IMG_0763By Sherry who’s freezing in Northern Virginia

On Saturday I graduated from the Fairfax County Citizens Police Academy. It’s a ten week course every Thursday night from 6:30 -10:00. I thought it would be easy to sum up my experience but it’s not. We laughed — a lot. I came close to tears more than once. The county is big 1,200,000 people, It’s highly educated, and for it’s size has little crime. The department is actively looking for new officers. One of the guys in our class is planning to apply. Others are joining the Police Auxillary and some the Citizens Advisory Council of their local division. I’ll share some of the highlights with you.

Our first night was at the academy where the recruits do much of their training. IMG_0755




Mock robbery.
Mock robbery.
The bad guy runs away.
The bad guy runs away.

After observing a mock robbery we were asked to describe the robber. Our descriptions were wildly different but almost all of us could describe exactly what the gun looked like.

IMG_1203I thought the motor division would be boring but learning about traffic stops and the proper way to approach a car was fascinating. If you get pulled over things will go a lot better if you remain calm. Keep your hands on the wheel until the officer approaches. Tell him you are going to reach for your registration or license before you do it.

We learned how the officer stands to use the vehicle to protect themselves. The bikes weigh over 900 pounds.

We spent an evening with the helicopter division. And were lucky the helicopter landed long enough for us to get to see it. As they gave a IMG_1417IMG_1434presentation about the helicopter it came and went twice. It can fly up to 178 mph. They fly 3000 missions a year. 80% of the missions are police related — missing people, crimes, screams in the woods (most commonly caused by a fox.) 10% are med vacs — these take precedent over crimes. The other 10% are things like training runs and deer population census.

We got to climb around in this.
We got to climb around in this.
Inside of the SWAT vehicle.
Inside of the SWAT vehicle.










A foam bullet the SWAT team uses.
A foam bullet the SWAT team uses.

We spent an evening with the SWAT and EOD (explosive ordinance division) guys. The SWAT guys use controlled violence — they usually knock and announce — yelling — Police Search Warrant. They serve high risk warrants and 16 people serve the warrant. The officer told us unlike in the movies, they move quietly, aren’t screaming the whole time, and try to keep people calm. The EOD officer brought his cute dog, Moose, who roamed the classroom and fortunately didn’t alert by anyone. A dog can clear a room in 30 seconds and a building in 30 minutes. They get more smells on warm days.IMG_1486


Last Saturday we had to be at the gun range and track by 7:50 am. The windchill was 19 and we were spending most of the morning outside. I confess I thought about skipping the whole thing but fortunately didn’t. Our class was divided into two groups. My group went to the track first. Here’s a diagram of IMG_1785IMG_1800what it looks like. The corners are much sharper in reality than they appear to be here! We had to wear helmets to ride in the cars. Most of the men in the group were hoping to drive but I was grateful we went around the track with the instructors. The first time I rode in a Crown Vic. We were up to 104 in minutes and flying towards a turn. I thought we would fly off into the woods but the instructor slammed on the brakes and we squealed around the corner. Next we rode in the new Ford Interceptors. They said the ride would be smoother but I didn’t really notice it — there’s not a lot to notice at high speeds. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

IMG_1818After we finished at the track we headed over to the gun range. I’ve never been around guns. I remembered in one of the classes the officer said he could empty his thirteen rounds in 2 1/2 seconds — I think I got that right. After our safety briefing we headed out to the range. Now I was excited and scared. It was loud — even with our ear protection. We used Sig Sauer guns. First my instructor handed it to me unloaded and ran me through what to do. I have to say using the sight was interesting. Then he put the bullets in — I was afraid I’d accidentally shoot him. I shot twice and hit the target both times. Then I told the instructor, “I’m good.” Guns scare me. But I’m thinking my target would make a good front door decoration — I could change it up for various holidays — a little greenery around Christmas, a heart for Valentine’s Day, a flag for the fourth — what do you think?

IMG_1808Our last events were graduation, which the chief of police came to, and then a potluck. I know I could never be a police officer. I’d empty my gun at the first thing that startled me or run screaming. The police officers that spoke to us loved their jobs. They work under tough conditions without enough pay. I don’t think any of them would trade it for the world.

If your city offers such a program I highly recommend taking it. I learned a lot, got a few ideas for my next novel, and realized the job is even harder than I imagined.

Readers have you attended a citizens police academy?


22 Thoughts

  1. Wow, different experiences from the one I went to. We did NOT have helicopters, fast driving, or getting to shoot. Wish we had! Thanks for sharing what you learned, Sherry. Did you get to do a Saturday night ridealong, though?

    1. My ridealong is this Friday — we had trouble coordinating schedules. I found out through the class that I live in the most densely populated part of the county with the least amount of crime.

  2. Now I know why state police helicopters occasionally fly over the woods behind my house. Darn those screaming foxes!

    This all sounds fairly terrifying to me, so you have my admiration. Congratulations!

    1. It was scary — I kept thinking our driver would go off the road — he’d be at the very edge but didn’t go off once. They said they usually loose a couple recruits during the driving portion of the academy — not because they crash but because they can’t drive well enough.

  3. I attended the CPA in Pittsburgh in 2013. We didn’t get to shoot, and there is no high-speed track because of the geography of the area (we did get a presentation – a “high speed” chase in the city is 30mph). I had a lot of fun. We did get to ride with SWAT (actually had the dubious distinction of being the first class where the SWAT van broke down on the way back to headquarters). I’d love to do another ride-along.

  4. I’m not surprised the police get called out to investigate screaming foxes. The first time I heard one after I moved into my house, I thought a woman was being murdered. And that’s what it sounds like every time. It’s a hard thing to get used to.

    1. When they asked the question if anyone knew what most of the screams in the woods were, I knew right away — perhaps the only time during CPA I did know!

  5. I attended one about fifteen years ago in Newton, Mass where I lived. My protagonist was a police captain in a very similar town and I learned a ton. Did my ridealong with a female cop, which was great for me in terms of building my character.

    1. My book is set in a small town with no helicopters, EOD unit or driving track. But I think the passion for the job and the compassion for the victims translates to any scenario.

  6. Hi, Sherry! Thank you so much for taking the time to post so many pictures and details. It’s all fascinating! I took part in a CPA long ago, but it was nothing like yours. It was all in a classroom. Reading your blog post is almost like being at your CPA — without the terror of the track! Thanks again.

  7. Sounds very interesting and tons of fun. Got to admit, I’m more jealous that I thought I’d be when I started reading the post.

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