HAMLET — If you’ve ever wanted to cruise around town with a cop — and not in the backseat, behind the grate — the Hamlet Police Department’s coming Citizens Academy might just be the ticket.
Beginning no later than mid-July, the academy will teach residents about police procedure and the law, and offer ride-alongs with officers.
The program joins the department’s Police Explorer post and fledgling Coffee with a Cop program in fulfilling Chief Scott Waters’s desire to engage the community with police officers day to day, and not just when there’s trouble.
“Just in conversation, we all just stumbled across (the idea),” said Anne Griffin, who has been a Hamlet police officer for a little more than a year and who organized the Explorer post. “Get your community involved, (and) we’re better as a force.
“We want to make it informative. We want to make it beneficial” — for both participants and the department, she said Wednesday. “(We want to) make people say, ‘You don’t sit around and eat doughnuts all day.’”
Indeed, the program’s mission statement declares that participants will “gain a working knowledge about the city’s overall organization, vision, mission, goals, objectives, budget, policies and procedures. Citizens will also learn day-to-day functions to create civic ambassadors who may enlighten others about our city.”
The program will include information on the department’s K-9s, communications, criminal investigation — including mock crime-scene investigations — as well as traffic enforcement, report writing, and arrest and courtroom procedures.
Participants may ride with officers on patrol, and ask questions and voice concerns.
The department has suffered criticism within the past year, including for the cancellation of last year’s Fourth of July celebration as the result of the threat of reprisals for the shooting of Tierrell Martin. Even this week, when residents saw the news that the fireworks were “on” for this year, some took potshots at the department.
Griffin said that sort of reaction angered her, a longtime officer, because it often stemmed from ignorance of what it took to protect a community. The program, she said, should let participants have a better understanding of “why we do what we do.”
Applications for the academy are available at the Hamlet Police station alongside City Hall. Those who wish to participate will undergo background checks to ensure the safety of all involved, and will have to sign waivers declaring they won’t release information that could abridge the privacy rights of crime victims.
“There’s a lot of paperwork,” Griffin said. “Lots of paperwork” for those who wish to participate, including a form releasing the department from liability should a participant be injured. (Participants will receive a limited firsthand view, Griffin said, remaining in the cruiser during call-outs.)
Griffin hopes to log 10 participants for the initial orientation session but admits “we have not worked out all the details” of what will be presented when. She has managed similar programs in the past, in Scotland County and the city of Whiteville, so she isn’t worried.
Those who wish to participate must be 21 or older; residents of, employees of or business owners in the city of Hamlet; have no felony convictions; have no misdemeanor convictions within one year of applying; and be subject to no pending criminal charges. All students of Richmond Community College may participate.
Successful applications will be notified that they may take part in the interview and selection process next Monday through Wednesday.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]