Citizen's Police Academy

Citizen's Police Academy participants learned about all aspects of the Effingham Police Department. The graduates attended the Effingham City Council meeting Tuesday. Back row, from left, are Gary West, Mike French, Lauren Meyer, Chief Jason McFarland, LeRoy Tucker, Philip Kiser, Larry Berg and Kurt Mette; front row, from left, Shelli French, Heidi Kiper and Cynthia Mitchell. Submitted photo.

EFFINGHAM — Several Effingham residents took a closer look at what a law enforcement officer does in day-to-day operations as they participated in the Effingham Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy.

The program lasted seven weeks, meeting once each week, to give insight and understanding of daily operations of the police department. The graduates were recognized during Tuesday's City Council meeting, which concluded the program.

Participants were Effingham citizens with a variety of occupations, including retired police officers, day care providers, factory workers, a pastor, and a city employee.

“We gave them an overall perspective of the Effingham Police Department,” said Deputy Police Chief Kurt Davis. “This was the first time in about 15 or 16 years the program was offered and we got a lot of positive feedback.”

Davis said the program forms a bond between people in the community and the police department. It also gives citizens a better view and understanding of what steps are taken in solving a crime and why some things take longer than what might seem necessary.

“There is a lot of time and work that goes into solving crimes,” said Davis. “It’s not like on TV.”

Heidi Kiper, 44, of Effingham said she came away with a better understanding and even more appreciation of the police. She also called the entire experience “a huge eye opener.”

“I always thought that officers were off limits, but now I see that in a different way,” said Kiper. “I see them on a personal level. They aren’t just cops. They are people.”

Kiper said over her lifetime police have helped her, including when she was involved in a car crash where she was freed with the Jaws of Life. She said fire and police were there when her house burned 12 years ago. And officers held the hand of her dying father, who had been murdered in Indiana six months before her birth.

“I’ve just always wanted to get to know the police department more,” said Kiper. “I came into this having a fear of guns. But, I left with a different feeling.”

Shelli French said her son, Jack Dent, is a teen police explorer in Effingham and she has enjoyed hearing what he’s been learning. When the opportunity for the Citizen’s Police Academy arose, she was all ears and ready to take part.

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for the police department, but even more so now,” said French, who is the director of the Effingham Child Development Center. “People are quick to judge. And when I’m looking at the news each night, the course takes me back to think how I might have responded in a situation. It also showed me the amount of responsibility the police department has in all communities.”

French said the weekly meetings included becoming first aid and CPR certified; lessons on forensics; simulations; K-9 unit demos; plus information on what telecommunicators do when a call comes into the 911 center. It also included a tour of the jail and the fire department.

“I’m kind of bummed that it is over,” said Kiper.

Most of the lessons were taught in the new police department’s training room. Plans are to offer the academy again, but possibly in the wintertime within the next year or two, because summers are busy for a lot of people, Davis said.

On other business Tuesday, the council:

• Agreed to not fill the position of City Engineer and Planner once held by Jeremy Heuerman, but instead it will divide up duties and hire an engineer at a later time.

Effingham City Administrator Steve Miller believes breaking up the duties once held by Heuerman will reduce payroll costs. The council also revised pay ranges for various non-union salaried and hourly positions. The council also approved new job descriptions as duties will be filled in the future.

“What we are looking at doing is backfilling the city engineer and planner position with an engineer and a planner – and splitting those duties,” said Miller. “The idea is to not fill the city engineer at this time, but instead hire a staff engineer.”

• Amended an intergovernmental agreement with Illinois Department of Transportation for the Interstate 57 Southern Interchange feasibility study. Miller said part of that study has been completed, such as rail and transportation to the interstate. Next step will be looking at the best options for a new interchange for both rail and highway transportation. He said this is all a part of the long-term planning of the southern end of Effingham.

• Discussed a rehabilitation project for a downtown business, 105 W. Jefferson, owned by Jennifer Keller, who wants to improve the front and back side of that building. The total project cost is $91,533, and the city could contribute up to 50 percent or $45,766. The council will vote on the request on Aug. 20.

• Discussed awarding a contract for engineering services to design and prepare for construction bid a drainage project on East Jefferson Avenue from Willow Street to U.S. Route 40. The work would include directional boring of sewer line to tie sumps from houses to an existing sewer. The scope of the work also includes finding a way to drain an underground spring that tends to accumulate water on East Jefferson, year-round. Civil Design Inc. of Effingham estimated the cost will be $11,600. The council will vote on the contract Aug. 20.

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-151, ext 138