By Mr. Curt Biberdorf (USACE)May 10, 2013
While people across the nation can watch the TV series "Alaska State Troopers" in their living rooms, dozens of Alaskans can learn in person about the state's largest law enforcement agency from a classroom.
The Alaska State Trooper Citizen Academy in Palmer started in 2012 to increase understanding and enhance awareness about the role of the troopers in the community. Its second session finished in April and is an expanding program with new classes offered in Soldotna and Fairbanks.
"I thought it was great, and I'd highly recommend it to other Corps employees," said Ed Luteran, quality management assistant at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Alaska District, who graduated from the most recent class.
The idea of a citizen academy began in 1977 in Exeter, England. A night school allowed individuals to learn about police functions, operations and agency organization. It was so successful that it became a permanent part of the force's public relations program.
The first academy in the United States started in 1986 in Orlando, Fla., with the intent to reduce crime by strengthening citizen commitment to the police department and city. With its success, new academies formed at agencies across the nation, including Anchorage Police Department in 2001 and now with the Alaska State Troopers.
The class is modeled after similar academies, which draw people of various personal and professional backgrounds. Some participants use the opportunity to evaluate their career potential in law enforcement, but the objective is to produce informed members of the public.
What all 30 participants--the maximum allowed per session--shared was a desire to learn about the Alaska State Troopers.
"Everyone has a reason for attending this course," Luteran said, a Wasilla resident who has lived in Alaska for 40 years. "I wanted to acquire increased community awareness and familiarization."
More involved than the experience of watching "Alaska State Troopers," participants have the opportunity to ride along with a trooper on a full eight-hour patrol shift during the course to enhance their overall understanding of the varied first-responder duties. Activity on Luteran's ride along was continuous, with traffic stops, a call about a suspicious death, follow-up investigative interviews and a drug-related arrest.
"I now have a more thorough understanding of their mission, first-responder functions and capabilities," said Luteran. "For example, if I were to call 911 for a suspicious circumstance at my residence, I would now understand why there might be a delay for a trooper response, being that there might only be a few troopers covering such a large unincorporated area of the borough."
Students met one evening a week and on a few Saturdays for 14 weeks. In more than 70 hours of class time, topics reach beyond the state troopers' area of responsibility and include practical lessons.
They received introductory presentations from the Wasilla and Palmer Police departments, Village Public Safety Officer Program, state medical examiner, state fire marshal, Alaska Department of Corrections and the Alaska Department of Public Safety Training Academy.
They learned about domestic violence, driving under the influence recognition, drug and alcohol investigation, alcohol regulation, Internet/technical crimes, patrol/traffic investigation, criminal and crime scene investigation, judicial services and a legal overview on the use of force.
Other topics covered the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, wildlife investigation unit, canine unit, special emergency reaction team, aircraft and vessel inventories, and firearms. Presentations on the chaplain program, home safety, neighborhood watch, sex offender registry, emergency preparedness and alumni association also were included.
"Every aspect of the Alaska State Troopers' mission was thoroughly covered, including all collaborating agencies which routinely interface with them," Luteran said.
Saturday sessions were conducted away from their classroom at the Alaska Department of Corrections Training Academy. On these outings, participants learned about search and rescue, crime prevention and personal safety/defensive tactics; toured the two dispatch centers and Alaska's scientific crime detection laboratory in Anchorage; and shot firearms issued to troopers at an outdoor range.
Luteran was particularly interested in the troopers' radio communications function because as a collateral duty, he serves as the radio communications officer for Alaska District's Emergency Management Office. The Corps and troopers use the same Alaska Land Mobile Radio system for an interoperability emergency communications network.
"During emergency response, it's always good to know what each agency is doing," he said. "This course provided an excellent opportunity to connect with other first-responder departments, which might be involved in future emergency communications with the Corps."
The Corps maintains a high frequency radio communications capability for out-of-state long-haul emergency communications. Emergency responders within Alaska would rely on this alternative mode in case of a complete communications failure, Luteran said. "(Communications) was always in the back of my mind because I knew we would be working with the troopers and the other first-responder entities in an actual civil or military emergency."
All citizen academy graduates are invited to participate in the newly-formed alumni association as a continuation of their experience acquired from the course. One of its service goals will be to assume responsibility for the management and function of the Mat-Su Neighborhood Watch Program.
"(The academy) reinforced my opinion of how resourceful and professional the Alaska State Troopers are," Luteran said. "People think they only have a law enforcement function, but in actuality, they have numerous more rescue and public safety responsibilities."