Citizens Academy in Clintonville
Police explain their procedures, operations, mission
By Bert Lehman
The Clintonville Police Department recently concluded its first Citizens Academy.
Participants learned how and why the department works the way it does.
Police Chief Craig Freitag told the Clintonville Tribune-Gazette that he first suggested creating a Citizens Academy a few months after he accepted the chief of police position. At the time, Freitag said the officers in the department were not keen on the idea.
“It was a new idea and many didn’t know what it entailed. I put the idea on the back burner for awhile,” Freitag said. “After the George Floyd incident Captain Schroeder approached me and stated now would be a great time to start planning for a Citizens Academy. We began the discussions around the department and the excitement grew. Sgt. Wendorf was tasked on organizing and putting the lesson plans together. We got buy in from other staff and I was quite proud of everyone coming together and putting this together. Captain Schroeder mentioned that this was a key time in law enforcement to bring citizens into our department and educate them and have them ask questions.”
Freitag said he wanted to start a Citizens Academy because it is important to show citizens what the police department does and the steps taken for different situations.
“There are many misconceptions out there regarding law enforcement,” Freitag said. “This is also a way to connect with our community. They get a chance to ask us questions regarding laws, go through scenarios we see here in Clintonville.”
He added, “It gives the citizens a better understanding how law enforcement functions. Another purpose with the Citizens Academy is that it’s a way to continue building positive relationships with the community. The participants were able to meet many members of our department.”
During the five-week Citizens Academy, participants learned about the operations of the department, traffic laws, criminal investigations, SWAT and Emergency Response Units and domestic violence.
“The group’s participants were engaged every week,” Freitag said. “We did have discussions after each class and each week they took something away from the class.”
Each week’s class was taught by members of the Clintonville Police Department.
“The staff members that taught each week were either on shift or if they weren’t working they volunteered their time,” Freitag said. “It shows that they are passionate about law enforcement and want to teach the citizens. It’s another example of our staff giving back to the community.”
Sgt. Matthew Wright said he decided to be an instructor for the Citizens Academy because he wanted to show citizens a realistic look at how law enforcement works versus what they see on TV and in movies.
“The academy allowed citizens to be put through some scenarios to get a feel for what officers do,” Wright said.
Officer Joe LeBreck said he chose to be an instructor because he enjoys interacting with the community.
“Not being from Clintonville, this is one more way to get to know the people who work and live in the city,” LeBreck said. “Our curriculum and teaching methods are similar to those of the regular Police Academy, with a mix of lecture format and scenario/hands-on training.”
He added that he has found that education has been the most effective way to gain understanding and support from the community.
If citizens have a better understanding of how the police department functions, LeBreck said citizens will be able to help find “realistic solutions to the communities or neighborhood problems.”
Wright said he is pleased with the how the first Citizens Academy turned out.
“I believe that the academy was very beneficial for everyone involved and I am looking forward to the next class,” Wright said. “I think that both officers and citizens learned a lot from the academy.”
“I believe that an informed public is better able to understand decisions made by the police department,” LeBreck said. “I want the participants to have enough background information to know why the police ‘do what they do,’ and I hope the class will break down any barriers between the police and the public.”
Freitag added, “I hope the academy participants enjoyed their time with us. Our staff enjoyed the way this class was engaged and asked many questions. I believe everyone took something away that they didn’t know before. I was very impressed with the staff members and their teaching. We have a very talented staff here.”
Hayden Wojnowiak, a senior at Clintonville High School, said he enjoyed getting to know the officers, including what they do for the police department and the motivations behind what they do in their work.
“Mainly how much they have to communicate with their dispatchers, how many small details they have to look for when analyzing a situation,” Wojnowiak said about what he learned. “There’s a lot they do and they definitely don’t get as much credit as they deserve.”
Tammy Strey-Hirt, a member of the Clintonville City Council, said she enjoyed the weapons training, learning about SWAT, and learning about what the entire police department does.
Strey-Hirt said she learned things in the Citizens Academy that will help her perform her duties as a council member.
“There were things I was told that the department needs and things I was completely unaware of,” Strey-Hirt said. “I think that is something that every council person should sit on so that they can learn exactly what the course does and what they need.”
Freitag said the goal is for the police department to host a Citizens Academy each year. For future classes, there will be an application process for citizens who are interested in participating.