By Mark Leutke
It’s dark outside and most of Sylvania is asleep. A silent alarm alerts dispatch of possible intruders inside an elementary school. It could be a late-working custodian, mischievous teens … or an angry man with a gun. And perhaps, no one at all.
A two-person police crew is dispatched to the location to determine illegal entry. If they find security has been breached, their job is to go inside and “clear” the building: search for trespassers, engage any individuals inside, or simply report back that there is no problem.
That’s the scenario given to my patrol partner, Libby McIlwain, and myself in one of the more adrenaline-charged simulation sessions in the Sylvania Police Citizens Academy. The program, now in its 22nd year, was created to familiarize Sylvania residents with the police department and its officers. “To give them a taste of what it’s like to be in law enforcement in our city,” said Sgt. Stacey Pack, head of community affairs.
The Sylvania Township police department offers a citizen’s academy as well, and graduated its most recent class a few months ago from a program that goes back nearly 30 years. Explained Paul Long, township police chief, “The only idea most people have of the police comes from television, that’s not police work. We want the public to really understand what we’re doing.”
The two programs both run two to three hours each for six to eight weeks at their respective police stations. They touch on topics that include road patrol, criminal investigations, firearms, use of force, drunk driving arrests, and building searches. “The Academy was eye-opening in many ways,” said partner Libby. “It helped clarify the roles and responsibilities of our police officers, and the simulations and practices were very valuable.”
In the city, some of the “graduates” of the academy also go on to become part of the Sylvania Police Volunteer Program. Chris Roby has been serving since 2008 in roles that include traffic control and providing security at special events. Currently, eight active volunteers patrol the city in a specially marked vehicle, often doing house checks for vacationing residents or helping citizens locked out of their homes or cars.
“Our department’s focus is customer service,” said city police chief Rick Schnoor. “Some people don’t appreciate that Sylvania is very diverse from an economic, ethnic, religious and cultural standpoint. Those of us in law enforcement have to react to whatever is going on in society, and in Sylvania we try to take a problem-solving approach.”
“When a citizen has contact with one of our officers, I want them to feel like they were treated in an overly fair manner,” he added. “In that regard, we continue toward building diversity within our ranks. Out of 37 personnel, eight are now female, two are Black and one is Hispanic.”
According to the chief, Sylvania was one of the first departments in the region to partner with the school district by providing school resource offices. It has spring-boarded off of that with a youth diversion program that it started with Sylvania Area Family Services in 2004. “The goal is to keep minors who have gotten off on the wrong path out of the criminal justice system. We work with their parents and a trained facilitator to find a restorative justice remedy instead,” he said.
The chief recognizes that a high-risk or barricade situation is always a possibility here. That’s why the city and township departments maintain a joint Special Response Team (SRT) for such emergencies.
As I interviewed the chief, I reflected back on some other things I learned in my citizens academy experience – that police welcome the use of body cams, and our officers approach each confrontation with the goal of achieving a safe resolution for all parties.
If you are interested in learning more about our local law enforcement, I encourage you to call our township or city police departments and find out if the citizens academy is for you. Fall classes are forming now.