By Alfred S. Titus, Jr. (@DrDet1)

With all the controversy and calls for transparency in policing today, a little-known catalyst exist in New York City that helps bring clarity and understanding to the community.  The catalyst is the New York City Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy (CPA).  Since 1993, NYPD’s CPA has provided a bi-annual, 14-week training program where New York City residents can experience what it is like to be a police officer in this city.  With 5,402 graduates to-date, NYPD’s CPA is one of the largest CPAs in the country.  The average class size ranges from 100 to almost 300 citizen-recruits per session.  Interested participants come from every borough in the city, Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Queens.

Other cities around the country like Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, and Brevard, have also established CPAs for their residents, allowing them to see, experience, and understand policing.  In Los Angeles, the LAPD’s CPA is ten weeks long and has English and Spanish sessions to accommodate their diverse community.  In Chicago, their CPA is eleven weeks long and is limited to 20 students per session.  The CPA given by the Miami Police Department is eight weeks and includes trips to the morgue and county jail.  In Dallas, the program is eight weeks long and participants must be at least 21 years old, while most CPAs allow participants of at least 18 years of age.  The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office in Florida hosts a seven-week program where participants can elect to take part in a ride-a-long with a deputy during an actual patrol shift.  Some of the cities and counties have CPA Alumni Associations and there is a National Citizens Police Academy Association that keeps members around the country current on training events, meetings, and professional appearances.

The concept of the Citizens Police Academy started in the United Kingdom in 1977 (Cohn, 1996).  It started as a night school to allow interested citizens, the opportunity to learn about the Police system in England.  The first CPA in the United States was created in Orlando, Florida in 1985 (Cohn, 1996).  The goal of Orlando’s CPA was to reduce crime through stronger citizen commitment to the Police Department and the community.  Its success spread around the country, and CPAs were being created in communities of all sizes around the country (nationalcpaa.org).  A study conducted on the beliefs and perceptions regarding Citizens Police Academies concluded that CPA’s are effective in increasing citizen’s knowledge of the department and positively influencing their perceptions of persons in law enforcement (Pope, Jones, Cook, & Walt rip, 2007).  Another study published by the Policing Journal in 2005, showed that Citizens Police Academies represented policing as a communicative endeavor, instead of a violent-filled endeavor.  The academies lead to more favorable opinions, greater respect, and less fear of law enforcement and police departments (Raffel, 2005).

Today, in New York City, the Citizens Police Academy is an ingredient of community policing that allows community residents to experience and learn the intricacies of police work first hand.  It helps provide a clearer understanding of police work, often where little exists.  The CPA bridges the gap that exists in police-community relations, by providing a learning experience and a base of understanding for community residents.  Citizens are often surprised to see the differences that exist in the way television and the movies portray policing, compared to real life.  In many instances, the community residents who attend the training are amazed at the amount of stress, dedication, and reasoning that accompanies everyday policing functions.  Many citizen-recruits respond to the training with comments like, “I had no idea it was this difficult to be a police officer”, “If I knew what I know now, I would have responded differently.”  Commonly, during the training, citizens openly express how they wish today’s youth could be part of the CPA training.  As a law enforcement professional, CPA lecturer, academic, and parent, I could not agree more.  In fact, this training could benefit high school and college students in our cities, if formatted into a 20-week long semester course.  The training provides unequivocal insight and the information necessary to navigate through one of the most confusing and misunderstood concepts of the 21st century: Police contact and interaction.

The good news is that NYPD offers a six-week summer Youth Police Academy (YPA) for youth 6-10 years old.  The programs runs 5 days week in each borough of the city and is free of charge.  The YPA instills discipline and self-confidence in the youth, while teaching military drills, CPR, gang awareness, and internet safety.  The summer recruits also enjoy field trips, talent shows, and sports.  There is also an Explorer program for the youth between the ages of 14 and 20.

Becoming a CPA graduate is not a difficult process.  However, in addition to being over 18, it does require a level of commitment and dedication on the part of the recruit.  The academy requires a three-hour, one evening a week, commitment for fourteen weeks.  The CPA training is conducted at the same police academy that recruits attend for six months during their journey to become police officers.  The devotion and dedication is rewarded at the end of the fourteen-week process with an impressive graduation ceremony at police headquarters, which duplicates the graduation that police-recruits have at the end of their six-month training.  The graduates walk across the stage and are presented a certificate of completion by the Police Commissioner, in front of family, friends, and local politicians.

The academy has an excellent line-up of lectures, role-plays, simulations, and workshops that provide real-life scenarios, based on real experiences.  The lectures range from ethics to police science, providing citizen-recruits with the theoretical side of policing.  Courses like tactical driver’s training and firearms provide the practical aspects of policing.  The concepts delivered through the “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios, which puts a firearm, the authority of a police badge, and real-life decision making in the hands of the citizen-recruits, is always a revelation.  The lectures, which cover the policing specialties of Homicide Investigations, Crime Scene, Hostage Negotiation, Counter-Terrorism, Gang, Narcotics, and Special Victims, provide in-depth explanations and detailed experiences that exude the complexities involved with each specialty.  The combination of theoretical, practical, and real-life insight provided through the CPA training curriculum instills a well-rounded understanding of policing.

Sgt. Keisha Ward, the commanding officer and organizer of NYPD’s CPA, establishes the professionalism and seriousness of policing from day one of the academy.  The no-nonsense sternness that she provides in her day-one introduction to CPA recruits on what is expected of them in the unique learning environment, quickly alerts them to the fact that this is not high school or college…this is police work…this is the NYPD. Sgt. Ward, a twenty-two year veteran of NYPD, explains that she was blessed with the opportunity to become the Commanding Officer of the CPA four years ago and feels honored to be able to add her vision to the existing program.  Since becoming the commanding officer, she has created an emblem for the Citizens Police Academy, added informative lectures,and included enlightening guest speakers to the already impressive curriculum. The curriculum now includes Conflict Resolution, Bullying, Human Trafficking, and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Sgt. Ward explains that in times of crisis, when rumor and innuendo frequently threaten to control community sentiment, objective and informed opinion-makers are a resource to sway the debate towards the facts and the truth, wherever they lie.  She further explains that the informed CPA graduate can add their knowledge of the rules, tactics, and laws that guide Police Officers in their dealings with the community to this community sentiment.  Driven by the difficulties fellow officers face in the streets every day, combined with the misconceptions the community and the youth have towards policing and police officers, Sgt. Ward provides the perfect balance of information and clarity with the tough, no-nonsense reality of policing in today’s NYPD.

It is my hope that more cities take on the challenge of creating and organizing Citizens Police Academies for the residents of their cities and that more citizens participate in the successful CPA training programs that exist.  The insight provided can help bolster understanding for both the community and the police in an environment where the lack of it has caused clashes and misdirected anger.  In addition to better understanding by residents, the CPA can serve as a reaffirmation for those interested in police work.  By seeing what the work entails first hand, a lot of the fear about policing will be relinquished.

About the Author: 

Alfred S. Titus, Jr. is a senior Homicide Detective and Hostage Negotiator with the New York City Police Department.  Det. Titus has been in law enforcement for 23 years and has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration.  He is currently in the final stages of receiving a Doctorate degree in Public Policy and Administration, specializing in Criminal Justice.  Det. Titus also contributes to the NYPD Citizens Police Academy where he conducts a lecture and presentation on Homicide Investigations.  Detective Titus is also an adjunct faculty member at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and does various guest lectures on topics from criminal justice issues to youth empowerment.  Contact can be made at ATitus30@gmail.com   


  • Cohn, E. G. (1996).  The citizen police academy: A receipt for improving police–community relations. Journal of Criminal Justice, 24(3), 265–271.
  • Pope, J., Jones, T., Cook, S., & Waltrip, B. (2007). Citizen’s police academies: Beliefs and perceptions regarding the program [Electronic Version]. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 3(1), 42-53.
  • Raffel, W. E. (2005). Citizen police academies: The importance of communication. Policing, 28(3), 1. ProQuest Central, pg. 84.

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