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Costa Mesa Citizen’s Police Academy places civilians in the shoes of officers, dispatchers and investigators

Police Chief Ron Lawrence addresses participants of the 2022 Costa Mesa Citizen's Police Academy Thursday, Sept. 22.
Costa Mesa Police Chief Ron Lawrence addresses participants of the 2022 Costa Mesa Citizen’s Police Academy during their first class on Thursday, Sept. 22.
(Photo courtesy of the Costa Mesa Police Department)

Costa Mesa’s Citizen Police Academy held its first session of the fall on Thursday, which over the next eight weeks will give participants a behind-the-scenes look at the training and tactics of sworn officers.

S.W.A.T. maneuvers, crime scene investigation and K-9 handling are just a few of the topics covered by the annual program’s curriculum. Participants will also hear how dispatchers navigate the people who dial 911 through life-and-death situations and will be placed in the shoes of police who respond to them.

In one of the academy’s training exercises, participants role-play as officers and are outfitted with tactical gear and a mock firearm. They are then presented a staged emergency and must distinguish between potential threats and civilians in need.

“I was one of the actors in that, and you would always see in the community members’ face, like ... ‘Thank goodness there are people trained to react appropriately because I would shoot everybody,’” Costa Mesa Police Department Capt. Joyce LaPointe said. “They shot grandma with the doll. They shot a family member coming out of a back room [during the exercise].”

Those who complete the academy tell LaPointe it gives them a deeper understanding of the wide range of situations officers and sheriff’s deputies have to be prepared for as well as an appreciation for the challenges they face.

Many go on to become volunteers for the department, Costa Mesa Police spokeswoman Roxi Fyad said. The program accepts about 20 people a year, she said, and all of them wind up showing up to each and every session.

“I think the most memorable moment for them is going out on a ride-along and being with a real officer, getting to sit in the seat and see what we really do day to day,” LaPointe said. “Because they are kind of shocked. They are kind of surprised at the calls that we go on. There’s no call too small in Costa Mesa ... we can have a neighbor dispute, a barking dog, or some big emergency, and we’re going to go out there and try to make people’s day just a little bit better.”

LaPointe has been involved with the academy since 2008 and said it is one of the department’s most popular events. It had been placed on hiatus due to staffing issues but came back four years ago.

The academy is not a one-sided learning experience, LaPointe said. It is also a way for the police department to connect, face to face, with the people who live and work in Costa Mesa.

“It’s an opportunity to listen to the community and find out what their needs are, what their wants of the police department are, what customer service they expect,” LaPointe said. “If you don’t know what is expected then you can’t provide that service for them.”

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