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Citizens Academy on tap
Kim Chapman was recently accosted in her darkened driveway by a purse snatcher. It happened so suddenly that she panicked. Looking back on her panicky flight back inside her house, she now knows she could have done several steps to help police capture the man. For starters, Chapman failed to get a good look at the thief and was unable to give officers his physical description. She failed to see his direction of travel because she sought the security of her house. Had police received the information they might have captured him, retrieved her $60 cash and credit cards and locked him up from repeating the dastardly act.

Ironically, the crime took place at a time when Chapman is organizing the Ceres Citizen's Academy designed to increase public awareness about crime, drugs and gangs and be of greater aid to police in catching the bad guys.

"We all need to be better reporters of crime," admitted Chapman. "People don't know what to do. They don't know how to recognize when a drug deal is going down between two people. They don't know what to look for with gang activity. This is all about educating the public."

Chapman, widow of the late Police Commander John Chapman, is a community activist teaming up with Ceres police officers John King, Greg Yotsuya and Trinidad Viramontes and Chief Art deWerk to initiate the academy.

The 11-week academy starts Jan. 20 and will seek to give participants a better view of how police do their job, ways to protect themselves and others, and ways to help prevent crime before it happens. Classes will run two hours on Thursday evenings at Central Valley High School. There is space for 40 persons in the free class and 20 spaces remain. Those wanting to join must submit their drivers license number for a simple background screening - also the process used for citizen ride-alongs. Applications may be obtained by e-mailing or calling King at 538-5678. The deadline for sign-ups is Jan. 4.

Chapman said given first shot at sign-ups were business personnel, loss prevention officers and Ceres Unified School District security personnel.

"I really want the average citizen to attend," Chapman said.

Students will engage in at least one ride-along with an officer and also tour the Ceres Police Station. Sessions will be engaging and interactive, allowing students and police to role play responses to real-life incidences.

A number of experts will be speaking on subjects such as gangs, drugs, crime analysis, maintaining integrity of a crime scene, accidents and first aid.

DeWerk is happy to see Chapman help his department set up the academy and believes it will be a great way for citizens to help his officers as "more eyes and ears on the streets."

The chief believes circumstances are ripe for a perfect storm of increased crime. Factors include a worsened economy, a rise in gang activity and the early release of convicts because of prison overpopulation.

"We have to do business somewhat differently so crime doesn't happen in the first place," said deWerk.

Chapman said she's learned a great deal in tips as she's helped organize the academy.

"For example, when someone sees a suspicious vehicle in their neighborhood in the morning, how many of us have thought to text the license number to ourselves? And if we find out that our neighbors' houses were broken into, taking the number to police and saying, 'I don't know if this will help but here's a number of a car I saw in our neighborhood this morning.' "

Chapman said a second academy will be held in late summer or fall.

A number of businesses have come forward with monetary donations to seed the costs of the program, including Staples, Stanislaus Farm Supply, Diamond Bar Arena, Farmers Insurance, CenCal, and Stop N Shop. The Ceres Lions Club has assisted as has Ceres Unified School District.

Many officers will be donating their time, said Chapman, to help teach the academy.

Her hope is that participants will share what they learn in a "pay it forward" manner. One goal is to see a resurgence in the Neighborhood Watch program in Ceres.

"We're very excited about it," she said.