Police academy for the people

In just eight weeks, the students of Tiffin Police Department’s citizens academy have learned much of what it takes to be a police officer.

They’ve learned about drug identification, impaired driving, how to process a crime scene and even how to shoot a firearm.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Dawn Iannantuono, one of 13 students in the citizens academy.

Iannantuono said she signed up for the academy because it sounded interesting, and she has not been disappointed.

“Every night has been very different and very interesting,” she said. “There’s so much to learn. Every night, I have been totally engrossed in what they’ve tried to teach us and totally fascinated.”

Iannantuono, an 18-year Tiffin City Board of Education member, has been so fascinated with the classes, she’s missed two school board meetings to attend. Iannantuono said she rarely missed those meetings in the past.

Her favorite class, she said, has been the firearms training.

“I’m really not fond of guns at all, but I’ve really enjoyed the shooting. It was more fun than I expected it to be,” she said.

Richard Hughes, another student of the academy, said he, too, has been pleased with the classes.

“I think what the program is doing is really great,” he said. “I like the depth of it.”

Hughes decided to sign up for the academy because he wanted to get involved with a block watch organization after experiencing about a dozen break-ins since 1992. He also wanted to have a better knowledge of the police department, he said.

“I basically wanted to learn more about the operation of the police department and what I can do as an independent citizen,” he said.

Hughes said a surprising element of the drug identification class was learning about prescription medication and its effects.

“I definitely have deeper appreciation for what law enforcement is doing here in town,” he said.

The citizens academy has been meeting weekly for the past eight weeks at the Tiffin Police Department. With one class left, graduation for the students is nearing.

Iannantuono said Sgt. Jared Watson, the instructor, has been great with the students. He has been assisted by Officer Becca Timm.

“They couldn’t be more accommodating or friendly. They’re just so patient and so forthcoming with information,” Iannantuono said.

Watson, who has served on the Tiffin Police Department since 2005, said Chief Fred Stevens came up with the idea to form a citizens academy about a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, at that time, there were not enough applicants. Finally, with enough students to form a class, this year marked the police department’s first citizens academy.

“I think it’s going really well,” Watson said. “We have a lot of very dedicated people coming to every class.”

Watson said the classes give him the opportunity to interact with members of the community in a positive way and, in turn, community members get to see the inner workings of the police department.

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to show folks how it’s done and how it really goes,” he said.

Throughout the class sessions, many of which are hands-on, Watson has been able to debunk TV and movie portrayals of police work.

“TV and movies make law enforcement look very dramatic,” he said. “This is an opportunity for people in the community to see how the job really is.”

“It gives a little bit more transparency to what the police department does on a regular basis,” Stevens said. “It’s more of an outreach to the community.”

This week is the academy’s last session, and the students are to learn about the court system and the victim assistance program. A canine demonstration and a Special Response Team demonstration also are scheduled.

The police department hopes to offer the next citizens academy in the fall or spring, Stevens said.

“I highly recommend this to anybody,” Iannantuono said. “I don’t think people realize how much officers put on the line for the community and how much they do for the community.”

“It is Tiffin, but it is a dangerous job. It’s not a job I’d want to be doing,” Iannantuono said.