Ever wonder how realistic those police dramas are on TV? Have you thought about whether or not terrorists are even close to central Ohio, or merely denizens of big cities?

Ever wonder how realistic those police dramas are on TV? Have you thought about whether or not terrorists are even close to central Ohio, or merely denizens of big cities?
Want to learn about firearms safety or search warrants? If you do, you're in luck, because local suburbs like Upper Arlington are offering residents a chance to look into the inner workings of their police departments.

Reaching out to citizens
In 2006, the Upper Arlington Police Department graduated the first class from their Citizen's Police Academy. "The program was established to help provide useful information and hands-on experience with how the police department serves the community," said Heather Galli, community relations officer, Upper Arlington Police Department.

The class size is limited to 12 Upper Arlington residents or business owners each year and topics covered over the 10-week course include: crime scene investigations, crime prevention tips, legal considerations and the laws of arrest, defensive tactics, firearms safety and training, patrol tactics and traffic stop practices, and police ride-alongs.

While the Academy attendees learn about how the police department helps protect and serve their community, how does the Police Academy help the police department? "We have educated citizens," said Galli, "who understand how we respond to specific needs.

They become advocates and they can be proactive on our part." With greater awareness of how and why the police department functions, the citizens who attend the Academy find themselves more involved with their own community and what they can do to serve it.

Paying it forward
Acting as the liaison with the Citizen's Police Academy is only one facet of Galli's job. In addition to being the public information officer, her job includes providing education and support for crime prevention and safety in the community, like talking to children about bicycle safety during Safety Town, talking to teens about making good choices through the D.A.R.E. program, and talking to parents about Internet safety, personal safety and identity theft.

Children 5 to 6 years old can attend Safety Town in the summer. The first day is police officer day. "We go over what we do and why," Galli said. Children learn that police officers are their friends and are there to provide safety and enforce the law. Officers talk about being respectful and responsible. When bicycle safety is discussed, the lesson includes respecting motorists and pedestrians - often the kids' first opportunity to actually observe local laws. "We encourage parents to talk about what their children are learning and reinforce it at home," Galli said.

"With older children, we talk a lot about responsibility and choices. We impress upon teens that certain actions and behaviors might have serious consequences," Galli said. "Making good choices makes everyone safer." And although we generally hear about those who make bad choices, the truth is that most students are actually making good ones.

The domino effect of civic responsibility
Children whose parents are active in the community may model their behavior and take more civic responsibility themselves. Galli, who said she learned from her parents, is passing the lessons onto her two young girls. "It's important that my children give back to the community and we include them in our volunteer activities. My eldest daughter does it by donating her own books and toys to children in need."

When Galli and other officers talk to older students in the community, they find it encouraging that students remember what they learned in Safety Town. Alumni from the Upper Arlington Citizen's Police Academy can help other residents understand how and why the officers do what they do, as well as promote local crime prevention and safety programs. And what can a 6-year-old learn? "When we went through my daughter's things to donate to others she found her old bike helmet," Galli said. "She told me she'd better keep it for her little sister because she said she'll need one soon."