Community Police Academy turns police doubters into advocates and inspires supporters


If you think you don’t like police or policing, the Santa Ana Police Department wants you to meet the officers and learn about the work. That’s part of the goal of the Santa Ana Police Department’s Community Police Academy, which graduated its 10th class recently.

On May 10, 36 residents graduated from the 11-week class at the Daniel Hale Community Room. Of the graduates, 28 say they are now considering careers in law enforcement. However, not all of the graduates came into the class as true blue fans.

One of those, Myra Emiliano, came in wary of the police from the depictions she saw on social media platforms and from her neighborhood.

“Now I see it in a different way,” she said.

The Community Police Academy members stand with officers of the Santa Ana Police Department in front of the station.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Emiliano had also been terrified at the prospect of her son entering the police force, but now feels more assured that he will be safe.

“He’ll be in good hands,” she said.

Javier Robles of La Habra and his wife have a different perspective as well. In his neighborhood, he said, “we don’t call cops. I always had a negative view. I thought they don’t do anything. That’s why I took the class, to learn more.”

Sgt. Garry Couso said in the previous academy class there was a graduate, who admitted he used to “give police the middle finger.” Now, the man is a supporter. The academy, Couso said, “Truly changes minds. He came in closed-minded and left open-minded.”

Officer Carlos Luevano talks to graduates of the SAPD Community Police Academy as they are gathered at police headquarters for one last time.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

In addition to those who want to join police departments, Emiliano and Robles are the kinds of people the program seeks to attract.

“We ask them to have an open mind,” said Cmdr. Joseph Marty, who heads up Community Engagement at SAPD. “Give us the opportunity to educate you on everything we do – and why. We hope to turn activists to advocates.”

Deputy Chief Robert Rodriguez addressed the graduates.

“Take everything you’ve learned and share it,” he said. “It doesn’t end here.”

Desiree Miranda, who majored in criminology in college, enjoyed the real-world learning during the SAPD Academy.

“It’s nice to get a behind-the-scenes look and see things you don’t learn in class,” she said.

Police Service Officer Nancy Lopez gives a rose to Jennifer Carranza as all mothers receive a rose for Mother’s Day during SAPD’s Community Police Academy graduation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Alexis Ramirez, 27, said the program absolutely strengthened his resolve to pursue a career in law, hopefully with the Santa Ana Police Department.

“It’s something I want to do,” he said. “Why not give it a try now? I’m here and I love it.”

Although the intent of the program is not as a recruiting platform, each class has included graduates who pursue the profession. According to Sgt. Couso, several SAPD officers came out of the Citizen’s Academy. He also stays in touch with graduates considering law enforcement careers and helps guide them through the process.

“For some people this could be the springboard, the foundation,” Couso said of future law careers.

A rose was given to each of the mothers for Mother’s Day during SAPD’s Community Police Academy graduation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The Citizens Academy is patterned after similar programs in local cities and nationally. The first citizen police academy in the United States was established by the Orlando Police Department in 1985 and was modeled after a British program started in 1977.

Over the course of the academy, the students were introduced to a wide swath of policing work and activity. They spent time in various divisions, including crime scene investigation, patrol, investigations, jail operations, traffic, SWAT, and the K9 unit. They visited the department’s headquarters, training facilities, and went on ride-alongs. They got some hands-on lessons with evidence collection and analysis and practice firing less-lethal weapons.

Hector Valadez, 22, is another resident with aspirations of joining the department. A Marine veteran, Valadez has already started the application process. He says Santa Ana would be his first choice if the opportunity arises. He was surprised at the assets and avenues SAPD offers.

“This department is big and well-funded and they’re always busy,” which he said fit his personality.

The highlight of the program for him was “seeing how SWAT works.” Ideally, he said, if he became an officer that’s a detail he would want to join.

“They’re the best of the best,” he said.

SAPD Community Police Academy graduates gather at police headquarters as they complete their course.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The final class included classic graduation elements, such as the awarding of certificates and scrapbooks from the class to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” There was also a potluck, raffle, slideshow, and, since it was Mother’s Day in Mexico, roses for the women in the class.

At the conclusion, the newly minted graduates each had opportunities to speak. Many said the process either solidified their perspective of police or inspired them to continue exploring law enforcement as a career. And the doubters admitted they were converted.

“We didn’t want this to end,” Couso said to the class. “We thank you for your trust. You made it work. This is your police department.”

SAPD Community Police Academy graduates on the front steps of the police department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge