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Viewpoint: Police citizen academy can be energizing experience

Kneeling and wearing wires taped to my shoulder and lower leg, I braced for pain.

Then, for a brief moment, my physical abilities were limited to involuntarily blurting an expletive as I flailed forward and my face kissed the mat beneath me.

What a strange feeling to be zapped by a police Taser. Even stranger since I had volunteered for the shocking yet short-lived punishment.

It was part of my experience a number of years ago as a participant in a police citizen academy program. The department was starting its academy that year, and as the local reporter who covered the police department I was encouraged to enroll and write about it. Among many topics covered in the academy, there was a discussion on the use of non-lethal stun guns.

And, obviously, a shocking demonstration.

I thought back to that episode recently while looking over information about the Cottage Grove Police Department's upcoming Citizen's Academy, its third in as many years. (See 1A for details on that.) While I've not been through Cottage Grove's academy, I can vouch for the concept: it's a valuable tool for local law enforcement to discuss their work with the public, and it can be eye-opening and informative for residents, especially those whose contact with police is otherwise limited.

Pair a cop with a bunch of curious citizens in a comfortable environment and the conversation that follows can be humorous, serious, probing and enlightening.

Law enforcement can be dangerous, complex work. A well-structured citizen academy can help explain those complexities and maybe add context to an experience your or someone you know had with law enforcement -- both positive and negative. I'd bet police also learn from the experience too.

Beyond the education aspect, many people probably would find the experience just kind of fun. Who doesn't want to learn which drugs are being found in your town, how traffic stops are conducted, where evidence is stored and what the inside of a squad car looks like?

It's like the adult version of a grade-school visit to the police station.

So give the upcoming Cottage Grove Citizen's Academy some thought. At no cost and full of information and demonstrations, you could find it a stunning experience.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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