Notebook: Citizen Police Academy has an eager recruit

First in a series.

Having been on the Huntington Beach beat for more than a year and a half, I've come to learn that being an officer in the city's Police Department is tough work.

I've had opportunities to see firsthand how committed the officers are to keeping the city safe. I have walked the streets of downtown during Halloween, spent time in the dispatch center and gone on a six-hour shift with a fireworks suppression team on the Fourth of July.

So when I heard that the department was bringing back its 11-week Citizen Police Academy from Aug. 27 to Nov. 5, I asked Chief Robert Handy if I could join. He was quick to give me the green light.

Handy has taken the initiative to be more involved with the community. He has organized Coffee with a Cop events every month or so and has taken time to chat with and listen to the concerns of downtown and Oak View neighborhood residents.

Officer Rich Eidlhuber, who is part of the Direct Enforcement Team, which runs the course, cautioned me that the classes won't be as fast-paced as my ride-alongs.

"But this is a good educational program for the citizens just to get a really good idea on how the Police Department functions," he said.

In 2009, Eidlhuber joined his unit halfway through one of the academy sessions and learned how the academy worked. The annual classes were cut from the department's budget later that year, and Eidlhuber has yet to teach his first class. But he said he's looking forward to the program starting again.

This will be the 31st academy, and I'm one of the lucky 20 — whittled down from 40 applicants — who get a chance to experience it.

Eidlhuber said the program will highlight the various branches of the department, including its investigation and patrol bureaus, and include a lecture on criminal justice from Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris.

"He does a phenomenal job with his presentation," Eidlhuber said. "Every time we do a critique of this class, students give nothing but incredible reviews about him and the presentation."

The course includes a simulation in which we will be given firearms with nonlethal rounds to see how we handle split-second, high-stress scenarios.

"A lot of people say that was an eye opener and helps them understand what police officers have to deal with on a regular basis," Eidlhuber said.

I've been excited about this program since I first heard about it in July. I applied because although I often have opportunities not available to the general public, I wanted to see what the Huntington Beach police force has to offer residents.

Now that I've been accepted — I have a spiffy letter from the Police Department to prove it — I'm curious to hear why other residents decided to apply.

I wonder if the group will be like the cast of the 1984 comedy film "Police Academy," starring Steve Guttenberg and Michael Winslow — you know, the guy who did all the awesome sound effects with his mouth.

I'm looking forward to meeting everyone involved with the program, and I hope my upcoming notebooks in the Independent about my experiences will shed light on how Huntington Beach's public-safety officials work.

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