Felix Canales uses a gun hooked up to a laser during simulation training put on by the South Bay Regional Public Safety Training Center at the Citizen's Police Academy through the Morgan Hill Police Department. View more photos of the Citizen's Police Aca

As the city of Morgan Hill’s inaugural Citizen’s Police Academy comes to a close, the couple dozen residents who participated will graduate with a glance behind the scenes of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
As the city of Morgan Hill’s inaugural Citizen’s Police Academy comes to a close, the couple dozen residents who participated will graduate with a glance behind the scenes of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

The 12-week academy, similar to those employed by nearby cities including Gilroy, is an educational program that introduces regular citizens to police work from the perspective of officers, judges, prosecutors and dispatchers.

Starting in April, every area of police work, from animal control and dispatch services to marksmanship, SWAT and use-of-force techniques have been explored in weekly classes led by local experts from MHPD and other agencies.

Also covered were the process of prosecuting a crime once a suspect has been arrested, how child abuse cases proceed through the courts and how police might investigate a domestic violence incident.

The city plans to continue offering the class to residents with another session in the fall, according to police Chief David Swing.

“We see a tremendous value in the program, as a way to encourage involvement from the community and in the community, and a way to continue to recruit a cadre of volunteers that will provide some of our non-emergency services in Morgan Hill,” Swing said.

CPA student Chad Stickels, 46, said he signed up for the academy because he wanted to see how he could become more involved in promoting safety in the community, plus his 23-year-old son is thinking about becoming a police officer and Stickels wanted to learn more about the job.

“I like Morgan Hill. It’s my community,” said Stickels, who lives in the Paradise Park area. “We had a few break-ins in my neighborhood last year, and I’ve been interested in starting a neighborhood watch. And I just wanted to be more involved with the police in our community.”

An unexpected benefit of the CPA so far is it has allowed the residents and local officers to get to know each other on a personal basis, Stickels added. Graduates of the CPA are also eligible to participate in the Volunteers in Policing, another new program to be launched by the city later this year. Stickels said he is strongly considering signing up for VIP, which trains residents to assist the MHPD with non-emergency public safety services.

One recent class placed students in an interactive video shooting simulator contained inside a trailer. Stickels, a general contractor, said the high-tech video game-like system that mimics scenarios involving potentially violent, armed suspects was so life-like it caused his heart rate to jump.

“I’ve been around guns my whole life, but it’s a whole different ball game in a tactical situation, rather than just going out to the range,” Stickels said. “Even in the simulator your heart’s pumping, you’re firing on somebody and they’re firing on you – it was pretty eye-opening for me.”

An earlier session turned the class into a SWAT team, the police station into a hideout, air-powered pellet guns into pistols and officers into suspects in a role-playing demonstration of the specialized tactics sometimes employed when police foresee the need to prevent a dangerous public standoff.

Officer Ken Howard, who CPA’s implementation earlier this year, has been pleased with the enthusiasm that both the instructors and classmates have brought to the inaugural academy. One of the chief goals of the CPA was to generate interest in volunteer programs, and the first class has accomplished that as several students have already submitted VIP applications.

Howard said he plans on using feedback from the spring academy’s participants to refine the fall CPA.

Student Julie Dieterly, a 49-year-old accounting manager for a general contractor, said she signed up for CPA for a variety of reasons, including to be educated about the justice system and to learn more about how she can be involved in the community.

Dieterly, a south Morgan Hill resident, said she is also thinking about signing up for VIP.

“I learned there is a lot more involved than patrol officers (such as) school resource officer, SWAT team, hostage negotiation team, Animal Control – also they’re overworked and underpaid,” Dieterly said in an email.

Another classmate said he was pleased to learn through his involvement in the CPA that Morgan Hill’s residents are dedicated to the community.

“I’ve been very impressed with many of our classmates,” said Anthony Eulo, a program administrator for the city. “There’s a number of people that are very interested in improving our community, and it’s heart warming.”

View more photos of the Citizen’s Police Academy at our

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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