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Citizens Police Academy-week 1: intro & academy tour

Want to know more about your local police department? Ever wondered if a cop’s job is really like it is on TV? Interested in opportunities for law enforcement careers? See if your city/county has a citizens police academy.

Police departments offer the CPA as a way to keep in touch with the local community, foster good relationships, build public trust, and enhance civilians’ understanding of police operations and challenges.

I was lucky enough to be accepted to Fairfax County’s 20th CPA group, and had my first class tonight. The Chief of Police talked about department workforce statistics, his biggest crime concerns, and some of the challenges the department faces in finances and recruiting.

After a quick break, we got a tour of the Criminal Justice Academy where all recruits train. In addition to classrooms, a well-equipped gym, and a martial arts training area, the academy has a small “city street” with mock ups of various businesses for the trainees to practice responding to situations in different environments. There are also mock house/apartment interiors, a third-grade classroom, and an auto parts store.

One of the academy instructors, a master police officer, went over the application requirements, what types of standards and testing the recruits go through, the rank structure, how the department is organized (both physically and the org chart), where the money comes from, and some statistics on crime and officer deaths.

We also got an interesting overview of the department’s history. My favorite part was the newspaper clipping of the county’s first female police officer (1946). She worked as a dispatcher, and the caption under her photo read “First pretty cop”. It wasn’t until the 1950s that women served as detectives, and women didn’t go on patrol until the 1970s!

Both nationwide and in Fairfax County, female officers make up about 12% of the police force. I was surprised. That’s even lower than the military (with the exception of the Marines: ~6%). The good news in my county is that there are a fair number of women in supervisory and command positions, so maybe that visibility will help with future recruitment.

Tonight was just the overview and it was fascinating. Future classes look to be even more interesting, and at some point, I should be able to do a ride-along. I can’t wait to share the experiences with you!

Tell your friends!


  1. KM Fawcett


    Awesome, Gwen! I’ve always wanted to do this. I can’t wait to hear more about it. How many classes is the course? (sorry if you mentioned it and I missed it.)

    • Reply

      There are ten classes, plus a graduation day at the shooting range/driving track. I’m planning to do a post for each one. I’ve heard so many good things from people who’ve attended before. If you get a chance, I’d recommend it.

  2. Curtis


    We were treated to a full blown four man fight on the local Wal Mart parking lot at the “late” hour of 7:00 p.m. I called the local PD. Their response strategy — show up long after the dust settled and the combatants left the scene. Reviewing Wal Mart tapes involves less risk.

    The 911 responder asked me, ” Are there any weapons involved, guns knives?” There weren’t. She concluded the conversation with, ” Have a good time.”

    Ya gotta love the South. 🙂

  3. Curtis


    The GBI has taken over the serious policing of our part of South GA. The good-ol-boy system is kind of broken.

    We have plenty of drugs, gambling ala back of the convenience store type and the continued presence of the whisky still. Stills have been upgraded. They are now made of nice shiny stainless steel. There are standards to be maintained. Plus they offer better staying power buried in the shadows of the pines.

    I could go on about stolen Wal Mart merchandise fenced on the Wal Mart parking lot and the pimp on the, you guessed it, Wal Mart parking lot driving a fantastic black Mustang complete with a pair of opportunities. But, no one would believe me.

    Little wonder folks, as it is said, ” stay to themselves.”

    Taint boring. 🙂

    • Reply

      I didn’t know either, Kali. I heard about it last year from a couple of writer friends who attended in another state. My cop-turned-secret-service friend said it’s pretty common.

        • Reply

          Hey, Tony. This is county PD. So far we’ve toured the Academy on Old Lee in Chantilly. Very interesting. We’re supposed to visit the Helicopter Division and Animal Control on West Ox in April.

  4. Reply

    Great series, Gwen. Detailed description, but not over-dramatized. Let’s hope more folks reading this recognize the importance of proper weapons and self defense training, etc.


    • Reply

      Bob: Thanks! I had a good time with the CPA and learned a lot. And I’ve managed to stay involved with the department through the alumni association.

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