The Boston Police Department held the first session of a new Citizens Police Academy for Area B-3 residents on Monday evening at the BPD’s training facility in Hyde Park. For the next three weeks, the “cadets” will be bussed around the police academy and other law enforcement locations in order to get a taste of what it means to be a police officer patrolling the streets of Boston.
There will be a session every Monday evening over the next three weeks, starting promptly at 6 p.m. According to officers, the exercise is an attempt to promote understanding between the police and community members, a relationship which is often named as an area of miscommunication.
“We love bringing things like this to the forefront, to be as transparent as we can with the community...to increase community involvement so that they know what officers go through,” said Deputy Superintendent William Gross.
During Monday’s first session, some 20 residents — most of them from Mattapan— were introduced to some of the training scenarios that actual police cadets participate in, from firearm simulators and a breaking and entering scenario, to legal training in a full-scale replica courtroom complete with a stand, jury, and legal books adorning the bookcases.
“It was an eye-opening experience. Whenever you remove the veil it makes things a lot easier to understand.” said Russell Holmes, a newly-elected State Representative for the Sixth Suffolk district which includes Mattapan. Holmes attended the session with his wife Sheree. “As a community, we are thinking about how we become more educated, more involved and more engaged.”
“This really allowed me to put myself in the perspective of a police officer,” said Wes Williams, who explained that the demonstrations gave him new information on a recent arrest at Roxbury Community College that some have cited as an example of police brutality.
The Citizens Police Academy was last conducted for Mattapan residents in 1996, and was brought back into operation when community members in district B-3 made suggestions to the leaders at the police station. Constituents insist that the return of the citizens academy is not a reaction to recent episodes of violence in Mattapan. According to Myrtle Huggins, president of the Dorchester/Mattapan Neighborhood Council, she and her fellow community members first began asking for the return of the Police Academy five years ago, under different leadership at the Police Department.
“We wanted to go in and find a little bit more about out how the police operate,” said Huggins, “but we also wanted to be educated, ourselves...so that we know our rights.”
Deputy Gross says the police department will be open to future police academies.