

To apply, visit the Granbury Police Department at 2050 NE Loop 567 or apply online at granbury.org. The deadline to apply is March 11.

“Our slogan has always been ‘Excellence Through Cooperative Education,’ and I simplify that by just saying it's a bridge,” Brichetto said. “Don't sit back and judge; come get to know us. We're here for the community, you live in this community, so come get to know your community.”

“I always tell them to come meet us and learn the reality of what we do, and then have fun,” Galvan added. “That’s what it’s all about.”

For more information about the Granbury Citizens Police Academy, email Brichetto at cbrichetto@granbury.org.