In a move designed to improve relations among the town, College and local law enforcement officials, Oberlin Chief of Police Tom Miller has instituted the police department’s new Citizen’s Police Academy.
“Our goal [with the CPA] simply is to give the community a better understanding of police operations,” said Miller. He added that it is not meant to function as a training program.
Oberlin police officers will teach 16 Oberlin city residents about police policies and procedures. The class will cover a range of topics from officer training to the use of force to bookings and investigations over the course of 10 weeks. Academy classes will begin Thursday, March 12.
Miller sees the Academy as an opportunity to prevent repeats of past miscommunication.
“I think lots of times … when we have complaints or concerns about the Police Department it’s a misunderstanding about how we do things and how the community does things,” said Miller.
In the past, the OPD sought to correct such tensions through community meetings. According to Miller these meetings failed to create dialogue because community members only attended when they had specific complaints.
Miller believes that the Academy will be more successful in generating discussion as graduates of the program serve as informal peer educators about police operations.
Miller hopes to “get representation from as many sectors of town [as possible] … We would certainly like some College representation.”
Two seats in each class will also be reserved for nominated Oberlin High School students.
College junior and Student Senate Student-City Liaison Jules Brouillet has been posting flyers about the Academy on campus to encourage students to apply. He hopes that through student participation in the classes, student-OPD communication can be based on more than the periodic party break-up, laptop theft report and off-campus housing orientation advice.
“In general, police only encounter students in enforcement situations,” Brouillet said. “[It would be] good for students to be able to communicate with police more closely.”
But College senior Ramona Barber does not see OPD-student relations as an issue: “[Police] seem to stay off campus [and] strike a good balance with Safety and Security.”
Others, however, recall past tensions.
College senior Daniil Karp said of the police, “When they act [on campus], they usually mess up.” Regarding the Academy, Karp believes, “It’s a good gesture.”
College junior Seth Wimberly is glad to see the OPD making an “attempt” at dialogue “since there have been negative occurrences in the past.”
One such incident in fall 2007, when the arrest of three Oberlin students at a party, sparked controversy with student accusations that OPD officers had acted with racial bias. Shortly afterward, Student Senate proposed that a seat on the OPD Hiring Board be reserved for a College student in order to encourage student-police communication and cooperation.
Senate plans to use graduation from the Academy as one of the requirements for students seeking the Hiring Board seat.
If the program has a high turnout, the OPD will continue Academy classes at least annually in the future.