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Lexingtonians Learn Inside-Outs of Law Enforcement Through Citizen Poilce Academy

Whether it's patrolling the streets, providing security at public events, or arresting criminals, police are a common sight in large cities.  Despite this public presence, however, it's rare for civilians to have a complete perspective on what goes into making a cop and how the police department works  works as a whole.  In the first of several features, reporter Chase Cavanaugh has the details on a program that lets Lexington citizens do just that.

Since the beginning of March, around 40 Lexingtonians have taken part in the city’s 52nd Citizen Police Academy.  This program provides weekly classes instruction on a variety of police topics, ranging from crime scene investigation, traffic stops, and how to respond to resistance.  Long-time officer and CPA coordinator Debbie Wagner says the academy provides participants with a greater perspective on the Division of Police and how they conduct their work. 

"When things happen in our community, they understand why the police might react in a certain way, and they understand issues of the government, and they understand why the government might do this," she said. 

Apart from classes, the Academy gets to tour different law enforcement sites.  The group has already visited several facilities, including the Fayette County Detention Center and the Federal Medical Center, a mostly-low security prison that helps rehabilitate drug offenders.  Officer Wagner says these visits serve the dual purpose of education and building community relationships.    

“These are things that people just wouldn’t go up to the door and be able to do, but being involved in the Citizens Police Academy, we find it, and I do especially, a privilege that we’re allowed to go on these tours and we get to be a part of their family, and a lot of people who give these tours are Citizens Police Academy graduates,” Wagner said. 

The first April class was led by Det. Eddie Pearson, who is active in the division’s polygraph unit.  He discussed how police officers use body language to see if a suspect is telling the truth, as well as ways officers can apply pressure in an interrogation.  In particular, he focused on how lying increases the brain’s “cognitive load” and shows up in gestures.   While Pearson admits some of these motions are obvious, such as someone expressing nervousness by scratching their neck, he said the lesson was more about contextualization.

"I think most people understand body language and how to use it but what we’re doing is kind of bringing some of the terms around so they can kinda, “oh yeah, I remember doing that as a child,” or “I remember my child doing that when they were young,” he said.                                          

At the same time, he told students it probably wasn’t a good idea to try these techniques on loved ones.  Following this lesson, the class visited Lexington’s 911 center, getting the chance to see how the city prioritizes emergency calls and directs police, fire and medical services.  When staff explained how dispatchers assess the truthfulness of 911 calls, class member Jessica Bierman made a connection with the previous lesson.  

"They use the same kind of things together, in like finding out if people lie.  They just don’t, the 911, I guess they don’t use the whole body language cause they can’t really see the person, but I still think it meshed together cause I still think they used the same techniques," she said.

Body language and 911 response are but a small sampling of the topics covered at the CPA.  In the coming weeks, the class will visit Blackburn Correctional Complex, discuss responses to resistance, and see how police conduct a building search.  The latter is of particular interest to Bierman. 

"Probably the building search.  So they’re like okay, we’re gonna do a building search.  They’re gonna show you the stands, they’re gonna have people acting, and how would you do this, and how would you do that, and oh my gosh, it’s gonna seem like a real kind of deal of what they go through."

Lexington runs the Citizen Police Academy three times per year, and also offers a masters class for those who have previously undertaken the program.  Admission is open to Fayette County citizens 18 years or older with no prior felony convictions.  Additional information on the academy, including times, is available at lexingtonky.gov. 

Chase Cavanaugh first got on the air as a volunteer reader for Central Kentucky Radio Eye, a local news service for the visually impaired. He began reporting for WUKY in February 2012, after receiving his Master’s degree from the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.