Following was extracted from an undated history of the Citizen Police Academy.....
Several years ago the Houston Rockets were facing the Boston Celtics in the second game of the NBA final, and all over Houston and Texas people were gathering to watch the game. However, a group of 22 people in Missouri City, Texas was gathering to face something very new, different and exciting. This group of 22 people under the guidance of Lt. Bill Ennis, (at that time the Community Relations Officer in Missouri City, Texas) were members of the very first Citizen Police Academy ever held in Texas.
Bill Ennis, the founding father of Citizen Police Academies in Texas, has been in law enforcement for his entire life. It is jokingly said that he was here during the horse and buggy days. He started his law enforcement career with the Texas Highway Patrol in 1957, and was stationed in the Valley area. He was promoted to Sergeant with the Highway Patrol and transferred to Fort Bend County, where he retired after twenty years of service. He then joined the Missouri City Police Department in July 1977 as their Training/Community Relations Lieutenant. After seventeen years with Missouri City, he retired to become the Chief of Police in Jamaica Beach, Texas. Today he is working with the CID Division of Galveston Sheriff’s Department and is the head of security for Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas.
Chief Ennis got the idea of the Citizen Police Academy from the Orlando Police Department. He read about their program that had just started in an issue of FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. The article so impressed him that he spoke with Lt. Ronald E. Ferguson of the Orlando Police Department and stated the program in Texas.
Orlando’s CPA was the first of its kind in the United States. Orlando borrowed the idea from the British, specifically the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, Middlemoore, Exeter. They called it the Police Night School and it was established in 1977. Their academy was ten evenings and when the pre-publicity went out the response was immediate and they had to established a waiting list from the beginning. The first class had seventy persons ranging from professional people through retirees. As today, they discovered through the classes that most of the general public was evidently ignorant of the features of police work that the average police officer takes for granted. Even something as basic as rank structure is only vaguely understood, let alone the complexities of a modern police organization.
The Orlando Police Department held their first class in September 1985 with a hand-selected group. They too held their first class for ten weeks, meeting three hours once a week. They too discovered that the general public was ignorant of most the features of police work. During their graduation the chief addressed the graduates and each was presented with a certificate of completion, an Orlando Police Dept. cap, and a commemorative paperweight.
Chief Ennis’ first class was held 1986 and consisted of roughly half men, half women with ages ranging from a 17-year-old high school student planning a career in criminal justice to a 70-year-old retiree interested in starting a neighborhood watch program. Each student received a T-shirt, a cap and a notebook containing information about what they were to learn over the next few weeks.
His instructors for this first class probably enjoyed the course as much if not more than the citizens. The interest they received from the public and goodwill they felt was worth the time they put in. They were glad to show the public that there was a good side to police officers. Many were surprised at how much the public wanted to understand more about what the police were doing and how much they understood.
The initial classes consisted of a history and overview of the criminal justice system; training required to be an officer; criminal investigation; juvenile law and child abuse; child pornography, community relations; traffic, arson, SWAT, firearms; shoot, don’t shoot; Identification, communications; and records, warrants and municipal court. Each instructor was at freedom to cover any and as much information as he or she saw fit. Each class was to last about three hours but most night went longer due to the interest and questions presented by those in attendance.
The highlight of the academy for most was the shoot don’t shoot night. On this night the citizens are given the chance to see how an officer feels when he has to search a building. They are given a gun loaded with blanks, safety goggles, a flashlight and then sent into a building/house to located the intruder. There are good-guys and bad-guys throughout and they have to decide who is who. It is really surprising after this exercise how much more understanding and respect was given to officers that do this routinely. Many citizens commented about how their adrenaline was “really starting to pump” although they knew this was only a game.
Since this first class the Citizen Police Academy concept has grown more than Chief Ennis has ever expected, but it has grown in a way that has been very positive. Academies are being held all over the state and new ones are starting each month.
One tremendous asset that has come from these classes is the Police Academy Alumni Association. Once the classes’ graduate the citizens were so excited about their new knowledge that they wanted a way to return the goodwill to the police. As such the formation of the Alumni Association was created. Again the first one was formed in Missouri City after the completion of their third class. They formed it because a group the people that attended the academy saw a need for new equipment for the SWAT team. They decided to have a fund-raising function to raise monies to purchase as much equipment as they could for SWAT team and/or police department. They still hold this fund raising event each year on the third September of each year for the same purpose. Over the years they have purchased thousands of dollars of need useful equipment for the police department.