Community Academy returns to Westminster PD as part of agency's outreach efforts

By Jessica Peralta

Cindy Gray wasn’t yet part of the Westminster PD when she first heard of its Community Academy. She was living in Westminster when she learned of it but didn’t get a chance to enroll before the program went on hiatus.

Now, about seven years later, Gray, a WPD police services officer, is also the new Community Academy coordinator. Re-launching in September, the academy – akin to other agencies’ Citizens’ Academies – invites residents and those working within the city limits to experience an in-depth course on all of the WPD’s ins and outs.

“We’re really excited to get the support of the community and hopefully strengthen our partnership with the community,” said Gray.

Running Sept. 6 through Nov. 8, the 10-week academy will delve into all aspects of police work, including SWAT, K9, dispatch, traffic enforcement, firearms, narcotics, patrol, crime scene investigation, crisis negotiation and gangs.

“They get a good taste of what it’s like being a police officer,” said WPD Chief Ralph Ornelas.

He said the program is part of a larger outreach effort with the community to share with the public what the WPD is all about.

“We want the community to believe in us,” he said. “It’s a partnership.”

Westminster Police Chief Ralph Ornelas talks about bringing back the Community Academy.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Falling under the agency’s Professional Standards Unit, Gray was put in charge of bringing the program back. The last academy took place in 2011.

“I just really want to stress what an honor and privilege it is to be able to reach out to the community,” Gray said.

The academy will meet every Thursday evening for about 4 1/2 hours. Each meeting will include a minimum of two divisions or topics represented. Many themes will be covered, according to Gray, from identity theft and mail fraud to coyotes in the area.

“Also to let them have insight of just the day-to-day of the officer … what they’re up against and hopefully build a stronger bond with the community,” she said. “Every division, we’re trying to incorporate some sort of information so [the public] can get a sense of the daily activity.”

The program will include field trips as well in the form of sit-alongs in dispatch and ride-alongs with patrol. Academy students will get to visit the WPD’s range facility, as well as tour the jail.

“We’re excited to involve the community,” she said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to put this together again.”

The application deadline is Aug. 19 and with a class size of about 30 students, Gray recommends signing up soon before the class fills up. Requirements to participate include either living or working within Westminster and being 18 or older. Participants must not have any misdemeanor convictions or arrests within the past three years, or any felony convictions or arrests. Applicants must pass a limited background check, including LiveScan fingerprinting.

Ornelas said the WPD plans on having more Community Academy courses in the future. He said programs like this and the Chief’s Advisory Board, which is comprised of residents who meet regularly with the chief, are an important component to the agency and its community policing efforts.

“It’s a building block,” he said. “This Community Academy is just another extension of that.”

Interested locals can sign up for the Community Academy here.