PISCATAWAY, NJ – At the start of each year, the Piscataway Police Department’s Community Policing Section hosts the annual Citizens Police Academy (CPA) where a select group of local residents get to become “police recruits” to learn how the township’s police force serves the township.

According to the police department’s website, the CPA, a 12-week police academy style workshop that this year, started in February “offers residents a new insight into how police officers perform their duties, as well as how their police department serves the community.”

Throughout the academy, officers who specialize in various aspects of policing conduct workshops about the department’s organization and structure, recruitment and training, and the roles and responsibilities of each division and section. The “recruits” also get to ride along with an officer on patrol.

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During Week 6 of the academy training, TAPinto Piscataway was invited to observe at one of the workshops where “recruits” learned how to use an incident report as they investigated a mock robbery that took place in the training room four weeks earlier.

“This exercise shows you what we’re up against in an investigation,” said Lt. Frank Hackler, Supervisor of the Community Policing Section.

He explained how to recognize the personal characteristics of a suspect and how to gather witness information when documenting evidence. “What is our recall and memory in an event,” he asked during his talk.

Hackler also discussed use of force options and the rules in law enforcement in an effort to “break down the walls between the police department and the community.”

“It is important to have a solid relationship with the community,” he said. “We are transparent in what we do. The model keeps the crime rate relatively low.”

He went over the Department of Justice’s report on the events leading up to the police shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent civil unrest in Ferguson, MO, showing video clips of media reports and witness reactions, and explaining how the incidents provided lessons on community policing that he was able to bring to the Citizens Police Academy.

“This is why we have a topic like this, to go over some of the realities of policing,” Hackler said when asked why some of the policing tactics identified in the report were used, such as using a patrol car to block people from walking.

“And why we do things like the National Night Out, so the community can see that we serve them,” added Detective Ray Rose.

“Everyone who comes to this class, their whole perception (of the police) changes,” said Detective Calvin Laughlin.

Dwayne Wheeler, a “recruit” in the CPA has lived in Piscataway for 25 years and finds the program to be very informative.

“Now that I’ve been involved with the Citizens Police Academy, the information that has been provided by the Piscataway Police Department gives me a different idea of what the officers have to face when dealing with the public, or when there might be incidents of questionable uses of force,” he said, mentioning how the academy has changed his views on law enforcement.

As a result of what he has learned while in the CPA, Wheeler said he now teaching his 13-year old son to “have more respect for police officers and understand that they have a job to do.”

“As long as you as a citizen are doing the right thing, you should have no issues or problems,” he advises.

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