SIDNEY — A police academy of a different sort celebrated graduation Tuesday at Montcalm Community College.
A group of 25 excited men and women gathered to receive certificates of completion for finishing the inaugural Montcalm County Citizens’ Police Academy put on through a partnership between the Michigan State Police (MSP) Lakeview Post and the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Department.
According to MSP Lt. Commander Kevin Sweeney, the class was an opportunity to improve relationships between citizens and law enforcement officials and to give everyone a better understanding of each other’s perspective.
“It’s a good way for all of us to get a little bit better educated and it’s been a really great community event,” Sweeney said.
Over the course of eight weeks, participants met on Tuesdays to discuss a different topic each week. Attendees visited the MSP Training Academy where they were able to see different aspects of law enforcement training.
“The attendees were given hot laps around the drive track … with an instructor,” Sweeney said.
That experience was a favorite of many of the attendees.
Montcalm County Undersheriff Mike Williams, the sheriff-elect, thanked attendees for their participation and family members for supporting them at graduation.
“It means a lot for us on the law enforcement side to have citizens that are interested in what we do,” Williams said. “I appreciate you guys doing this and taking the time be a part of this program.”
“I’ve learned a lot from as hopefully you’ve learned from us,” Sweeney told the class. “It’s (been a) partnership of … getting a better understanding of what’s going on within the community.”
After certificates were handed out, graduate Kenneth Wood of Sheridan gathered other graduates to present two plaques — first to Montcalm County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Kotenko, who survived being shot with a crossbow while in the line of duty in October 2015, and then to Sweeney.
While reading the first plaque, Wood became emotional, so graduate Cyndi Stevenson of Sheridan took over and spoke.
“We’ll show respect, honor and appreciation to Michael and his family by naming officially our class the Michael Kotenko Family Citizens’ Police Academy,” Stevenson said. “You risk personal safety to protect and serve our community and we all want to extend our thank you’s to Michael.”
Kotenko accepted the plaque, handshakes and hugs.
“It was an honor to share my story with you folks and I hope that it showed you that we’re human, just like everybody else,” he said.
Graduate AnnMarie Wubbeling of Sheridan said her most important takeaway from the class was the fact that too often members of law enforcement are undervalued and taken for granted. That’s something she’d now like to see change.
“It was really great meeting all the police officers and realizing all that they do for us on a daily basis,” she said. “They put their lives in danger … it’s great to see these people standing up, but we need to be standing behind them and showing how much we support them.
“It would be nice just to help encourage the rest of our community not to forget about our police officers,” she added. “If you see them, say a ‘thank you’ or buy them their coffee next time they’re at a restaurant. Something so they know what they’re doing isn’t in vain and it’s appreciated.”
Wubbeling said the class opened her eyes to what police officers go through and how they’re treated. She’s concerned that if people don’t feel police officers or members of law enforcement are treated well, people won’t continue to go into that career field, which could lead to a more dangerous future.