Residents can go behind the scenes with law enforcement in January by participating in the New Albany-Gahanna Citizen Police Academy.

The Gahanna Division of Police and the New Albany Police Department will offer the academy for the second year from Jan. 17 to March 14.

Because Gahanna is so close to New Albany, partnering on the academy made sense, said New Albany police Sgt. Kris Daniels.

"We tried it last year and it worked really well," he said.

New Albany police also benefit from gaining perspectives from another police department, he said.

The free 10-week community-education program is intended to build relationships among participants and police by offering an inside look at the values, philosophies and operations of law-enforcement officers. It also will provide an open forum for questions, discussions and the exchange of ideas.

"You can never have too much involvement with our community," said Mark Thomas, Gahanna's director of public safety. "We need to take advantage of every opportunity to let them know what we do. They're our customers."

The academy's two-hour sessions will cover such topics as traffic enforcement, laws of arrest and search and seizure, OVI enforcement, active shooter, firearms training, 911 dispatching and street-drug identification.

Gahanna police Chief Dennis Murphy said the curriculum is a good introduction to working as a police officer.

He said from a police perspective, the collaboration with New Albany is in alignment with community-engagement efforts and with Gov. John Kasich's "21st-century policing" objectives.

Gahanna police Lt. Sheila Murphy said the inaugural Gahanna and New Albany academy had a waiting list.

"As soon as it opens up (for registration), we get flooded," she said. "We will do this once a year."

Fifteen residents from each city will comprise the second academy class when the program begins Jan. 17. Participants must live in the two communities and be 18 years old. Registration is open through the end of December at newalbanyohio.org or gahanna.gov.

One participant's view

Gahanna resident Tim Lenihan attended the first joint citizens police academy from February through April, after he regularly attended the chief's monthly meetings.

"His agenda brought us up-to-date information about police issues and their solutions," Lenihan said.

He said his brother retired as a police detective in New York City.

"He often told me about the work being performed by the police officers in the field," Lenihan said of his brother. "Before this academy training, I thought I had a good understanding of police work."

Lenihan said he discovered he had a lot to learn. He said officers' courage, training and the ability to make split-second decisions impressed him the most.

"I was tested when to shoot or not to shoot," Lenihan said. "I failed by not shooting when the life-and-death situation clearly called for that response."

He said his instructors were all first-rate, experienced police officers.

"Questions were invited and fully answered," Lenihan said. "The one outstanding group item was the intelligent questions and obvious concern for community safety."

He said the community is fortunate to have such qualified and dedicated men and women in law enforcement.

Lenihan said he would use his training by volunteering for activities sponsored by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office and such organizations as Volunteers in Public Safety Support.

Other programs

Thomas, who previously was involved with the Whitehall Citizens Police Academy, said citizens academies are more the norm than the exception.

Other central Ohio cities with similar programs include Bexley, Columbus, Dublin, Hilliard, Grove City, Westerville and Whitehall.

"I always enjoyed teaching the citizens police academy during my time at Whitehall," Thomas said. "The students become ambassadors not only for the city, but the police department, as well.

"I believe the value of these types of programs along with a more robust community-policing initiative will provide our officers and citizens with an opportunity to develop a partnership not only with our police department but the entire city."

Thomas said Whitehall has an academy alumni association, and that is a goal with the Gahanna-New Albany academy.

Westerville also has an alumni association. The association's website says leaders hope academy graduates "take their knowledge into the community and educate others when the opportunity arises and make decisions that affect the city and police division with heightened awareness and better information."

ThisWeek reporter Sarah Sole contributed to this story.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

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