Austell residents are empowering themselves for the benefit of the wider community and authorities through the city’s first police citizens academy.

Sixteen men and women have started the six-week free public course at the Austell police station and will undergo physical tests and firearm training among many other tasks over the summer.

The course is designed to educate citizens about the police’s role, operation and scope of authority, and train them to observe their surroundings as officers do.

Austell Police Chief Bob Starrett said citizens who have been through the academy can ideally assist police by being aware of what’s happening in their communities, noticing and reporting crime, as well as helping to de-escalate developing situations.

“We really try to cram as much as we can into six weeks,” he said. “We teach them what to look for and to be alert, to be able to describe everyday life in detail so they can tell us what’s going on and also what actions they can and can’t take as citizens as well as their rights, how we use radar and other equipment and things like interview techniques.”

The first Austell class, on July 11, started with some of the physical tests that officers are put through in professional training.

Starrett is surprised by the recent interest in an Austell police citizens academy, which until now was offered but not implemented for a lack of participants.

“It’s something we’ve never done before,” he said. “We had requests recently from citizens and we posted a notice on social media and word spread.”

The Austell academy is on Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and will also include two Wednesday evening sessions at a local firing range, Starrett said.

There is already a waiting list for the second academy, due to start a few weeks after the current class graduates.

“This class filled up fast, with 25 people signing up for it in a week,” Starrett said. “It’s a good program for anybody. It brings the community closer to local police, and we’re really happy to have the public’s interest.”

There is also a component for Cobb businesses to be involved as sponsors for class refreshments.

Starrett said each week a representative from a sponsoring organization can address the class about their business as a form of promotion and community networking.

The citizens police academy is open to any Austell resident or business owner aged 18 or over.

Starrett leads the classes but involves his entire staff, with officers from different units presenting about their specific duties.

Anyone wanting to sign up for the academy can call the Austell police station at 770-732-3180.

All other police departments in Cobb County offer their own academy classes for people living in those jurisdictions.