Avon Police Department congratulates its Citizen’s Academy class of 2022 | VailDaily.com

Avon Police Department congratulates its Citizen’s Academy class of 2022

Avon Police Department helps break down barriers with its community classes

The Avon police Department Citizen's Academy Class of 2022 graduates in November. The group celebrated with a shooting range lesson, food and a graduation ceremony.
Courtesy Photo/ Alan Hernandez

After eight weeks of shadowing, learning from and getting an inside look at local law enforcement, participants of the Avon Police Department Citizen’s Academy graduated in November. 

Citizen’s academies are nationwide, detective Alan Hernandez said. In 2009, Avon Police introduced community members to the academy. 

“(The Citizen’s Academy) is for us to engage with the community and for them to get to know us,” Hernandez said. “That’s our biggest thing, building that bridge and making that connection. It’s also about getting rid of those myths, getting rid of that fear, breaking down that barrier between us and the community.”

Shortly after kicking off the academies, Hernandez said the police department realized the need for a version of the program for Spanish-speaking community members. Thus, the Latino Academy was created. 

Hernandez runs the Citizen’s Academy and Latino Academy at the Avon Police Department. He has been involved with the program for a while though, he said. When he was still in high school, Hernandez was volunteering at the Avon Police Department and translating at the Latino Academy. Despite being created after the English-speaking version, the Latino Academy is more popular, he said.

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“I’ve noticed the Latino one fills up faster and is usually bigger,” Hernandez said. “Recently. I’ve been getting a lot of talk from people downvalley, Gypsum and Eagle, asking me to bring (the Citizen’s Academy) down there.”

While there is valley-wide demand for more Citizen and Latino Academies, Hernandez said the Avon Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in the county with a community-education academy. Because of this, he said the other local agencies pitch in with the curriculum and help deepen participants’ understanding.

“It’s great that we’ve created these partnerships with the jail, with the dispatch center, with all these other local agencies because they know more faces than just mine or more faces than just the Avon Police Department,” Hernandez said.

The Citizen’s Academy and the Latino Academy educators aim to give residents an in-depth understanding of law enforcement processes in various stages. So, Hernandez said there are aspects of the curriculum that other professionals within the community can explain better than Avon police officers. For example, those who work in the county jail on a day-to-day basis guide tours through the facility.

Other hands-on learning experiences Citizen’s Academy participants have throughout the eight-week program also include speaking with 5th Judicial District Court Judge Paul Dunkleman about the court system, simulating Standardized Field Sobriety Testing on intoxicated individuals, and even driving police cars. 

Claire Noble, a public information officer for Eagle County and 2022 graduate of the Citizen’s Academy, said driving the police cars was her favorite part of the program.

“We drove the various police vehicles through obstacle courses and then rode with experienced officers driving through the same course,” Noble said. “They pushed the envelope on their cars’ performance — I had no idea SUVs could make such tight turns at such high speeds.”

Year-to-year, Hernandez said the Citizen’s Academy and Latino Academy curriculums stay relatively consistent. However, that hasn’t stopped people from participating multiple times.

“I actually have people who finish the Latino one and they know enough English and they liked it that they go back in right away and do the English one,” Hernandez said. “I’ve had people that did it last year and came back for another year. I’ve had people that did it five years ago and wanted to see if anything has changed.”

In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 limited what the Citizen’s Academy and Latino Academy were able to do. Hernandez said this year’s participants were the first in two years to tour the jail and the dispatch center. 

Back on track to educate the community in the programs, Hernandez said enrollment also bounced back and the 2022 class was the largest Citizen’s Academy class that Avon Police Department has ever had. 

Hernandez said the Latino Academy typically kicks off in mid-July. After the eight-week Latino Academy, the Citizen’s Academy usually starts in early September. The classes for each are held Monday evenings and the final class is typically held at the Eagle County Sheriff’s Range.

“We have a pistol range, a rifle range and then a shotgun range, so they get to shoot those three,” Hernandez said. “They have a firearms instructor there who is guiding them and teaching them.”

After shooting, Hernandez explained that students enjoyed a graduation ceremony as well as an evening of food and socializing. 

“A lot of people aren’t aware of it, that they’re getting a certificate, they’re getting challenge coins, so they’re pretty happy and excited,” Hernandez said. 

Looking back at the end of a Citizen’s Academy, Hernandez said it’s always nice to reflect on how much more comfortable people become toward the end of the course, not only around one another but also around police officers.

Hernandez explained that becoming more comfortable with local law enforcement can not only lead better community engagement but can also help people feel safer reporting crimes they might not otherwise want to report. 

“It brings me a lot of joy to see them be so comfortable that they can come up and say, ‘hi’ and talk,” Hernandez said. 

Aside from getting comfortable with local law enforcement officials, Noble explained that having better insight also helped her develop a more profound respect for what officers do to serve the community.

“Without fail, the officers who spoke to our class talked about their commitment to our community and the residents and visitors in our valley,” Noble said. “Their sense of duty, desire to help and compassion for others should not have been a surprise, but it was. I, with more residents, appreciated just how much these officers care about the community they serve.”

Hernandez said participation in the Citizen’s Academy or Latino Academy has inspired several individuals to take up local careers in law enforcement, whether it be police officers, dispatchers or even volunteers. 

“It’s great because we get people who tried it and realize, ‘Hey, maybe this is something I really want to do,’ and we’ve had good officers come of it,” he saidd.

Hernandez said anyone interested in enrolling in the next Avon Police Department Latino Academy or Citizen’s Academy checks the program out. He said anyone is welcome to attend after passing a basic background check. 

“Law enforcement is an integral part of our community,” Noble said. “Attending the academy provides a better understanding and appreciation for the role law enforcement plays in making Eagle County a great place to live, work and play.”

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