Police Academy host training program

Tanner Cole

Last Thursday, the WKU Police Department restarted their University Police Academy, an education program that is free for WKU students and faculty. Campus police will train those who enrolled in everything from investigation techniques to firearm usage. 

 The UPA is meant to help students and faculty understand campus law enforcement policies. It represents an effort by the WKUPD to remain transparent and show exactly what they are doing to keep WKU safe. 

Police Sgt. Rafael Casas, who teaches the crime prevention portion of the program, believes the academy provides the WKU community a way to acquaint themselves with campus officers. 

 “It’s just a time for the general public to get to know their police officers and ask questions,” Casas said. “People get to see another side of law enforcement that they normally do not interact with. The UPA brings that interaction to the general public.”

 The training lasts for six weeks, during which students will have the opportunities to shadow an officer, attend a ride-along and be shot with a stun gun — campus police officers must be stunned before being allowed to carry a stun gun on-duty. They offer academy students the same shocking opportunity in order to simulate actual police training. Seven students took the chance during the last UPA. 

 “We have to know what it feels like when you pull the trigger,” Casas said. “You have to know what you’re doing and what it’s capable of doing. The students just want to see the effects of it and what it does.” 

 Applicants to the academy were mostly students interested in law enforcement careers and WKU faculty who wanted a closer look at the campus police. Many students have used the UPA as a springboard into the campus explorers program and launched their careers from there. The police department currently has five officers on staff who previously served as campus explorers. Some of them, like Cpl. Brandon Humphries, gained a greater interest in the field after first going through the UPA. 

 “It gives you a different side,” Humphries said. “It’s a lot of community involvement, and I like that side of it. You’re there to help people. That’s what UPA is: letting people know we’re here not only when you need us, we’re here all the time.” 

 The program is also open to individuals with a desire to better understand campus law enforcement. Faculty members like German instructor Timothy Straubel completed the program previously in order to connect with officers and students alike. 

 “I liked taking a class alongside students,” Straubel said. “It was unusual, but I met people I otherwise wouldn’t have known. It was nice to know they really do a good, thorough job. I’d highly recommend the opportunity for students and faculty to see what the police are actually doing.” 

 Outside of the educational value offered by the program, the instructing officers hope the training increases the situational awareness of those enrolled and benefits campus safety. Officers like Casas believe the program offers more than just a peek into police life — it provides real-world safety training. 

 “We talk about alcohol awareness — safety at night,” Casas said. “It might be some things that people normally don’t think about. It does become a safety thing.” 

 Casas said the WKUPD did not offer UPA during the 2012-2013 academic year due to budget issues. The first session marked the return of the program for its eighth year. 

The training has been shortened to six weeks and has a limited class size in order to fit within the police budget. Although 22 out of the 30-50 applicants have been accepted into the 2014 UPA, those who were not enrolled to will have to wait next year to attend the academy. 

 “We realized the people who went through it really enjoyed it,” Casas said. “I wish we could do more. We had such a great interest in it. If we had the budget we would do another in the fall.” 

 If the program continues, the campus police department may continue to be populated with previous students who first got involved during UPA, like Humphries. The program helped give Humphries the opportunity to connect with the police department years ago, but for him, the most valuable part of the program is becoming more comfortable with law enforcement officers. 

 “The main benefit I think for people here on campus is you get to build a relationship with the officers,” Humphries said. “It’s easier to walk up to them at a ball game. If you’ve never had to deal with police it will make you more comfortable.”