Ellensburg Police Department Citizens Academy provides an insider perspective

Wayne Gray, Staff Reporter

Ellensburg Police Department (EPD), hosts the Citizen’s Academy every fall, which is a community program where participants learn about police work and meet EPD personnel. 

“The objective is to just teach people what we do,” Detective Jason Brunk said.

Brunk said the Citizen’s Academy is not a recruiting process and while some have aspirations to join law enforcement, in his experience, most participants have no interest beyond learning more about the local police department.

Brunk is the program coordinator, and this year marks his second year in charge of the program after taking over in 2021.

According to Brunk, the course consists of six classroom sessions, scenario-based exercises, firearms instruction and a field trip to an Emergency Vehicle Operations Course.

Brunk said the course has some set topics to be covered, but tries to change the material each year for some variety, and welcomes suggestions for future training.

Brunk said in addition to education and training, the program acts as an opportunity for community members to ask questions and allow police officers to share some of their stories.

CWU freshman Clare Mullins said her Citizen’s Academy experience influenced her decision to declare a law and justice major.

“I have an incredible amount of respect for all first responders, police, firefighters, EMTs, social services, anything like that,” Mullins said. “My goal one day is to be someone that people can turn to in a time of crisis.” 

Mullins said when she attended in 2021, each class session focused on different topics ranging from officers sharing their best and worst experiences, steps to become a police officer and current EPD policing efforts.

“Even if you are not pro-police and you think there are issues there, take Citizen’s Academy to actually get to know some cops personally,” Mullins said. “I guarantee you that will change your opinion.” 

Attendee Adam Pilger, a CWU senior anthropology major, said during the scenario-based exercises, participants were given a perspective on how quickly a police contact could turn into a use of deadly force.

“After having been through a situation where even someone charges at me with a pretend knife, I do see where that sense of danger kicks in,” Pilger said. “The officer has to make a choice to protect their own life and the lives of the community members around them.”

Pilger said that many officers shared they had never used deadly force in the course of their careers.

“There has not been a deadly force incident in Ellensburg from the entirety that these officers could remember,” Pilger said.

Kennedy Munro, a CWU information services employee who attended the 2021 Citizen”s Academy said while participants performed vehicle maneuvers, instructors would simulate radio calls and other stressors, like pedestrians, to simulate a real-world environment.

Munro said the vehicle maneuvers consisted of weaving between cones, taking turns at speed and 180 degree turns.

“That day is by far the most popular of the classes,” Brunk said.

Brunk said the firearms instruction is conducted at EPD’s indoor range and during which participants are taught basic firearm safety and marksmanship.

“Some people, they’ve probably never fired a gun before,” Brunk said. “A lot of it is just fundamentals to just kind of give them an opportunity to shoot.”

Munro said while this wasn’t his first time firing a weapon, he was introduced to some of the department’s non-lethal arsenal, such as shotgun fired bean-bag rounds and a gun similar to a paintball gun, that fires “pepper balls,” containing a pepper spray solution.

Munro said he is concerned the lack of resources EPD has when compared to the number of mental health related calls they have to respond to, might place strain on the relatively small department.

“I’m worried a little bit that they might lose that small town helpfulness if they’re always busy dealing with mental health calls,” Munro said.

Brunk said mental health was a primary focus for the 2021 Citizen’s Academy, specifically community and police mental health, and it will continue to be a focus for the program.

According to Brunk, EPD has seen substantial growth in mental health incidents requiring police contact in Ellensburg. 

“We talked a lot this year about mental health, we talked about mental health with officers and dealing with people in crisis as well,” Brunk said. “Coping mechanisms for us really humanize officers and let them know we’re humans, and everyone goes through things.”

Munro said he wishes EPD would advertise the program more, and he hopes to return for the 2022 Citizen’s Academy to experience the jail tour that was planned for the 2021 program but had been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Brunk said he will begin distributing flyers to local businesses in September or August, and those who are interested can apply through a portal on the EPD community programs webpage at that time.

“We are their police department, so we want the public to be involved,” Brunk said.

The 2022 Citizen’s Academy is set to begin October.