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The Santa Paula Police Department Citizens Academy graduation didn’t include caps and gowns, but weapons, a California Highway Patrol/Paseo Robles helicopter, K-9s, the SPPD Dragoon, exercises and a celebration barbecue. Above is the academy class that recently completed the 12 weeks of instruction. (Photo by Brian Stethem)

SPPD Citizens Academy: No caps and gowns, but plenty of graduation action

June 27, 2008
Santa Paula Police Department
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesThe Santa Paula Police Department Citizens Academy graduation didn’t include caps and gowns, but weapons, a California Highway Patrol/Paseo Robles helicopter, K-9s, the SPPD Dragoon, exercises and a celebration barbecue. Community members with a deep interest in the work of law enforcement were able to experience it for themselves leading up to the June 8 graduation held at Mike Levy’s ranch.The class, the second since the program began last year, attended 12 weeks of instruction, four more than the 2007 class, said Sergeant Jimmy Fogata, who coordinates the academy that features additional SPPD personnel as instructors. “I’m out here assisting... I already graduated,” noted Cynthia Dunbar.Sally Caulfield said she learned the hard way to be prepared for a faux tussle with a K-9: “I wasn’t ready, I hadn’t braced myself and bam! Evan (Fogata’s K-9) took me down to the ground.” Even being bowled over didn’t deter her enthusiasm for the course, which Caulfield said offers “great insight into what our police department does and is doing.”“It’s great, everyone should do it,” noted Bob Vogel, an academy member with his wife, Barbara.Fogata said graduates had received a briefing to “go through every weapon in our arsenal” before being allowed to shoot. Those who “feel uncomfortable” are encouraged not to, said Police Chief Steve MacKinnon.SPPD Range Master Dave Manning told the graduates, “Safety boils down to simple rules... don’t point the gun at yourself or someone else.” And remember “trigger-finger tips... your trigger finger thinks it’s the boss; you’re the boss.”Both lethal and non-lethal weaponry were used by the graduates under the guidance of SPPD officers and reserves, including Phil Sylvester, who told this reporter after she fired a Cott Commando sub-machine gun that although she missed the armed bad guy target, “You scared him.”“Want to give it a shot, literally?” was the greeting from Chief MacKinnon, who was overseeing the use of the 40 mm launcher that uses rubber bullets, a “much less lethal” weapon used in special circumstances. “Let’s say someone is up on a porch, a suicidal person who is armed with a knife” but refuses to put the weapon down. The launcher - the SPPD has two - would be the chosen method to subdue the person before they could harm themselves.
Overall, the latest academy class has “gone real well,” especially since, noted Chief MacKinnon, each graduate “becomes a SPPD ambassador in the community.... Most had no idea of the training and skills an officer has to have out there.”And that includes ethics, said Lieutenant Carlos Juarez, who taught a class on the subject that included examining scenarios that can reveal pre-conceived thoughts and notions. “The Chief has a Code of Ethics” that the SPPD personnel abide to at all times, noted Juarez.The “true dedication of the instructors” was revealing to Brenda Stewart, who said it offered “a real insight.... Ours is a small department, and all they do is just amazing.”As a member of the Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation, Connie Tushla said she believed it is “important to learn as much as I can about what they do.... This has been an incredible experience, seeing how they have to go from nice guy to enforcing the law.”Following husband Bill Pennock, who completed the first class, Linda Pennock said she “gained a whole new respect for the police and what they do for us” through the academy.During the graduation ceremony Fogata gave out several humorous special awards, and noted that several students had repeated the course. Sally Caulfield and the graduates presented Fogata with a generous monetary gift from both the first and second academy classes, to be used for K-9 training.Mayor Bob Gonzales - who spoke of the Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation - and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz also attended the graduation, which also included a surprise celebration of Sgt. Fogata’s birthday.