RPD offers glimpse into policing through community academy

Reedley Police Department welcomes individuals who live, work and learn in the city to apply to the Community Member’s Academy

Reedley Police Department holds a ceremony for the Javier Bejar Blood Drive. (Kenny Goodman)
Reedley Police Department holds a ceremony for the Javier Bejar Blood Drive. (Kenny Goodman)
Serena Bettis
Published March 22, 2024  • 
11:00 am

REEDLEY – The Reedley Police Department is looking to foster a sense of mutual understanding and appreciation between the community and police force through its Community Member’s Academy.

The Community Member’s Academy is a free program where individuals who live or work in Reedley can attend educational sessions that will teach them about policing policies, criminal law and investigations, emergency response procedures and more. The purpose of the program is to improve communication between locals and the department and build trust among the community.

“What started me thinking about doing this academy was wanting the police department to engage with the community in an environment that can be more of a question-and-answer type of opportunity and cover various topics specific to law enforcement,” Reedley Chief of Police Joe Garza said. 

When police officers interact with the community during festivals and informational events, there’s never enough time to answer all of the questions everyone has, Garza said. Through the community academy, individuals will have the chance to cover everything they’ve ever wondered — and more — about the department and policing in general.

Programs like this one are common in police departments across the country, and Garza said this is a new version of a program the Reedley Police Department has done in the past, although the department has not hosted anything like this for about 15 years.

Garza said a big part of what got the program started again is because there are people within the department who “are willing and wanting to develop a relationship with their community that they serve.” 

The academy is a 10-week program that will meet in the Reedley City Council chambers from 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays beginning May 1 and ending July 3. 

Sessions will be held in English with Spanish translators present for those who need them. 

Garza said it was important to him to provide the academy in this format, as opposed to having two separate sessions for English and Spanish speakers, so that the community will remain together and benefit from each other’s questions and perspectives.

Each week will focus on a new topic and participants will have the chance to speak with officers familiar with that specific area of law enforcement. For example, one session will focus on police dispatching, and participants will hear directly from dispatchers, Garza said.

The introductory session will likely cover the history of the department and law enforcement in general, as well as looking at the overall role of law enforcement within a community. 

The following week will focus on the duties of patrol officers, teaching the community about what is expected of them if they are pulled over by law enforcement and helping them to understand what an officer is seeing and thinking about when they make a traffic stop. 

Garza said he hopes participants come away with a better understanding of law enforcement.

“I don’t expect them to be able to go out to do the work,” Garza said. “They’ll be armed with a bit more information on how and why we do what we do, and the interactions that law enforcement has and how difficult it can be.” 

A significant aspect of that understanding Garza hopes the community gains is for people to not jump to conclusions or speculate when something happens within the city and instead wait for information to come out before they form their opinions.

Additionally, Garza said that the community is going to learn “that what we do is not Hollywood; (that’s) one of the biggest things I hope they get out of this.” 

One thing Garza wanted to highlight was that the program is called the community member’s academy, as opposed to a “citizen’s academy” that the department has offered in the past. Garza said he wanted the name to emphasize that these sessions are open to the entire community, not just United States citizens with a Reedley address.

“If you work or live here or go to school here, we want you to be part of this because you are part of our community,” Garza said.

Those interested in participating must fill out an application available on the police department’s website and email it to policeadmin@reedley.ca.gov

Individuals who live, work or attend school in Reedley are welcome, but they must be age 18 or over, have no prior felony convictions, have no serious misdemeanor arrests within the last year and successfully pass a local police background check. 

The program requires 100% participation to “graduate,” and those who are present and engaged in all sessions will receive a certificate and be recognized during a graduation ceremony at the end of the program; however, Garza said that individuals can still participate even if they cannot attend every session, they just won’t receive a certificate.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter