Citizen Academy graduates gain appreciation for policing

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO 一 The 2021 Citizen Police Academy graduates: (front row, from left) Janine R. Keys, Janelle Moellers, Ric Anderson; (2nd) Jess Althaus, Nancy Adams, Judy Finley; (3rd) Heather A. Thomas, Jinita Boyd, Jan Keller; (4th) Tracy Pieters, Penny Hartwell; (5th) Shelly Lechnir, Doug Swenson, Tim Fienup, Jon Lechnir.

For more than 20 years, the Marshalltown Police Department has been educating members of the public with the Citizen Police Academy, which allows residents to get an up close and personal look at what officers do on a day-to-day basis.

The academy graduated a class of 17 earlier this week after putting the class on hold for 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and most years see classes of 20 to 25 people. The participants received 10 weeks of instruction including classroom learning and hands-on experiences.

“During sessions, students get to learn about the workings of the Chief of Police, information and technology and other divisions and specialties we have at the police department,” said Captain Chris Jones. “A lot of people participate in this because they have been recommended by people who have been through the academy in the past.”

Judy Finley was in a beauty shop discussing possible volunteer opportunities when a fellow patron mentioned the academy.

“She said it was so much fun, and all the officers were super nice,” Finley said.

The experience Finley had was an ‘eye opener,’ which showed her just how many different ways the police department approaches serving and protecting in Marshalltown.

“I had no idea about some of the programs they do. I’ve been here since 1995, and I had no idea we had officers on bicycles,” she said. “I didn’t know we had a S.W.A.T. team. I just never realized what they did every day.”

Doug Swenson has completed both the fire and police department’s academies. He says he did them out of a general curiosity on what police officers and firefighters do from day to day.

“I was trying to get a better perspective and appreciation for the amount of work that they do (and) some of the more intense situations both departments are involved in,” he said.

After spending the first couple sessions in the classroom, Swenson was ready to get out on the patrol car obstacle course.

“I’d like to do that again,” he said with a chuckle. “We went to the city building where they do mechanical work, and we got to clear the building. We watched officers clear the building, (and) then we got to do it.”

The building clearing exercise was a staged event, but it showed the participants how quickly officers have to make decisions in the field. They also administered field sobriety tests and practiced traffic stops.

In past years, graduates of the academy became eligible to serve as volunteers with the police department. This option isn’t available right now, at least in part due to COVID-19 restrictions. Still, Jones said offering citizens the opportunity to learn more about the department helps strengthen both the MPD and the community.

“It’s, on some level, having more community support,” he said. “It maybe ends up with having one of our graduates of the Citizen Academy providing information that could be helpful in a case. It makes people more comfortable with approaching our officers on the street.”


Contact Joe Fisher at



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