You may have dreamed of becoming a police officer, but wound up in another profession.
But if law enforcement still interests you, there is a way to get a taste of what it would be like to wear that uniform.
It is a police academy, but you won't be able to pull people over or investigate a crime scene once you graduate.
It's a great program because, in the long run, it helps keep our streets safer.
Three dozen or so ordinary citizens are here for the South Bend Police Citizens Police Academy, where they are learning about police work from the extraordinary mean and women in blue.
Julie Romero is here because she dreams of one day being a police officer.
“There is so much crime going on right now, I would love to be a part of making a difference,” said Romero. “I want to be a person that makes a difference in some way; whether it be a hose call because somebody is breaking in to a home or something big-- I would like to be that person that somebody reaches out to for help.”
It's a nine week program that runs from mid-April through early June.
They meet Tuesday evenings at police headquarters.
Organizers say it's a win-win.
“Well, it helps us because it gets the word out,” explained Lt. Patrick Hechlinski. “A lot of people have pre-conceived notions about our jobs based on what they see on television--that's not always the case. They see a crime and they see it solved within an hour and in reality it just doesn't work out that way. So for us, it gets to show our side of the job. On the flip side of the coin, they get to see what we're doing on a daily basis, how we go about it, how we collect the evidence, the decisions we have to make and why we make.”
And every week, academy students learn something different, like about the communications center where 911 calls are answered.
“The 911 dispatch center came out, told us about how important their job is. I learned a lot from that alone. It's amazing what they do,” added Romero.
Hechlinkski said it’s a unique program.
“Some of the other things they get to see is our FAFS machine where they're actually put on our shoes where they have to make decisions on whether to shoot or not to shoot---use pepper spray or not pepper spray. They get to look up close to some of our swat equipment, our bomb equipment, how the canines operate and how the crime lab works.”
And by working up close and personal with real police officers, these cadets not only learn about what police do, but they also learn they're not so different from themselves.
“It brings them closer to show them that we're humans just like they are and we have the same emotions even though it might not seem like it,” said Hechlinkski.
And while some, like Romero have, aspirations to one day become cops.
They and most other who come here, says Hechlinski, become more attuned to police work, and that is important to fighting crime in the city.
“I think they become ambassadors for us so when somebody says ‘why did the police do that? They might be able to say’ I know why they did that and give them a very reasonable answer. Do you find that it helps in your neighborhood watch efforts? I think so. For the folks that live in South Bend it's something that we promote,” he explained.
The openings for the citizens police academy fill up quickly. This spring's session is booked solid--they usually take no more than forty people.
But there's talk of adding another session in the fall if there's enough interest.
If you're interested, contact Lieutenant Hechlinski
Lt. Patrick Hechlinski
SBPD/Crime Prevention Unit
701 W. Sample St.
South Bend,IN. 46601