Patch editors received a variety of questions, stemming from the first-ever, Muslim-focused Citizens' Police Academy that began last Wednesday at the Daar-ul-Islam Mosque in West County at Manchester and Weidman roads.
St. Louis County Police worked in partnership with Islamic Foundation members to coordinate the eight classes being held Nov. 14 through Jan. 16.
(Read Related Article: First Citizens' Police Academy for All St. Louis Muslims Starts Wednesday)
A focus on the safety of a particular sector of residents raised questions from other St. Louis County residents; Patch secured answers from St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch and media officer Randy Vaughn.
Fitch said Citizens' Police Academies were started in 1992/1993 by the St. Louis County Police Department started under Chief Battelle.
Vaughn said the department's team remains "wide open" to county residents' feedback, needs and concerns. "So we're happy to answer questions from Patch readers."
St. Louis County police officers want people to know what they do and who they are, said Vaughn, which is why the citizens' academies are offered. He said they were not trying to limit attendance at this series for St. Louis Muslims, rather they were trying to address specific topics of that community.
"We conduct different types of academies in North County versus South Country versus West County because we are tightening the information sharing to the problems happening in each community," said Vaughn.
Two other recent examples of various types of academies or community service meetings conducted for very specific audiences by county police teams were October's free informational session about Medicare/Medicade/Medigap scam prevention and one held last Wednesday for pizza delivery employees to address undercover operations and issues vital to their safety after delivery workers have experienced a pattern of on-the-job robberies, with some even shot to death.
Vaughn said Fitch met with Islamic Foundation members in West St. Louis County when a shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, left seven people dead, including the suspected gunman. "He saw they were "nervous and anxious" to see a uniformed authority figure, and extended an invitiation to open up more communications."
(See related article: West St. Louis County Reacts to Wisconsin Temple Deadly Shooting)
Patch reader Colleen Sehnert posted the following comment on Thursday: "Why is this event only for muslims? I'm a Roman Catholic and would (like) the same class for any Catholic that would like to attend. This is unfair to all other religious groups and you should be ashamed of yourselves! My God help the United States of America!!!"
Fitch is also a Roman Catholic, and he was the one who initiated the idea of having an academy at the mosque. He told Patch he is not ashamed of including all citizens of our community in the discussion of law and order.
Following are five more questions from Patch readers, which also were answered by Fitch.
Q1. Why is there a need for a special course exclusively for Muslims?
"There isn’t. Anyone can attend any of our Citizens Academy sessions. Nobody is excluded."
Q2. Will the Bill of Rights be discussed/taught?
"It is not a constitutional law class, except for discussions about law enforcement authority and limitations that are granted in the law."
Q3. When does the Protestant Christian, Catholic or Morman classes start?
"We have held many citizen academy sessions at various churches in the region, but have never excluded anyone because of their religion. We just graduated an academy at Grace Union Church (Protestant) in South County."
Q4. Is this academy just for Arab Muslims or can Black Muslims and White Muslim also attend?
"Anyone is welcome to attend."
Q5. What about citizens considering becoming Muslim?
"We do not discuss religion at our academy sessions."