ONALASKA, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- The Onalaska Citizen Police Academy is a 10 week course offered to community members. The goal is to help the public better understand exactly what police offers do on a day to day basis. The class originally began in 1996 but ended 2006. There were 11 classes and a total of 145 graduates.
When Chief Jeff Trotnic took over the department in 2008, one of his goals was to re-start the program. That was made possible with the help Sgt. Jason Jobe and Officer Leah Myers.
The class met Wednesday night and each week covered a different aspect of police work. Officers with different specialties not only explained what they do, but participants got to do a lot of hands on work.
Lessons included defense and arrest tactics, OWI traffic stops and testing, crime scene investigation and firearms training. There was also an entire class devoted to the growing drug problem in the area.
One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate there's a lot more to the day to day work of a cop than just writing tickets and arresting people.
"We do these types of special events that raise money to give to a charitable cause such as the Onalaska food basket or our Santa's List program," said Officer Leah Myers. "This Citizen Police Academy gave us the opportunity to show our community that we're multifaceted."
"What I want people to take away is, we're people too, but we do have a job to do and we take pride in that, but I want people to know that they can trust us, they can come to us if they need be," said Sgt. Jason Jobe.
The course gives a glimpse into the parts of police work the community doesn't often get a chance to see.
"Our profession is one that's kind of shrouded," said Officer Jim Page.
Officer Myers says it's also a profession that's often misunderstood.
"I think the biggest misconception people have about police is that all we're out there to do is to write tickets or to arrest them," Myers said.
Going in to the course, many participants admitted they didn't know a whole lot about what the average day for an officer was like.
"I guess I only knew them from police shows," said one participant, Eileen Walsh Doyle, a retired teacher.
The Citizen Police Academy is a way to erase those stereotypes.
"We were sending you the officers that had a skill set in place that could educate you on what they do," said Onalaska Police Chief Jeff Trotnic.
One class focused on drunk and drugged drivers.
"To me the OWI is very important because of just the huge problem that it is around here," Page said. "People are dying because of it."
In class, we learned how officers test a suspected drunk driver and they let us practice on volunteers who were actually intoxicated.
"I've always known that those are issues, but it felt like it really hit home more with just hearing them, with their passion about why that's not a good thing to be happening out in the community," said participant Mary Koblitz, a teacher at Onalaska High School/
Officer Page is specially trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of different drugs and he's often called to assess impaired drivers.
"We have so many drugged drivers and right now the heroin issues in the La Crosse area are huge," Page said.
In fact officers say in the last five years there's been a 40 percent increase in the use of heroin.
"I found out how naive I am about what happens in our small town of Onalaska," said Amy Gleason another member of the class. "The drug presentation really surprised me and the amount of drugs that are in our area."
Police say the growing drug problem means an increase in thefts and other crimes because addicts become desperate for money.
"I don't think many people outside of law enforcement understand the full impact that heroin's having on our community," Page said.
Those crimes are probed by the department's two investigators, who are assigned between 200 and 300 cases a year. And they taught us a little bit about what goes in to an investigation.
But why share the ins and outs of police work with citizens?
"We depend on our community members to feel comfortable enough with us to call us and let us know if they've seen something suspicious," Myers said.
"There are 18,000 citizens that live in Onalaska and that's 18,000 sets of eyes that can help us make Onalaska a safer community to live in," Chief Trotnic said.
The Chief and the officers teaching the course emphasized is they'd rather have someone call in, even if it turns out to be nothing, then have someone not call and have something to unreported.
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