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Learning to protect and serve in citizens police academy

Mike Lehmann pulls over Chief Arland Rasmussen during the traffic stops class.1 / 2
Members of this past Fall’s Citizens Academy dust for fingerprints during class.2 / 2

Civilians will get their chance to find out what it is like to protect and serve.

The West Fargo Police Department is offering its spring session of the Citizens Police Academy beginning Feb. 20 through May 8.

“The academy is for citizens in our community and surrounding communities who are interested in knowing what the police departments role is in the community, how we operate and function, and the different aspects of our department,” Officer Rhonda Jorgensen said, advisor for the academy.

The 12-week program is 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays.

“But the comment is always ‘it flew by,’” she said.

Over the 12 weeks, the program touches on topics such as traffic stops, firearms, BOMB and SWAT teams, drug enforcement, registered offenders, police ride-alongs and more.

“I wanted everything to be hands-on and we’ve stuck with that mentality,” Jorgensen said. “In a safe manor we allow citizens to do things like shoot our firearms and get to see the SWAT team and their equipment and vehicles. That’s things police officers haven’t even seen.”

West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen echoes that statement.

“The people who attend the academy see more than a new officer would see.” Rasmussen said. “It may be years before they would see and work their way into this stuff.”

Rasmussen was adamant about starting a citizens academy, and when Jorgensen was hired almost 15 years ago she was eager to take on the role of advisor. The academy started in September of 2000 and has been offered in the Spring and Fall.

“She (Jorgensen) took the program and ran,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t think we could have gotten a better fit. Rhonda is truly a people person. She organized the first academy that we had, and evaluates and gets input from the people who take it every year to change and modify it as time goes by.”

Jorgensen has help from the other advisors of the academy, Lieutenant Duane Sall, Patrol Sergeant Jason Anderson and Detective Tim Runcorn who is also the commander of the Red River Valley bomb team.

The advisors take their turns teaching different aspects of the department to the class, which is kept between 12 to 15 people so participants can get a hands-on experience.

West Fargo resident Shane Lebahn got his chance to take the course this past fall and found the academy to be enlightening.

“What struck me most about it is how proud the officers of our city are with their job,” Lebahn said. “You always kind of knew it was a dangerous job, but you didn’t really know the uncertainties they faced every time they pull over a car. 99.9 percent of the time the situation will be good, but they have to gamble against that 0.1 percent every day. It made me much more appreciative of the job the West Fargo Police Department does.”

The program was designed to give the community insight into the department, but it was also formed to have the department learn what the citizens of West Fargo thought of the officers.

“There’s an exchange here,” Rasmussen said. “The purpose was that people would learn more about the police department and why certain things were done certain ways. But it also provides us a good way of taking the pulse of the community. Maybe we didn’t realize that people don’t understand why we do certain things. It gives us the opportunity to step back and say ‘hold it now, people don’t understand that.’”

Not only does the average Joe take the academy, but Mayor Rich Mattern, all the Commissioners, the City Manager, City Human Resources Director and the Director of Finance have gone through the course.

“It helps because when we are talking for budget purposes, they have seen and understand the use of our equipment,” Rasmussen said.

Jorgensen finds it also beneficial for the citizens to see where their tax money is going.

“It gives them (attendees) the opportunity to meet members of our department, from investigators, patrol officers or bomb squad, it shows them we are normal people within the community with unique jobs,” Jorgensen said. “We have families and hobbies. And the family aspect of our department is we all are fairly close. When push comes to shove we have each other’s back. Our job is to go home every night after every shift.”

The advisors have found the academy a great way to interact with the community and promote West Fargo’s Police Department.

“I think it’s the best program that we’ve ever developed and had in our police department,” Rasmussen said.

For those interested in attending the Spring session of the Citizens police academy applications are available on the West Fargo Police Department’s website at and at the West Fargo Police Department. The academy is free. Contact Officer Rhonda Jorgensen at 455-5500 for more information.

Carrie Snyder
Carrie Snyder has been a staff photographer for The Forum since 2007. She grew up in Fargo and attended Minnesota State University Moorhead.  Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to .