This article was originally published in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, April 12, 2019.
In an effort to live up to its motto of “community first,” the Alton Police Department is providing residents something they’ve never offered before: a peek into the life of a police officer.
This summer, the Alton Police Department will host a citizen’s academy and an explorer’s program. These two programs, one dedicated to adults and the other to teenagers, will have residents receive firsthand experience in how to be an officer.
“The main goal is to bridge the gap between us and the community we serve and enhance the department so residents get a better understanding of what we do,” Alton police Chief Jonathan Flores said. “It’s going to show them what we do as they get a view of how we serve the community.”
The citizen’s academy will be an interactive experience for the 15 individuals who will be chosen to participate, Flores said. The 8-week program begins Thursday, May 2 through June 13 every Thursday starting at 6 p.m. The program will conclude with a banquet in honor of the citizens in the academy.
“People taking this will do an assortment of things from participating in mock traffic stops and crime scenes, go to ride-alongs and even sit in with dispatchers,” Flores said. “My vision for the program is to result in residents understanding what we do when we’re having to make split second decisions. Through scenario-based instructions, they will understand some of the stressors officers go through and the rigors of this profession.”
Applicants must be 18 or over and be able to pass a routine background check.
For the explorer program, the Alton Police Department is seeking teenagers interested in a career in law enforcement. Unlike the citizen’s academy, the explorer program is more classroom oriented and will feature explorers participating in ride-alongs, court proceedings and even attending competitions and events with explorers from other police departments.
“The goal of the program is to make sure these individuals are provided with good mentorship and the role models to get the skills they need to succeed,” Flores said.
The explorer program celebrates the rich history of Alton with its post designation, Flores added. The explorer program was designated the number 2105 which Flores said was chosen to honor the 21 victims of the deadly 1989 bus crash that killed 21 students in Alton, and Mile 5, the road where the city is centralized in.
“It celebrates the rich history the city has to offer,” Flores said of the post designation.
Applicants must be at least 14 years old, have a minimum of a 2.0 GPA in school and not have any felony or misdemeanor convictions.
“We want to impact our youth with this program,” Flores said. “They’re the future of our society and we want to provide them with life skills they will need to succeed with as they join our workforce and enter adulthood. This will prepare them for that.”
Ultimately, these new programs help the police department be more transparent with citizens.
“With the program residents will get a real clear understanding of how the department runs, what the officers do to serve them and be provided with an opportunity to get to know the officers and police department that serves them and develop a positive relationship with our department,” Flores said. “That is paramount to keep the community safe, it helps tremendously because they are going to trust us and feel comfortable to call us when they notice something suspicious. It’ll impact how we police the city.”