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Cottage Grove Police Citzen's Academy offers close look at officers’ work

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Want to ride in a police squad car — without wearing handcuffs or being read your Miranda rights?

Climb in — and watch your head — when the Cottage Grove Police Department hosts its fourth Citizen’s Academy this summer. It runs 6:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesdays from July 9-Aug. 27.

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Each three-hour session will cover a specific area of law enforcement, with lectures, hands-on exercises and demonstrations of police tactics. Participants will get to shoot police-issued weapons on a firing range, learn about the protocol at a crime scene, and why handcuffing a suspect can be a lot harder than it looks.

Citizen attendees may even opt to play “perp” and get tased.

It may sound like a police fantasy camp, but Cottage Grove Police Sgt. Gwen Martin said the academy is designed as a bonding experience that will give folks a better understanding of the duty, drama and drudgery of police work.

“A lot of law enforcement is 99 percent boredom and 1 percent pure terror,” Martin said.

Martin launched the academy four years ago at the behest of Public Safety Director Craig Woolery. They based it on similar programs around the country.

Academy participants will also visit the Washington County jail in Stillwater and tour the 911 dispatch center.

About a dozen past citizen’s academy graduates went on to join the police reserves, Martin said. 

“They love the one-to-one interaction with the officers,” she said. “They get to see us as fellow citizens. A lot of folks (on the force) live in Cottage Grove. The see us as people. We’re not just a person behind a black and white car that as you drive by you slow down and think, ‘Is he looking at me?’ It humanizes us. It gives us a chance to develop relationships.”

Linda Marx of Cottage Grove enrolled in the citizen’s academy in 2012.

“I don’t have any contact with the police on a normal basis but I’ve always been fascinated by what they did. I really wanted to see it first-hand,” she said.

Marx, who works in the billing department of a health care management company, said she was skittish when it came to firing a gun at the police firing range.  But she said she discovered that she was a pretty decent shot.

“I never fired a gun before in my life,” she said. “I was terrified. Part of me didn’t even want to touch the gun.”

During Use of Force Night, officers will demonstrate how they subdue a suspect using takedowns and control holds. They’ll also demonstrate multiple officer response tactics that often are used in high-speed chases, the serving of a high-risk warrant or a hostage situation. It also may pit five cops against a single suspect who refuses to cooperate — a scene that is played out on nearly every episode of the Fox reality series “Cops.”

Citizen’s academy participants will learn why that kind of force is often a necessary and safer alternative, Martin said.

“Sometimes it looks like you have five or six officers beating up somebody,” she said. “It’s not like that. We’re trying to get them into custody and it’s not easy.”

Cottage Grove resident James Fitzgerald went through the citizen’s academy last year. As a block captain for his neighborhood, he’s familiar with the Cottage Grove police. But the academy still held some surprises for him.

“You don’t realize some of the things that they get into,” he said. “You see it on TV but it’s real life.”

Fitzgerald said he also was surprised that tasers have come to play such an indispensable role in police work. He said he’s tried to encourage others to give the academy a try.

“You’re a citizen partnering with your police department,” he said. “To me that makes your neighborhood that much safer.”

The eight-week academy is free. Applicants must be at least 21 years old and live, work or own a business in Cottage Grove. A background check is required.

The class is limited to 20 people. Applications are available on the city website or from the police department at City Hall, 12800 Ravine Parkway. Applications are due by the end of the day Friday, June 6.

Academy graduates will receive a certificate of completion from the city of Cottage Grove.

For more information, contact Sgt. Gwen Martin at 651-458-6011 or gmartin@cottage-grove.org.

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