by: Sam Bennett,          
Maria Van Hoon recently completed the Citizens Academy.

After participating in the Citizens Academy, Maria Van Hoon has a whole new outlook on what it means to be a police officer.

'It taught me to stop and take a minute to appreciate what they're up to out there,' said Van Hoon, a Lake Oswego resident. 'Their ultimate goal is to protect us and make sure we are maintaining safe behavior.'

The Citizens Academy, which begins Wednesday, is a 13-week course that involves officers from Lake Oswego, West Linn, Gladstone and Milwaukie who educate residents on many aspects of law enforcement. The course, which is filled this year, is open to residents from those four cities.

Each week, officers from the jurisdictions tackle different components: Police ethics, gang awareness, emergency vehicle operations, crime investigations, patrol procedures and hostage negotiations.

Lake Oswego Officer Mike Brady teaches a class in police driving, which is held at the Clackamas County Public Safety Training Center on 82nd Drive in Clackamas. Students have a chance to drive on a simulator.

'I talk to them about the importance of police driving,' said Brady.

He said the course gives participants a better understanding of the different resources law enforcement has - such as K-9 and SWAT teams and bomb technicians.

'It also gives them a chance to see law enforcement from both sides and an understanding of things we do, as opposed to what they see on TV and in movies.'

'There's so much information, it's like peeling back an onion and seeing the multiple layers of what an officer does,' said Van Hoon.

She said she gained an appreciation of the 'multi-tasking officers do in the vehicles, switching between various databases.'

Participants also learn about the growing problem of identity theft and how to protect their own identities.

'I learned to maintain a very guarded stance about what information to give out, and to shred personal stuff before it leaves the curb,' she said.

Having completed the class, Van Hoon said she has a better idea of what's going through an officer's mind when he pulls someone over or responds to a call.

'When I see an officer at the scene of a crime or accident, my mind immediately goes through the various stages that they have to go through or the personal challenges they may be feeling at the time,' she said.

Van Hoon even convinced her 16-year-old son to do a ride-along with an officer.

'He gleaned so much from that experience, that he came home and got on the phone with his friends and said, 'You've got to do this. It's so worthwhile,'' she said.

Although Lake Oswego has the occasional homicide, suicide and bank robbery, it's not known for a high rate of major crimes. Many calls are for smaller issues - like theft from cars or rambunctious teens.

'Police do take those calls in stride,' said Van Hoon. 'They would rather err on the side of too many calls,' she said. 'They know that people's eyes and ears are open and that their calls might lead to other things.'

Brady said the academy also can get people to shift their opinions of officers.

'Police sometimes look like bad guys because of the enforcement actions they have to take,' said Brady. 'But we're not always understood by everyone. The academy show both sides and the need for enforcement action.'

For more information about Citizens Police Academy, contact Lake Oswego Police Officer Mike Brady at 503-635-0231.

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