Citizens get shot at hands-on police training

Joe Lord

It was a domestic dispute.

Math instructor Michelle Hollis approached the door.

When it opened, there stood an angry husband who shot a gun at her.

Armed, Hollis shot back.

It was a difficult shot – the man’s wife was between them, and Hollis hit her.

“I shot her because she was in the way,” Hollis said.

But Hollis wasn’t upset by the incident. The dispute was a computer simulation.

The Citizen’s Police Academy, a 12-week program offered by the Bowling Green Police Department, gives city residents like Hollis a first-hand look at police work.

Officer Penny Bowles said the program is conducted twice a year.

“It’s an opportunity to teach civilian citizens about what the police department does,” Bowles said.

Instruction included participating in a mock trial, driving police cars and observing dispatchers at work.

Saturday, they shot .357 magnum revolvers at a firing range.

Bowling Green police Sgt. Danny Vickous held one of the pistols in his hands while the eight class members paid close attention.

Vickous laid the gun down, then thrust the index finger of his right hand in the air.

“Just remember,” he said, wiggling the finger. “When everything is said, this is the only thing that moves.”

When it was Hollis’ turn to put advice into action, she stood just yards away from her target. This time her opponent wasn’t an abusive husband but an angry woman holding an automatic rifle.

Hollis fired off six rounds. One bullet hit the nose. The other five hit the torso.

“I think I’m going to take this target to class,” Hollis said, looking at the hole-ridden image.

The academy students ride with a police officer through an entire shift. Hollis will get her chance Thursday.

“I’m hoping I get to see a whole lot of stuff, like I’m in the middle of ‘Cops,'” she said. “But I probably won’t.”

Bowles said the academy boasts about 300 alumni, including Bowling Green Mayor Sandy Jones and Western’s General Counsel Deborah Wilkins.

“It opened my eyes to what goes on in Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins was a member of the academy’s first class. She said it gave her a better understanding of the everyday work of the police.

“They do a lot for the community besides writing tickets and responding to emergency calls,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said the program would help Western students interested in law enforcement careers – like Park City senior Donald McCulley. The academy convinced him to become a police officer after he graduates next fall, he said.

And the officers who teach the course learn from working with civilians, Bowles said. Police are often surrounded by criminals and sometimes forget the positive qualities of the average citizen.

Each class is comprised of people from different backgrounds, so there is a diversity of race, gender and economic situation, Bowles said. Those who are not picked are put on a waiting list for the next class.

Bowling Green police budget $3,400 a year for the program, so the academy is free of charge, Bowles said.

Hollis said the classes and exercises have given her a new respect for

police work – even if their exercises were only simulations.

“I still found my heart going pitter-patter,” she said.

Reach Joe Lord at [email protected]