A group of eight residents graduated from the LaGrange Police Department’s Civilian Police Academy on Tuesday.
The group attended the 10 week course, learning about the various areas of public safety from representatives of agencies including the LPD, Troup County courts, Troup County 911 and the Troup County Jail.
“You get an appreciation of how the pieces fit together and that we’re (the police department) just one part of that piece,” said LaGrange police Chief Lou Dekmar.
Dekmar, who graduated from the department’s civilian police academy nearly 40 years ago, told the class that he still has two concerns affecting public safety: the de-emphasis on incarceration and dealing with the mentally ill.
“It’s become the notion that you can address folks that are criminals with a community based effort or community based correction,” he said. “Or an emphasis on probation or controlling prison population with the use of parole opposed to merit. We’re putting people back into the community with de-emphasis on incarceration and using parole to release prisoners”
This, and the lack of proper structure to care for the mentally ill has caused much of the trend in crime rates he said.
“Of the 13 million people arrested each year, at least 1.5 to 2 million suffer from mental illness and as a result of the de-emphasis on the institutional and lack of community based care these people are being shoveled out on the street over-medicated on drugs to the point where they quit taking them and start acting out,” Dekmar said.
The newly established mental heath court in Troup County, he said, has helped tackle some of these issues affecting public safety, but the legislature has failed to prioritize public safety and education. He hopes the government will continue to address these issues in public safety.
Also during Tuesday’s class, Lt. Del Armstrong spoke briefly on the traffic unit of the police department before the graduates drove away from the class for the last time.
“Driving is dangerous and it’s probably the most dangerous thing you do everyday,” said Armstrong.
The traffic unit works 75 percent of the estimated 2,000 wrecks that happen in the city to help keep patrol officers free to respond to other calls for service. The majority of wrecks are caused from following to closely and failure to yield the right of way, he said. The traffic unit encourages safe driving in the community by holding defensive driving courses, creating public service announcements, and working with agencies like the health department to organize presentations for various organizations and schools.
The graduates were appreciative of the classes and enjoyed learning more about public safety.
“It’s like your perception of what’s going on in law enforcement is not what’s really going on,” said Kimberly King. “There’s so much more to it”
King said going on the police ride-a-long has allowed her to see how well trained officers are and what “nice people they have hired.”
Lou Rachmuth attended the police academy more than 20 years ago and is pleased with the progressive changes that have been made.
“Things have changed a lot in the police department,” he said. “I learned a lot. The procedures are a lot tighter and there’s a lot more written things. I’m impressed.”
Learning about the amount of drugs in the city and their effects, and going on the jail tour was an eye-opening experience, Rachmuth said.
Though he would like to see more participation from the community in the police academy, Lt. Eric Lohr, said he is pleased with the commitment of the eight graduates.
“Ten weeks is a long time, so for people to be committed for that long and I really appreciate them,” said Lohr. “The more we get out there, the easier it is for us to do our job and it’s all about building a stronger community together. The more people in the class, the more opinions and discussions we’ll have and that’s always good.”