Nearly every night, during prime time on television, people watch actors portraying law enforcement officers charging heroically into a building, taking down the bad guys and stopping them before they can hurt the public, and Mirandizing a suspect as the cuffs are slapped on her wrist.
Then, attractive sidekicks in lab coats comb over every inch of the scene, immediately finding DNA that matches the suspect before the main character spouts a clever quip about the whole affair that puts a nice bow on the episode.
This perception of law enforcement is not only inaccurate, but counterproductive for actual police officers. It creates a dangerous misconception about who the police are and what they can, will and are allowed to do.
Detective Chuck Love saw this misrepresentation and its effects, and decided to take action.
“The role of law enforcement has always been an interest to the average citizen,” Love said. “All too often, a person’s perception of law enforcement is what they learned from crime-action television shows or movies. Those that depict “real life” situations only reflect a small portion of reality. When I was on patrol, there was always a lot of confusion about what a deputy could do, and what they couldn’t do.”
The detective saw the need in the community for a class that bridges the gap between perception and reality. He spoke to his commanding officers at Louisa County Sheriff’s Office, who agreed with his assessment, and the foundations were laid for what would become the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office’s Citizen Law Enforcement Academy (CLEA).
“We have been wanting to have a Citizens Academy for years but didn’t have the resources to pull it off,” Chief Deputy Major Donnie Lowe said. “When Detective Love presented a doable plan we jumped on it.”
The goal of the Citizen Law Enforcement Academy is not only to help residents better understand law enforcement work, but to develop stronger ties between their community and law enforcement in an effort to better address crime issues.
“Community-based policing is an important and vital aspect of crime control in any community,” Love said. “It is through community cooperation and planning that we can best ensure quality law enforcement services in an organized effective crime prevention effort.”
The Citizen Law Enforcement Academy is yet another mechanism for the sheriff’s office to share what they do every day with the public, improve communication, and gather citizen input, assistance, and support throughout the county.
Patrol Lt. David Harper assisted in the 13-week program, held in weekly three-hour sessions at the sheriff’s office, as well as the Betty Queen Center. Teaching moments also took place at the sheriff’s office firing range and in the high school parking lot.
Numerous guest speakers came from virtually all facets of the county’s law enforcement community, including staff from the communications department, Special Response Team and K9 departments, and the Louisa Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Information about the new class and the fact it was seeking applicants was published in the local newspaper and on social media. Initially, the sheriff’s office had planned to start wth 12 students, they extended the class to 15 students after receiving a high level of interest.
The class was balanced between classroom instructional time and practical scenarios that put these theories to the test. Among the procedures students were taught and given the opportunity to practice were traffic stops and sobriety tests, crime scene investigation, general investigations, and handling and documenting evidence. Students also were taken to the firing range, where they handled sheriff’s office weaponry and were taught proper handling and safety, as well as aggressive driving tactics inside a patrol vehicle at the high school parking lot.
With the success of the adult academy, Det. Love realized that in addition to the need to educate the public, forming relationships and positive impressions on the youth in the community is also necessary. He had learned, from years of experience in the patrol division that all too often children are forming their perceptions of law enforcement from their parents, often erroneously.
“When I was on the road, too many times I would hear parents using officers as a way to discipline their children,” Love said. “‘If you don’t do this, they will come and arrest you.’ We want the kids to look to us for help when they need it, and not be afraid to approach us.”
From this idea came the Law Enforcement Adventure Program, also known as LEAP, a week-long day camp in June for middle school-aged students. Love said the youth class offered hands-on learning with local officers in a fun, safe manner, as well as outdoor activities, events and competitions to create some teamwork and camaraderie with officers and youth alike.
Love said he designed the program and chose that particular age range because reaching out to kids in and just prior to their early teens can make a strong impact.
“We believe that the middle school kids are at a very vulnerable age, and we wanted to develop relationships with them at this time,” Love said. “So, when they get to high school they know we are here to help and that they can come to us with problems and concerns without fear of getting in trouble. We have a lot of resources to help people, but can’t show them, or help them if they are too afraid of us and never ask.”
CLEA’s adult students graduated from the academy Tuesday, June 19 in a ceremony held at Louisa Baptist Church.
Love is not willing to rest on Love is not willing to rest on his laurels, however, no matter how great the program’s success, and is already in the planning phase for the next academy.
“It is a learning experience, both for us and the students taking the class,” he said, “It takes a community to keep our community safe. LCSO has a limited number of eyes, and if we include better informed citizens in watching out for each other, it helps LCSO keep the County of Louisa safe and the bad people at bay and accountable for their actions.”
The next Citizen Law Enforcement Academy will be held in September, Love said.